Photographer Turns Skin Condition Into Art

Ariana Page Russell's skin swells when scratched.

May 15, 2014— -- A Brooklyn-based photographer is turning the lens on herself to transform a rare skin disorder into art.

Ariana Page Russell has dermatographia, a condition that causes her skin to swell into puffy red welts with the slightest scratch.

It’s “not debilitating or life threatening, but can be quite uncomfortable and embarrassing,” Russell writes on her blog, Skin Tome, where she shares stories, art and photography inspired by sensitive skin. “Rather than being ashamed of my skin’s sensitivity, I embrace it and make art with it. What I once saw as burden, I now see as a gift.”

Dermatographia is also known as skin writing, a moniker Russell exploits in photographs of words, flowers and fishnets scratched into her skin.

“Quite simply, I draw and write on my skin with a light scratch, welts form and grow pink, I photograph the results, and it all disappears in about 30 minutes with only the photo to prove it ever existed,” Russell writes on her blog, which is “dedicated to building community around being comfortable in our skin.”

One photo shows Russell’s shoulder covered in exclamation points.

“It is painless, but no matter how many times I tell people it doesn’t hurt they still think it does,” Russell writes. “It’s amazing to me that such a natural thing can elicit such strong reactions in people when they’re not familiar with it.”