Laia Abril




The Pro Ana community has turned anorexia (Ana) into its dogma. This illness has even been embodied by the members of this group; they venerate it as the one giving meaning to their totalitarian ‘life style’. It’s a virtual reality where they state their commandments, share motivating tricks and exchange hundreds of images of thin models via their blogs. They have created ‘thinspiration’, a new visual language – obsessively consumed to keep on wrestling with the scales day after day.

Looking at their delusions in greater detail, I find out a new symptom in their behavior. Interacting with their own cameras in a competition in which they portray their achievements in the form of bony clavicles or flat bellies, the pro Ana have made thinspiration evolve.

I decide to look for the answer by re-taking their self-portraits with the intention of establishing a conversation between their camera and mine. I shut myself up in a dark room as if it were a model session, placing my tripod in front of the computer in such a way that, when you look through the lens, it’s only me and them. I photograph them in their rooms, in their bathrooms. They pose provocatively, narcissistically.



Pro-anorexis consume in a wicked game between admiration and repulsion: the pro-bones, where the protagonists are anorexic and are at an extreme stage of the illness. The images that I took from then on disassociate themselves from the character to turn into abstract body landscapes at the gates of the abyss. They are the visual response to the bond between obsession and self-destruction; the disappearance of one’s own identity.

‘Thinspiration’ is the second chapter of a long-term project about Eating Disorders I started almost two years ago. Furthermore it is an introspective journey, based in my personal experience, through the nature of obsessive desire and the limits of auto-destruction, denouncing new risk factors within the disease: the social networks and photography.




Laia Abril (Barcelona, 1986) is a documentary photographer and journalist.
Her work has been exhibited and appraised in Italy, Spain, Bosnia, Germany, London and New York on events like NY FotoFestival or the 3rd Lumix Festival. Her editorial work has been published in different international magazines such as D Repubblica, The Sunday Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, FT Magazine or COLORS Magazine, where she has been a member of the editorial staff since 2009, when she enrolled at the Fabrica artists residency – the Benetton research centre in Italy.

In 2010 she joined the agency Reportage by Getty as an emerging talent after being finalist at the Ian Parry Award in 2009/10. Most recently she was selected for the Plat(t)form Winterthur FotoMuseum and nominated at the Joop Swart Masterclass.

She is currently working as a staff photographer, blogger and Associate Picture Editor for COLORS combining her freelance career and keeping developing her personal project.


28 thoughts on “Laia Abril – II Chapter on Eating Disorders ‘Thinspiration’”

  1. Exploitative and pointless. What possible value does this have? Couldn’t find any prison camps to photograph? Can’t really find the words to express how screwed up this photographer must be.

  2. Photographing your computer screen? Why not just press print/screen and serve up the originals? Is it “artier” if your screen is really dirty and covered in fingerprints?

    This seems like the definition of derivative.

  3. I don’t understand in what way the essay is “powerful.” Why not just do an essay of the rotting flesh in a body farm (wait, Sally Mann already did that, but at least artistically). I think Burn has lost its way. What’s next? Snuff films?

  4. the only one of the finalists, including the winner, that made me think about something else than photography.


    these essays were chosen by two top editors at NatGeo, two Magnum photographers, one hard core photojournalist from Australia and one European picture editor of a top magazine…

    the Burn crew does not choose the EPF finalists, nor the grantee…….we only facilitate this grant….

    so i guess all these top editors and photographers you feel have lost their way….i think Jukka might just agree with you….maybe we are all lost….Burn has never claimed to have empirical knowledge in any case on anything ever…..nor would i can guess our esteemed jury..we just sample what’s out there…wait three days and there will be a new essay…of a different variety…perhaps more to your liking….or not..

    Jim you are one of the most loyal readers here…yet you seem to despise most of what we do..interesting really and i like it……we might do a live Burn seminar in Texas (Houston or San Antonio)…i would love to have you on the panel…would you enjoy doing something that? sincere invitation…i think you would be terrific for sure…Jukka and i chatted by Skype this evening…he agrees with me that you would make a terrific panelist on a Burn seminar or any seminar discussing what’s up, where do we go? please accept my invitation….

    cheers, david

  6. I like the part about body as object, thing, a visual emotion but it is about anorexia and that is the Achilles heal here.
    Visually it promised a lot at first glance and then it seems to quickly go nowhere special ……that third part interpretation though a great idea just hasn’t been explored visually. The editing is of little rhyme and reason.

