Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And what’s more beautiful than photographs of women taken by women?
Historically, the male gaze has depicted women in the media and arts through representations that usually perpetuate objectifying ideals of female beauty. But more and more female photographers are reclaiming what’s ours to present important visual narratives that show the diverse and complex representations of femininity.
There’s power in female-fronted agency and the more we’re exposed to different representations of women, the more we can learn from it and support each other.
Below are a few current photographers around the world who are using their lens to change the way society views women:
You may have already seen some of Amani Azlin‘s work around town. The young Malaysian artist and photographer is the creative force behind fashion campaigns for Malaysian labels like Nelissa Hilman, SHALS and Thavia and emerging singer Lunadira’s “ur cute but boring” music video. Sisterhood and heritage is a central motif that runs throughout the work she creates, and her personal projects usually feature family and friends to empower Kuala Lumpur’s youth through the importance of togetherness and connection. Check out Jangan Malu, the photo series she created in collaboration with photographer Tasha Iman, which celebrates the beauty marks that make us unique.
Moroccan-born, New York-based photographer Lalla Essaydi champions women through beautifully staged images that appropriates and subverts Orientalist imagery of the 19th century. Her work focuses on Arabic female identity and features Arab women in monochrome settings, which she covers with hand-painted Arabic calligraphy in the traditionally female art of Henna. Exploring the ways that power and gender are inscribed on the bodies of Muslim women and the spaces they inhabit, her images allow them to take back ownership of their representation.
A leading voice in the new wave of the female gaze, Canadian photographer Petra Collins is widely recognised in fashion and art for her dreamy, hyper-feminine aesthetic. Currently based in New York, Collins shoots all her images on 35mm film and captures the beauty and reality of the young female experience for a digital generation who see themselves represented in front and behind the lens. Advocating the importance of creating spaces for girls to be seen and heard, the photographer has exhibited in institutions like The Museum of Modern Art, The Tate Modern and Hong Kong Art Basel. In 2017, she was included in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list and Vogue’s 40 Creatives To Watch.
Chinese photographer Luo Yang has been capturing the girls and women around her since 2007 for her GIRLS series. GIRLS began as an attempt to understand the lives and identities surrounding her, but her honest portraits have since grown to depict the underlying tensions and emotions of an emerging Chinese subculture. Playful yet serene, her images explore femininity and youth in ways that challenge the traditional beliefs about women in Chinese society and celebrates them in manifold forms.
For Nadine Ijewere, photography started off as a creative break from the more ‘serious’ subjects of science and maths. After deciding to study photography full-time at the London College of Fashion, the Nigerian-Jamaican photographer became aware of the stereotypical portrayal of non-Western cultures in fashion imagery. She started casting mixed-raced models to celebrate the diversity of women, which has since become central to her work to challenge fashion industry standards. At only 26, she became the first woman of colour to shoot a cover for Vogue across the world.
This Melbourne-based photographer is challenging perceptions of beauty, gender and age through her hyperreal, often theatrical portraits of women. Part of the way Phebe Schmidt approaches her work comes in the stylised plasticity seen in her images, something we often see in highly-produced, airbrushed advertorials. In doing so, Schmidt blurs the boundary between reality and construction and forces us to question the authenticity and high standards of beauty portrayed by the media and society.
Indonesian-born, Los Angeles-based Kanya Iwana captures women in a fierce and raw light that simultaneously stuns with a cinematic feel informed by her fine arts degree in theatre. Her photographs evoke a sense of nostalgia and capture the vulnerability of her subjects through a subtle but powerful way. Iwana also runs a photography and production house where she produces images for publications like Vogue US, W Magazine and Ssense.
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