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“I have no aversion to pursuing a better me or a perfect piece of pottery,” Mandy Seligman G’86 was saying. But once behind the lens, she finds herself seeking out what she calls the “intrinsic beauty of the imperfect.”

The flawed, chipped objects that comprise her “Scarred Beauty” series of photographs ( are “still beautiful and useful even though they are worn or cracked,” she explains. They remind her of her fellow humans, whose flaws make us unique. That singularity is heightened by her stark lighting and composition.

For similar reasons she likes to photograph “uprooted and decomposing trees—the yin to the yang of the growth of new beings.”

In the same vein, when she photographs cities, she revels in the cracks in sidewalks and walls—and the gritty worlds within them.

“The life force of the city exists in the cracks,” says Seligman, an independent photographer and researcher, mother of five (three of whom are Penn alumnae), and the wife of Martin Seligman Gr’67 (the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology and director of Penn’s Positive Psychology Center). “Without them they are just a collection of concrete and glass pavilions. Life happens between and within the buildings.”

Sometimes the act of repairing can bring a cracked or imperfect object closer to perfection than it was before. “Kintsugi—the art of repairing cracks with gold—makes the piece more beautiful” and represents its strongest point, Seligman says. “We can take our fractures and make them beautiful and strong so that they shine out as beacons for who we are. Our usefulness to the world, our purpose, and our passion are forged in these imperfections, in these golden scars at the edge of perfection.” —SH

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