    Personally I would treat this subject and the participants as landscape something one walks into lives in etc. The anorexia part will tag along for the journey there is no need to treat it as a documentary ………..

    …….. or the participants should have all the say take this photographer out of the equation

  7. …… other words it’s gotta be more interesting but I take something away with me and nothing to do with their plight

  8. David, I am very interested in what you are doing here. As I see it, the thing we need most as photographers, and those of us who spend time looking at photos, are curators. And DAH has become, through Burn, an important curator. As much as I appreciate the work of DAH the photographer (and understand why you will never stop shooting), I think your most important role in this “post photographic” world is as curator. There are too many “good” images, too many options to view them, and a constant stream of new images that even the most committed cannot sort through to find the best of the best from emerging photographers.

    That curatorial function breaks down (in my usual unreserved opinion) when it embraces the current trend toward “pan-everything-ism” in photography. We, as consumers of images, desperately need stronger, more focused voices. The internet has already given us access to everything. What we need now is someone to say, “Look here. This is important.” David Harvey and Burn can do that.

    I understand I’m commenting on this in the wrong venue. This essay was chosen by judges, not DAH. That it was chosen, though, clearly (to me) reflects this very problem. Is this really one of the “best” essays entered in the competition? Or was it chosen because of its “decent into hell” edginess? Do the judges really understand that the future of photography really depends on the choices they make when they lift essays out of the noise and proclaim them to be worth looking at?

    I know, David, that you like to embrace all photography, and encourage all photography. But what we need is your voice pointing toward the best of the best from emerging photographers, not an effort to hug the entire photographic world. There is plenty of photography. What we need is curators.

  9. Jim: I find this essay very important; not only it’s pushing the boundaries of photography by a different use of the medium, but also points out at a very real and relatively unexplored dark part of human culture. I actually think that it’s one of better things I’ve seen on Burn in a long time, and it truly deserves recognition.


    thank you for this thoughtful reply…and why i want to definitely have you on our Burn panel..i think the problem with the traditional media was that somebody was always playing God at any newspaper or magazine…a curator who did as you suggest would then become a little too authoritarian for my taste…

    in my teaching world i always find it best to let people discover rather than to tell them what is “right”…you and i grew up being told what was right…and often the “right” was the “right” from an advertisers point of view…while you think we are “post photographic” i see most photographic….

    yet i think some of your frustrations are real…in the case of the EPF being presented now, we received 1,000 entries, the Burn team boiled it down to 35 photographers to be juried, and the jury did the rest…how else could this be done? i cannot control who enters, and i cannot control the jury, nor do i want to…i am part of the audience too….i like to see what young photographers are doing…and i like to see, along with everyone else, what an esteemed jury chooses…i do not “hug the entire photographic world” for any reason other than my tastes are eclectic by nature…that IS my opinion….i like lots of stuff…with movies, with food, with wine, with motorcycles etc…not everything, just the best of the best…open windows…fresh air, has always been my mantra…

    my concerns do parallel yours however…i am more worried that photographers are just not really digging enough….not actually exploring…not actually working…not really living it…the notion that there are “too many photographers” is the most misleading and incorrect notion out there that i hear everyday…

    there are just more people with cameras, not more photographers…

    ask anyone on the Burn staff who is scouring around for good stories for Burn…it is like panning for gold…a nugget here and a nugget there…not lots of great work …only some great work..even among this audience , who have an inside track so to speak and golden opportunities to be showcased, still rarely come through on any significant level…yet every mentor knows that only a few will actually totally grasp what is being presented..if i were only a curator as you suggest that would be my undoing..i must be doing in order to mentor..

    by the way, i made my first b&w prints in my new darkroom yesterday…i had not made a print in 35 years or so….this winter i will be in the darkroom doing very traditional work…shooting big film , making small prints….at the same time my color prints are getting very large and will be limited editions at Art Basel in Miami….i am comfortable doing both things…to me they are not separate…there is a symbiotic flow…and so it goes with Burn….

    even if Burn had access somehow to everything that was being done out there it would just not be possible to publish two essays per week that rose to some super level…super level only happens once in awhile no matter what the parameters may be…

    in any case, thank you for thinking…and for writing…there is no need for us to agree on specific essays….better to question…you obviously care or you would not be here….good on you…

    cheers, david

  11. I really don not understand how this essay can be considered as “pointless”.

    Laia is actually showing us a community with severe problems that hides in new platforms and that uses photography as a harmful tool of motivation towards self-destruction.

