About the film

On Beauty still-Rick photographing Jayne

ON BEAUTY is the latest film from award-winning filmmaker Joanna Rudnick and Chicago’s Kartemquin Films. The film looks at beauty through the lens of fashion photographer Rick Guidotti, who highlights vibrant individuals with genetic conditions. His photographs are a stark contrast to the sad, isolated figures seen medical textbooks and they inspire many to change their public perceptions on what it means to be beautiful.

Rick had a successful career in New York, Milan and Paris working for clients such as Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and Yves Saint Laurent. He grew frustrated with having to work within the industry’s restrictive standards of beauty. One day in New York he had a chance meeting with a stunning young woman who had the condition albinism. He was immediately struck by her beauty and soon left the fashion world.

He then completed a photo series of people with albinism that ran in Life Magazine. After the article was published, Rick began to get numerous requests from parents from all around the world asking him to meet and photograph their children. A foundation that supports people affected by chromosome 18 mutations asked him to attend their conference. Soon after he created Positive Exposure, the foundation based on his mission.

Joanna first saw Rick’s stunning photographs at a Genetic Alliance conference in 2009 where she was presenting her directorial debut film, “In the Family.” She was speaking about her own experience with having an unseen genetic condition and began to think about what it would be like to have a condition the rest of the world can immediately notice.

For the past five years, she has followed Rick around the world from his studio in New York City to a conference in Las Vegas to a remote village in Kenya. At the center of the film are two people he meets along the way: Sarah Kanney and Jayne Waithera.

Sarah was born with Sturge-Weber syndrome, a condition that leaves a port wine birthmark on her face and brain. She needed multiple eye surgeries, but it hasn’t deterred her from her passion — racing motocross. Sarah said when she puts on her helmet she feels free from the stares and judgments from others. When she was in eighth grade Sarah was bullied so harshly she left public school for home school. Her meeting with Rick helped Sarah gain independence and confidence. She got a job, moved out on her own and started to study for her GED.

Jayne was raised by her grandmother because her mother abandoned Jayne for having albinism. In Eastern Africa, the society is often blind to the specific health and safety needs for people with the genetic condition. They are called “money” or “walking banknotes” because witch doctors will pay for their body parts. While researching albinism she came across Rick and knew she had to meet him. She has grown into a leader in her community and helped found the first Positive Exposure branch in Kenya.

Rick helps reveal the limitations of current public perceptions, and more importantly emphasizes the person not the condition. ON BEAUTY will help advance his movement and change the way we see and experience beauty.

Learn more about the people involved in the film.

<< Back to Educator Resources PDF version Next: Background Information >>