he opening photo in Half, Julia Kozerski’s series of naked self-portraits, is actually the bookend to a sequence of earlier photos. In those, she appeared unhappily in her wedding dress in a changing room cubicle, more than 300lb (21 stone) and mortified. Here, she appears in the dress again, standing sideways on to the camera, to show how much of the dress is unoccupied. Over the course of a year, Kozerski lost half her body weight, and you might expect the resulting photos to conform to the glib narrative of before and after. Instead, the 28-year-old took pains to show “what real is, what raw is” – in this case stretchmarks, skin folds, contours like sand dunes. Raw is Kozerski naked, and frequently crying.
Nudity is an overused gesture in photography, particularly when it purports to “celebrate” the “ordinary”. You can’t turn on the TV (Lena Dunham), go to a gallery (Spencer Tunick) or, if you’re in San Francisco, enter a civic building these days without tripping over someone getting their kit off in the name of corporeal democracy. That Kozerski still manages to be shocking and interesting is testament to her ideas and her courage. The question most people ask on seeing the photos – after “Why don’t you get surgery to remove the extra skin?” – is “How did you get the weight off?” which she thinks misses the point. Losing the weight was tough, she says: “I had no idea who I was, and while I went through all that I was lost.” But what came after was tougher. Contrary to media everywhere, being thin isn’t enough of an identity to go on. “This is it!” she thought, when she finally got her weight down, and then: “Now what do I do?”
We are in a coffee shop in Milwaukee, where Kozerski grew up and where, after finishing her degree in fine arts, she works in marketing. The photos, taken when she was at her most vulnerable, don’t prepare one for how she is now. Kozerski could advertise the midwest: she is fresh-faced, ruddy-cheeked, brimming with enthusiasm. “Nothing fancy, I’m from Milwaukee!” she says cheerfully. She is a regular weight, she points out. Not model-thin, but the size that, after a lot of trial and error, she worked out she needed to be. When she decided to lose weight, she signed on instantly to the cult of perfectionism. She thought, “I’m going to be this amazing person, I’m going to be a model! And that’s not what happened. It was a transition into something new; into learning to love myself as I turned out, as I was and as I am now.”