    I can agree in the fact that it is not “proper-classical-standart” photography because of the non-presential production method. But I think this debate was arised years ago and it is just a matter of understanding photography in a different way.

    Dear Jim, you may not like the subject, the way it is shot, the way the photographer relates to photography, etc, but I don´t think anyone can say it is a “pointless” essay.


  12. Mr Harvey, you mentionned that two photographers from Magnum were on the jury of the EPF; I only see Alex Webb.

    Is Rebecca Norris Webb in Magnum??
    Is this a scoop?

  13. MARTIN

    my error…Rebecca is not a Magnum photographer….she is just married to one!! she IS an author in her own right of course and was a juror…her new book “My Dakota” should indeed prove this…

    sorry for the slip up…

    cheers, david

  14. I’m 50/50 on this essay. I see and understand Jim’s point of view, although I don’t agree absolutely with everything he’s stated. On the other hand i found Jim’s answer to David’s comment brilliant. Then there’s that other 50% which will always happily close my eyes and follow David’s Burn curating choices, those choices have served me very very well and no way would I be who I am photography wise without the incredible influence of Roadtrips and Burn.

  15. This… one… makes… me… shudder…

    In a way that no other Burn essay ever has. I first looked at it last night but was weighing my thoughts and couldn’t comment.

    This morning, as I came near to waking up, the images from this essay appeared in my dreams. This has never happened with a Burn essay before, either.

    So, in my mind, the power of these images is beyond dispute. The question then becomes whether or not they are powerful as concerned social statement or as exploitation. I still wrestle with this one a bit, but the fact is this essay has brought home two messages to me in a way that nothing else I have seen, still or video, ever has. One, of course, is just how truly devastating anorexia can be on the human body.

    The other is the very point the photographer made – the delusion and glorification of the disease by some who have it. I do not know how that could better have been stated than by the method she chose – having them look through their cameras as she looked at them through hers as they themselves took on the poses of glamour and commercial sexuality. She also made me care about these women and to hope that someone can help them.

    So I think it is a socially powerful essay, rather than pure exploitive – and it was done in a highly creative and deeply thought out manner, chosen to make the viewer look at an old problem with new understanding.

    That said, I think Jim has made a good point. I believe that much that becomes award winning these days does so more for its “‘descent into hell’ edginess” than its true value as photography. Sometimes, it becomes hard to know the difference.

  16. “So I think it is a socially powerful essay, rather than pure exploitive”

    When I look at photography like this, I always ask myself at the end, “So now what?” What does the photographer want me to do in response to the essay? These photos are painful to look at. Does that make them powerful? Was the point to make me uncomfortable with the plight of these women? To be sad for them? To pity them? To what end? O.K., you’ve gotten your reaction…so now what?

    In my mind, if it is only a reaction you want as a photographer, then you are exploiting the subject. If these women’s situation is hopeless, then why show me these images? That’s only slideshow photos. If the images make any difference in the outcomes, then show me that, as well. Otherwise, I’ll decide you are exploiting me, also.

  17. Jim stuff like this is for a niche market though the photographer being of a documentary persuasion would probably want it out there for everybody……….. I reckon it just wouldn’t see an eyelid blink in parts of our starving planet.

    It is a elitist type of essay that merely indicates don’t do this it is bad you will look terrible, sick depraved etc which in turn has a undisclosed “you should look like this” Is that going to be fat, slim,plump model like magazine nice. macrobiotic which way to Woodstock so called “normal”. There is no indicator here and that is why after first glance and then it seems to go nowhere special.
    It stops short and I do agree with you Jim if there are images of outcomes then there is a sense of purpose to this documentation. If not make it into a visual experience without the moral high road

  18. JIM:

    Regarding Burn, curation, etc., I don’t think you have reasonable expectations for a magazine that draws 90% of its materials from over the transom. Very few of the essays here are commissioned or even suggested and few at all have any editorial hand besides that of the photographer. David and crew whittle down the thousands of submissions to the few hundred that are published every year, but how many of those would gain by a ten-minute Skype edit with DAH? (And how many artists’ statements would be improved by five minutes of your or MW’s feedback?)

    David has written about the months of labor in the editorial process at National Geographic and the fact that some good stories get killed, leaving the few dozen the magazine publishes every year to be absolutely the tightest and most scrutinized. When editors and photographer collaborate, the best work results. This is true in any form of publishing.

