Ashley Armitage loves butts. Or, at least, she wants everyone to appreciate their beauty. That’s the goal behind her latest series, Taking Back What’s Ours. Featuring candid snapshots of her friends, Armitage creates idyllic portraits of girlhood, stretchmarks and all. In pink hues, the 23-year-old photographer explores femininity, reclaiming nudity from the male gaze and transforming it into nostalgic depictions of female sexuality that contradict everything girls have been told. In Armitage’s world, beauty doesn’t have be to linear, or skinny, or white. The Seattle-based artist photographs her subjects as they come to terms with themselves and their bodies, proving what it means to be a woman at any shape or size. Shot only on film, Armitage’s work is soft and dreamy, but the images remain far more than just a scrapbook of all her beautiful friends. Taking Back What’s Ours is a manifesto, a quiet but vicious call to arms. With technicolor images of lace and lovehandles, Armitage illustrates the power in being a girl.
As part of the series, Armitage shot muse and makeup artist, Claire Joko-Fujimoto, exclusively for BULLETT. Read our interview with the artist, below, and view the imagery, above.
Tell me about this shoot.
This shoot is a part of the ongoing series I started two years ago, Taking Back What’s Ours. I was in school studying art history and a majority of the artists we learned about were men—typically white men. It’s no coincidence that men are the ones who have been in power while also being the ones to make the art we look to as history. Most art shows us the world through a male gaze, but that is only half the story. For this series, I wanted to be the one to take back what’s ours and make photos that represent me and my friends. We are defining our bodies on our own terms now.
What themes do you explore in your work?
My work is about exploring femininity and what that means to me. I’m always drawn to themes of girlhood, and I find myself constantly recreating scenes from my own past. But I’m also interested in aspects of girlhood that I might have missed out on, so I look to pop culture to fill in the blanks. I love ‘80s teen coming-of-age movies and the tropes that come along with them—girl cliques, gossiping in bathrooms, hanging out in bedrooms, changing in locker rooms, kissing on bleachers after school.
Is there a reason you focus so heavily on nudity? Your photos have the rare ability to portray naked femme bodies in a sexual way without totally objectifying them.
I shoot femme bodies because there is and has always been a huge void in media and art. The female body has always been defined by a male hand and mass media industries have always been run by men. I make imagery of femme bodies because I want to work to show a fuller picture. Women are so often sexualized and objectified in the media and I want to flip that and show women as subjects. Some of my work features nudity, and while the people in my photos might be ‘sexual,’ they aren’t being ‘sexualized’—the difference being where the agency lies. If we have a man telling a woman what to wear and how to pose without her say in the matter, then she’s no longer in control.
How do you choose your subjects?
Most of the models I work with are friends—I prefer to have a personal relationship with my models because I find the photos are so much more intimate. Shooting a friend allows for a lot more openness than shooting a stranger.
Your work showcases a lot of different body types. Is that important to you?
These photos speak to me on a personal level because I see Claire, a plus-sized woman of color, fearlessly putting her body out there for the world to see. Constantly seeing white, skinny, fit, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied people tells us that there’s only one way to be beautiful. I hope other girls can look to these photos and see that that you don’t have to be.
I’ve noticed you shoot mostly women. Why?
I shoot women because I am one, and through my photos, I’m constantly trying to break down what it means to be a girl. Growing up, I was constantly told what I could or couldn’t do because of my gender. I was told I was fragile and delicate and to mind my manners; to dress girly and wear skirts, but never too short; to shave my legs and my armpits, but grow my head hair long; to be small and skinny and to take up as little space as possible, with both my body and my voice—to cut and deform and squish myself to fit into this tiny box of what it means to be a girl. With my work, I want to tell other girls there isn’t just one way.
Your photos have a real softness to them, and a strong sense of nostalgia. What does that represent?
While I am trying to rewrite the rules of what it means to be a girl, I am also trying to reclaim aspects of girlhood that are often belittled or infantilized. Things like softness and the color pink are powerful weapons. These are the things that we, as girls, have been given, so I want to use them as a tool.
Does the internet play a significant role in what you do as an artist?
I probably wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing if it weren’t for the internet and specifically, Instagram. Instagram is a super democratic platform and in ways, it levels the playing field—any person can create an account and use it to post their work and build an audience. That is so powerful because it gives everyone a voice.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I just hope that some young girl, maybe in the middle of Iowa, without access to much culture or resources beyond her small town, might see my photos and understand that her body is beautiful, too.