For Remy Holwick, everything is a self-portrait. Even when when she’s photographing others, her images convey a level of raw intimacy and ownership that the subject always seems in control. Her newest series, This Is The Light That Never Goes Out, showcases a group of the photographer’s friends in simple, yet gnawing instants. Each snapshot holds a level of uncompromised honesty that other artists are either unwilling, or unable to achieve. That’s their real beauty—Holwick’s innate ability to not just capture an experience but completely recreate it, every time its viewed.
As the leader of a not-so-secret feminist collective, xIST (formerly GRLCVLT), Holwick brings together groups of women and offers a safe space for voices previously ignored by the feminist movement. Her photography isn’t so different. After seeing herself through everyone else’s eyes, as a model for most of her adult life, the photographer decided to see what she looked like from behind the lens. With authority over her body and sexuality, as an artist, Holwick does the same for all of her subjects. Instead of showing them as objects of her unfiltered gaze, she’s completely present, with an unapologetic and refreshing vulnerability that destroys any wall between subject, photographer and audience. That’s why her work is continually captivating. This Is The Light That Never Goes Out doesn’t present a moment, it takes you there.
View Holwick’s latest series, exclusively for BULLETT, and read our interview with the photographer, below.
Tell me about This Is The Light That Never Goes Out.
It’s very much a meditation on my own life, even though my subjects are not me. I’ve made every penny in my adult life either off my body, or through art, and most of it has been off my body, as a model. So this is a portrait series that includes the body because I think, especially for someone who grew up in art and fashion, the female body is so much of what a woman is considered by the outside world. It’s weaponized, it’s monetized, it’s commercialized and it’s something that we can so easily lose ownership of because there’s so much pressure from the outside world, whether it’s hiding it or exposing it. I started with self portraits kind of as a way to reclaim my body in the midst of seeing it used for brands and in editorials in all these different ways, and have all these images projected onto it, of what someone else thinks my body is. These photos really just became an extension of that—and of me.
If I was feeling weak, I’d shoot someone I knew was feeling vulnerable. If I was feeling strong, I would shoot someone who I thought radiated that emotion. This really became a series of platonic relationships wherein I was able to relate personally to someone, and they became really intimate in that way—and not just because of the nudity, but because of the fact that whatever I was shooting was something I related very deeply to in that moment.
Some of the photos feel really optimistic, while others feel more fragile.
I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive. But in a certain way, all of my work is self-portraiture because it’s either documenting where I am and what I’m going through, or it’s a reflection and a meditation on what I’m feeling. Art is the only way I’ve ever been able to understand how to express myself.
What themes do you explore in the series?
Intimacy, strength and womanhood are really the touchstones of this piece. I’m not a traditional woman in that I don’t wear a lot of dresses, my hair has been short since I was 12 years old, and for me, growing up, was really learning to redefine how womanhood could embrace what I felt was such a boy in a girl’s body. So the images really represent me learning to relate to womanhood, and learning to relate to women, while expanding that definition in a way that it encompasses me. And at the core of it all, is the concept of the strength—whether it’s a flickering little light inside of you, or whether it’s something dominant in you that’s full force, what links the portraits, is that indomitable strength that all of these people have.
How do you express those themes through your work?
I worked in Gary Baseman’s studio for a long time when I was younger and the one thing he said that really stuck with me was, “Artists are the people who do this because we don’t know what else we would do with ourselves.” That’s why some people quit when they get older, because they find they can live doing something else. But those of us who really stick with it, genuinely don’t know how not to. I don’t think it’s shameful or embarrassing, it’s just the only way I know how to live, the only way I know how to synthesize my experiences and relate.
How does these photos compare to your previous work?
This is certainly the most personal thing I’ve done, with the possible exception of my self-portraiture. But these photos are so much more intimate and cerebral—they’re about forging a connection and trying to see what’s worthwhile and what’s beautiful in those moments, and put them out into the world for others to hopefully relate to. That intimacy is rare and hard and to me, that’s what makes good art—not being afraid to be vulnerable and be intimate and go there. For a very long time, I was terrified of that emotional nudity. Like, ‘What are people going to think if I put this out there in its simplest form?’ But when I actually did it, that’s where I found all the truth in my work.
A lot of your subjects are nude, but none of the photos feel sexual. Was that a conscious decision?
