Ashley Armitage is intent on changing the representation of the female gaze. Exploring diversity within beauty, her portraits are intimate and reconstruct her own journey through adolescence. We catch up with her to discuss all things girl.
When did you first become conscious of feminism, either in art or in everyday life?
I first studied feminism in high school. I went to a liberal arts-integrated high school and our senior year humanities class was taught by Jon Greenberg. That entire year we learned about sexism, racism, and classism. We read ‘Native Son’ by Richard Wright, ‘Nickel and Dimed’ by Barbara Ehrenreich, and ‘My Year of Meats’ by Ruth Ozeki (my favorite book to this day, I've now read Ozeki's entire bibliography). When I learned about feminism, I realised I could be expressing my politics through art. It's not that on each photo shoot I'm thinking explicitly about how I can be making feminist art; it's just I think that as a girl, creating work is inherently a feminist act.
Have any particular experiences (either yours or that of friends) influenced your work?
My friend Irene has had a huge influence on my work. She's been my model more than anyone else and I find her so inspiring because she is maybe what society would call a "gross" girl. By that I just mean that she doesn't shave, she's super open about her body and its functions, and her sexuality. She doesn't fit the mould of a ‘controlled’, ‘polite’, and ‘restrained’ girl that society encourages all girls to be.
Feminism seems to have been brought into peoples’ consciousness a lot more in the last couple of years. There’s more focus on feminism in photography, fashion, the pop music scene… why now?
I think it's because of the internet. The internet allows anyone to tell their own story. I think we're finally being able to take the mic and speak for ourselves.
You’ve said in other interviews that you mostly shoot your friends because of the relaxed atmosphere that creates. How would you describe your working process when you shoot?
Typically my friends and I will hang out, I'll tell them the mood I'm going for, and I'll show them ‘inspiration’ photos that I've found on the internet so that we all know where the project is going. In the past couple weeks I started a new series where I shoot my friends nude in a non-sexy way. For this, I set up a studio backdrop in my dining room. My friends come over to my cosy apartment, we drink tea, we talk, and then we shoot. I cast my friends who have volunteered for a nude shoot, but before the shoot actually happens I let them know that them being comfortable is the most important, and if they change their minds about being nude they're absolutely welcome to put on clothes. I don't ever want anyone to be uncomfortable.
What part does fashion play in your work?
Fashion plays a minor role in my photography. Colour plays a huge role. Before a shoot I'll go to a thrift store and pick out simple clothing within my desired colour palette. Less is more to me. I like to be very decisive about which colours go into my photos.
What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve received?
My boyfriend, Derek Erdman, is a bit older than me and has been a painter most his life. I think the best advice I've received was him telling me to be humble. Not that I wasn't humble, I just hadn't really thought of it. Like at gallery shows, learn how to accept a compliment but then quickly change the subject; don't talk about yourself unless asked. Humility is so important.
What kind of reaction do your images get from a male audience?
I get mixed reactions. A lot of men on Instagram have told me things like "Thank you for this. You are taking photos of things that my wife finds insecurity in on herself". Other men are super degrading, like talking about how hot a girl in my photo is, how much they'd wanna have sex with her. Or other times, guys on Instagram say things like "Ew. Shave your pussy." Blah blah blah. I've also received a lot of dick pics. At first I saw that as harassment, and I still do, but now I actually just find it funny. Like, joke's on you, bro.
Is there anyone you would love to work with and why?
Ryan McGinley! His work is incredible.
What are your goals or aspirations with your work? E.g. do you have a particular point in mind that you’re always working towards?
My goals are always changing but I'd like to live in NYC, run a female-focused gallery. I'd also like to enter the commercial fashion world as a photographer.
Your interests originally lay in film. Is film-making something you might make a move towards again in the future?
Absolutely! Particularly documentaries. My start in film-making was with documentaries. I feel like I can do so much in that genre.
What’s in the pipelines?
Getting my online gallery, Girlfriends, off the ground. And moving to Brooklyn!
Interview by Peta Clark
Photography Ashley Armitage