The notion of femininity is in flux but why does it feel stuck in the past and gawped at through the lens of the male gaze? Ashley Armitage (@ladyist) stands to redefine femininity through her photography, tackling social issues such as institutional sexism and ageism in her practice. Projects such as The Girl's Room and Billie frame industry created conventions that limit and oppress the image of the woman and instead work to deconstruct inbuilt generational and institutional attitudes created in media.
The Seattle based photographer and director was inducted into the world of image by her father. Together they would capture her hometown equipped with her first ever camera the Canon AE-1 and a few rolls of black and white film at her side. She fell in love with capturing the everyday and knew this was her calling.
She went on to take the Santa Barbara Film production program to pursue her dreams but soon realised this institution for filmmakers was heavily saturated with men with only 5% of her class being women. Armitage knew there was something wrong here and that was a lack of women representation and so developed her practice, cultivated her voice and began to act through the image . She wanted a space for women to do predominantly male roles, to be the producer, the director, the camera person and create a community of girls just doing it.
Over the past four years Armitage has been involved in a number of high- profile projects, shooting for companies like Gucci, Nordstrom and Lazy Oaf. With her most historical being for the razor brand Billie in 2018. Her thirty second ad was the first video to every feature pubic hair. The campaign made the Glass Lion shortlist at Cannes in 2019 and won the People's Voice Webby for Advertising, Media & PR Brand Strategy. As amazing as the achievement is, simultaneously this demonstrates the lack of progression called for, with social platforms like facebook censoring imagery even now and how important it is to have young women like Armitage leading the way for girls of the future.
What is important to Armitage's work is its ability to capture the collective eye with both men and women responding to her uncensored shots. The girls captured do not appease conventions and challenge notions of beauty. Armitage portrays different body types, skin tones, complexion and, yes, the follicle: the natural unfolding of femininity. She is the Cindy Sherman of this generation, tackling social norms brought about by men's fantasies around women and instead normalising everyday bodies.
Armitage goes about this depiction in an aesthetically pleasing manner. One that doesn't distract the viewer but instead subverts expectations of femininity. questioning aspects that are jarring yet redefining. Her 80's dream in pale candy hues and rose-tinted exteriors is easy on the eyes. She uses cliché scenarios of girls painting nails, talking on the phone or getting ready, but a closer look showcases hairy armpits and pubic hair gone wild. These moments are influential and necessary in provoking responses and questioning normality. Photographers like Armitage are using platforms like Instagram to their advantage by posting to the masses in hopes that one day a more realistic standard stick. She doesn't expect to change the world but if her imagery can provide a refreshing alternative to societies norms then her job is done.