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Lovely, respectful and sensual photos of large women are common today, but at the time that Patricia Schwarz started her Women of Substance series in the early 1980s, they did not exist. Patricia broke new ground with her work. She reinvented the female body with her camera. She made seeing beauty in fatness her manifesto.

From the beginning, Patricia had a Nikon camera in her bag and often around
her neck. 

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In 1970 at the San Francisco Art Institute, Patricia Schwarz gathered people who were mostly young, lithe, toned and sensuous. They were people who felt comfortable in front of her lens. It was her conventionally “beautiful” phase. 

the revolt begins

Secretly, Patricia was becoming fed up with her fawning portraits of the thin and conventionally beautiful. The first sign of her revolt in San Francisco, she wanted to photograph old people and showcase not their fragility but their strength and their dignity. They were bold, carving her path to just how bold Patricia would soon become.


Women of Substance

Patricia launched her personal revolution in the early 1980s. 

The new wave of photos shows extra large women lolling about on the grass, on sun-drenched carpets, on yards of silk, by the sea, in the cemetery. Patricia’s cry of liberation, her riot of anger and revolt, came in savagely beautiful colours and unashamed slabs of flesh. Results were astonishing. The revolution was on!

She wrote, “I have always photographed slender people, and I could safely ‘hide’ my feelings behind these images of people who looked so different from me on the outside. Now I am merging the photographs I take with the person I am.”


These were Patricia’s new muses. They were almost like extensions of her, inspiring her on her road to self-acceptance, redeeming her body in a world where it was ignored and even despised.

United States of America

In 1989 a huge surprise that would herald the coming apex of Patricia's career. The Ruttenberg Arts Foundation pondered the works of 250 photographers and gave her its Fellowship Award.

Wrote a juror,
“Don’t laugh. Schwarz doesn’t. She gives us here an image of surprising beauty and shocking originality. Fat ladies are supposed to be laughed at, right? Or ignored. Or pitied. Schwarz presents hers most seriously, in a pose as formal and classic as a nude by Ingres. It may become a classic in the collections and history of photography.”
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“There is a disease in society called low self-esteem that makes everyone ill one way or another,” Patricia wrote later. Her women were going to change all that. 


Success came calling in 1993, “Canada wants my work!” The National Film Board of Canada was making a documentary film about fat acceptance, called Fat Chance. Director Jeff Mckay interviewed Patricia. They paid her for the use of her photographs. She was ecstatic.


Then, in 1995, The Muséee for Fotokunst, in Odense, Denmark, presented Patricia’s Women of Substance in a solo show. After all the pain and sadness of what had happened in Amsterdam, this felt like a consecration.


The same year (1995) Patricia received the visit of Eiko Hosoe, Director of Tokyo’s Museum of Photographic Arts. He wanted to make a book out of her 'Women of Substance.'

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Patricia Schwarz practiced what she called “creative reimaging” – the idea that through photographic art society would come to see beauty and dignity in large-size people like her. 

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Patricia's legacy is a spec-tacular body of work that affirms the importance of weight diversity.

“Beauty comes in all shapes & sizes!”

She wrote.

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In Amsterdam in 1987, Patricia suffered from a diabetic coma while seated on a toilet. She was found unconscious hours later and almost died. She was hospitalized for seven months in Holland and when she emerged after several operations, she had limited use of her feet and legs. 

She went back to the U.S. and did her best to live with her disability, continuing to take some of her most spectacular photographs.

In her later life, Patricia was forced out of her home by her brother and she was declared indigent. Her brother refused to return her photographic archive to her despite her repeated requests. She became mostly housebound and needed people to care for her. Patricia died of congestive heart failure at age 66 in 2017.

Patricia died in poverty, leaving behind thousands of extraordinary prints, negatives and slides. Patricia’s archive was salvaged from her brother’s basement by her lifelong friend and biographer Paul Carvalho.

When Paul died in 2023, he left Patricia’s archive to his partner Cynthia Davis, who is carrying on Paul’s work of honouring Patricia’s legacy.
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