That’s really important to me because so much of photography is about what the photographer is projecting on the subject, and it’s actually really gross. It can be well done but it just doesn’t interest me—it’s well traveled territory, and I think my own relationship with my body is just so much more nuanced than that. To me, my body is this vessel that gets me through—whether financially or gets me through emotionally, or gets me somewhere physically, it’s this thing that’s part of me and it’s not about my sexuality. It would be so dishonest for my work to take the easy angle of sexualizing the body, because that’s not how I feel living inside one of these bodies—it’s such a more complicated relationship than that, and it would be doing it a huge disservice to be anything but honest about it.
Tell me about xISt.
It stands for Intersectional Standing Together, and we’re a secret intersectional feminist cult that’s really not so secret anymore. And it’s not really a cult either. We’re a secret society of about 3,000 women nationwide, and we’ve asked everyone to call us xIST because we’ve mutated so much from the original GRLCVLT, that we wanted to start our own group—and we’re not all girls.
What’s the group’s purpose?
It aligns people from completely different walks of life, shoulder to shoulder in a way that doesn’t happen off the internet. When you get into one of these groups, you’re put in contact with people whose circumstances are completely different than your own, who you’d probably never meet in your day to day life. The problems from different lives that never would’ve seemed important to you or never would’ve even occurred to you, suddenly make sense when they are the problems of people you are in discourse with. Even problems as simple as ‘What color of lipstick do you like?’ or ‘How does my haircut look?’—when you’re in discourse about those simple things, it really starts to matter when you hear the same people say that they were fired from work for wearing cornrows. It suddenly makes sense because it matters to someone you care about, and it’s affected their life. So being shoulder to shoulder in these situations is key—you cannot forge understanding where you have no compensation to understand.
What do you think of people who say these online activist spaces have hurt the feminist movement?
You can’t blame people who have not had their voice heard for suddenly being heard, and for demanding the ownership they’ve always been entitled to but never had a chance to take. I think the only divisive voice is the one that tells those people to back off and shut up—there should be no debate about that. When someone says, ‘I matter too, please acknowledge my pronouns,’ or ‘I matter, too, this is why I wear a hijab,’ it’s not and never will be okay to say, ‘Yeah, but for the sake of uniting feminism, or for the sake of uniting the Democratic party, that’s not okay.’ You can’t ask people to continue taking a backseat so your life will be easier.
But there are feminists who don’t want to silence marginalize voices, they just think, ‘We didn’t have the internet, and look what we were able to accomplish.’
Sure, they didn’t need the internet to create what they did. But what created, was White Feminism. That was a huge step forward from no feminism, but not what we’re interested in, because feminism can’t be complete until it’s representative of all women, and of what’s needed across the board—not just as white individuals, who have been traditionally entitled to feminism. It needs to evolve—you can’t say that a viewpoint that worked in the ‘70s is going to work now. If feminism doesn’t keep up, it’ll die.
It’s interesting that you’ve been able to be subversive while still functioning inside the fashion industry.
You can make the most change from the inside—that’s why I’ll forever keep my 36 inch hips. It’s not always pleasant to have to pass on dessert, but if it means my voice will be heard—whatever. I will make sure my body keeps meeting the standards I was taught to maintain, if it means that my voice will be amplified enough to change that standard for the future. I believe in the future a lot more than my need to eat a cake right now.
But you don’t necessarily follow those same standards as a photographer, in terms of your casting.
I may not care about traditional concepts of beauty when taking my photos, but my images do show beauty, because there’s beauty in everyone. But I think the more we, as a society, see images that encourage us to understand beauty in different ways, the more we will stop seeing value in the narrow definition of beauty we’ve been spoonfed by the industry. That’s the thing—the industry can be catty, the industry can be bratty, the industry can be difficult, but it’s the industry I know and love to death. I believe in it and I want to see it get better. I want to watch it grow with feminism and society, into something I can be proud to say I was part of the change.
Do you think taking a selfie can be a political act?
I love selfie culture. When else in history have women in mass been able to say, ‘This is what I want the world to see me as?’ That’s part of the reason I cast from selfies—I’m generally interested in how women want to see themselves portrayed, and what they see when they look in the mirror, what represents them the best. Instead of hearing what an agency thinks or what I think, let’s see what you think, and start there.
Is there a reason you choose to shoot exclusively on film?
We’re one cloud crash away from losing a huge part of our culture. With a negative, you’d have to flood the whole house for me to lose my work. But I also think there’s something very symbolic about touching the film, being able to go into the dark room and rip everything up. That keeps this in the realm of something I can put my hands on—that I created, instead of captured.