    Sure, Burn would be improved by having an editor (someone who works with the photog to choose among individual images to present an essay) instead of selector (someone choosing among essays in the electronic slush pile). And it would certainly gain by commissioning more essays, but given the constraints on everyone’s resources of time and money, I’d say DAH and crew are doing pretty well.

  19. As I stated originally when this series was shown (without the explanation/contextualization) in the EPF finalist, it was by far the most visually challenging of all the work, and not because of its visual surface (see SMOKE photographer Maki for his work on photographing filipino/thai prostitutes via web/computer screen, only to use a reason example) but because of what lay behind the visual elements here: people in a state of spiritual, physical, existential loss fed up on the platter of their bones and bodies….

    it is the essay i shall best remember…but because of the women…not because of the photographer…that is disheartening…

    of course i love a photographer who works toward abstraction and metaphor, i love a photographer who digs deep into the construct of body and moment as landscape as twig as something beyond the silly cadences we mark off as our selves…it lay at the heart of my own life’s work….however, it totally rings hollow and empty here…how so?…

    after reading the statement (which i find clever by 1/2), i wanted to ask this photographer a simple question: why not turn the camera upon yourself….the REAL choice that should have been made…instead the women here become surrogates, become not these girls suffering but signifiers for this photographers own ambition…i see this often,…now, if this ‘style’ or this vein of construction and approach were this photographers usual method, i would celebrate this work wildly…but it seems, to me, a trick…a beautiful and challenging trick, but a trick none the less…

    when a photographer embraces their life and reveals it honestly and wholly, in all its mess and loss and glory and detritus-filled caverns (think of jukka and antoine, for example) then yes…push the the viewer into a place that makes them feel uncomfortable as a way to allow them to ask questions…here those images and these women do in fact force us to confront our selves, our notions of self, our notions of empathy (do we really care about these women, or are we simply filled with horror and revulsion why they attempt to embrace their own selves, their owns malady)…this essay asks those questions because of the confrontational nature of the pictures and the choice the photographer as made: photograph the women as THEY wish to show us, as they choose, their agency…i do very much like that choice…and find it important…the conceptual conceit just that….we see these women, they’re being modeled and they photograph us in turn…it is a macabre dance of sadness…and one for me that points to our inability to not only understand others but to genuinely care nothing about them but as freaks….to be photographed or to be dismissed….at the heart of this essay is that ambiguous and ambivalent relationship….and that is its power…

    and yet….

    the photographer is never brave enough to step in the ossuary herself….instead she remains distant…bemused almost, allowing the final image to offer neither exit nor entrace to way of negioating the story….its just fucking flat….and another blip on the map of a documentary photography ticking off a subject for the awards game….Perpignan anyone?…

    the irony is that i’d rather spend time with these women that listening to the photographer because at least they, in their broken, haunted worlds have the courage (deluded or otherwise) to show still what they cannot see properly or recognize…and the photographer here, instead, fails to offer her own relationship to self…mediating that through the bodies of others is not enough…

    happpy that this is provocative and provokes thought/discussion..

    it will stay with me for a long time…and that is about the women here…

    sometimes i loathe photographers and the world of photography in all its mirrored emptiness….i say that as a person whose spend a good bit of his life carving out his own ossuary from pictures…

    someone Witkin seems more opening…and isnt that a shame?…


  20. It is a good thing that this essay is shown netx to the previous one. To me at least. It shows me very clearly the difference of being INSIDE (Giovanni’s) and OUTSIDE (Laia’s).

    Here I see what it looks like. But I have no connection, cannot make it, since the women have decided not to show themselves, but “only” their shells.

    Very different from “Monia”, where the photographer tries to get inside.. a need more for him than for his sister, probably.. no shocking photography, but pointing out in a tranquil way a big problem..

    Here, with “Thinspiration”, I see the “what it looks like”, without learning anything about the “why”.. I think I miss the point.. shocking images do not necessarily talk louder, imo..

  21. eduardo sepulveda

    metaphotography… ??

    I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them
    D. Arbus.

    Nothing is ever the same as they said it was.

  22. No comment on the subject matter. Jim Powers is right, Exploitative and pointless. Panos Skoulidas is equally right – POWERFUL is an understatement …!!! Meh, the rest of you guys talk a lot ;) I would add that it is utterly disturbing in a most compelling way. Not unexpected. Exploitive, pointless, powerful, disturbing, compelling….., burn. I’ve been too busy for too long, Cheers folks and thank you.

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