Ashley Armitage on the Female Gaze and Why All Bodies are Beautiful Bodies

Features. Interviews. Posted 2 years ago

Rosie Dalton

aSHLEY2Image: Photographed by Ashley Armitage

We have been in love with Ashley’s work for some time now. With the raw way that she deals with female identity and sexuality — capturing tampons, period stains and pubic hair in a way that is both refreshingly romantic but, at the same time, honest. There’s an intimacy about her photography that really draws you in; inviting you to engage with her ongoing narrative about the transition from girlhood to womanhood. With her works, Armitage creates an inclusive space, through embracing the imperfections and celebrating women both behind and in front of the camera. Suffice to say, we are very excited to see her work exhibited as part of Reclaiming the Image tomorrow night. And so, ahead of the event, we asked Ashley a few questions about the female gaze and why it’s so important to support marginalised voices within the art world.

Rosie Dalton: What does the female gaze mean to you and how do you aim to incorporate this into your work?
Ashley Armitage: To me, the female gaze means work produced by female-identifying people, or female-focussed work. It means consent, empowerment, and inclusivity. The work I make is through the female gaze because I shoot people in a collaborative way, and I try to keep my work open to all types of people.

Ashley4Image: Photographed by Ashley Armitage

Rosie Dalton: Why do you think it’s so important for women to have a voice in creative fields like art and photography?
Ashley Armitage:
It’s important for not only women, but each and every marginalised voice to be heard in creative fields. Women need to have a voice, transfolk need to have a voice, People of Colour need to have a voice, disabled people need to have a voice. Without a multitude of voices, we only hear one story, and one story is not the full picture.

Rosie Dalton: And how do you think that this vision can be empowering, in contrast to many of the male-driven representations of female bodies out there?
Ashley Armitage:
First of all, not all male-driven representations are “bad”, and not all female-driven representations are “good”. There are men who photograph women in super empowering ways, and there are women who photograph women in super degrading ways. I think Ryan McGinley is a good example of a man who takes photos of nude people in empowering ways. Empowering work can be made by anyone, it all depends on the process.

Rosie Dalton: Your photography seems to deal with the intersection between girlhood and womanhood, why are you drawn to this period of transition in particular?
Ashley Armitage:
I’m drawn to this because I’m currently going through this. I’m still in school! It’s such a fascinating time though, that I feel like even as an old lady I’ll still be making work like this.

Rosie Dalton: Do you feel like it’s important to represent women’s bodies as they actually are, why or why not?
Ashley Armitage:
I do! I think it’s important to show real bodies, and a various sample of bodies, so that we can oppose the toxic beauty standard. It’s poisonous when people are fed the same images of the same body type over and over again (thin, white, fit, blemish-free bodies). We need to see all body types to know that we are all just fine the way we are.

Ashley1Image: Photographed by Ashley Armitage

Rosie Dalton: And how do you feel about extensive Photoshopping, or other tools that aim to skew our perceptions of the female body?
Ashley Armitage:
I honestly think it’s up to the model. There have been examples of celebrities being unnaturally Photoshopped in the past, like Kate Winslet, who have then called out the magazine. It’s unhealthy for everyone if a model is Photoshopped to look whiter or thinner without knowing.

Rosie Dalton: What is the message that you aim to convey with your work?
Ashley Armitage:
I think my message is always changing, but right now I’ve been focussing on shooting bodies with all of their differences and imperfections. I’d say right now my biggest message is “All bodies are beautiful bodies”.

Rosie Dalton: And what inspired you to set up Girlfriends Gallery?
Ashley Armitage:
I set up Girlfriends Gallery because of my constant frustration at not having a space as a beginning female artist. A few years ago on the Internet, I was trying to find outlets that I could showcase and get my work out there, and they just didn’t exist if you weren’t already established. I set up Girlfriends Gallery to be a place for marginalised artists to come together and share work. I want to build a community. We are stronger when we work together!

Rosie Dalton: Can you tell me a little bit about the works you have contributed for The Ladies Network x Catalogue exhibition at Vivid Ideas this year? What is the main idea behind these and where did you source your inspiration?
Ashley Armitage:
The main idea of these works was to create studio portraits in collaboration with my friends. In these, I really wanted to zoom in on body parts and see them as both bodies and landscapes.

Ashley3Image: Photographed by Ashley Armitage

Rosie Dalton: Finally, do you feel like now is an exciting time for women in the arts, why or why not?
Ashley Armitage:
I do! I’m really excited about what’s happening right now. In the last couple of years, things have really started happening for girls and women and other marginalised folks. We’re all coming together and claiming space. The work that people are making right now is so inspiring too. I’m so inspired by other artists like Synchrodogs, Chloe Sheppard, Grace Miceli, Faye Orlove, Maisie Cousins, Petra Collins, and Mayan Toledano.

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