In the past ten years, we have seen the female gaze permeate commercial photography like never before. Practitioners spanning the genres of fashion, beauty, lifestyle, and fine art are feeling evermore empowered to create unapologetically feminine works that invoke a deep sense of empathy and empowerment. Beauty photographer, Daphné Launay (daphne_launay) is no exception. Putting the 'personal' in 'personal space' Launay's unflinching eye soars through her lens to land upon the soft spots of her subjects; an uncertain gaze, a silent inhale, a rogue shift in expression. Forever meeting the point wherein, the veneer of composure cracks just enough to give a glimpse unfeigned humility.
It can come from something visual, from an emotion, from a song, from a poem, from a place, from an architecture, from a piece of clothing, from a designer piece. But also from a face or a body.
It doesn't take a particularly masterful critic to label this series as intimate, textural, tonal, or sensual. Although we know all of the above to be true, the visceral nature of these images does not necessarily lie within the proximity of the mouth to the viewer. Of course, there are certain immediate implications of being so close to another's face but let us consider the audience. Who are beauty ads for if not those who engage with and perform traditional femininity (at least in appearance?) These photos are not simply a piece of hair gently brushed behind the ear, a slow and steady grace of the cheek, a kiss. They are the smooth and plump face of a young woman applying an abundance of glossy, glittery, goop reflected back from the tiny square mirror inside a dusty make-up box, a scratched compact pulled from a jean pocket, a car wing-mirror, a flip-phone on rest mode.
Warm, wet, and wonderfully nostalgic. Launay uses a macro lens to home in on every line, fold, dimple, follicle, and vein of her subject. This subtle fixation on acute imperfection is complimented by a subtle canting of the frame. Delicate lighting falling from the top right corner of the image keeps the limits the tonal range and softens without condemning the contrast to naught. One large, hexagonal soft-box on a continuous light mimics the moon in a night sky to create a feeling of romance and a mystique. The incorporation of plastic wrapping allows Launay to touch on surreal whilst maintaining the playful nature of the series. Launay's take on the macro study is as simple and successful as it sparkly.
The real starting point was my graduation from the Gobelins school in 2018. And then, in 2020, I started to attract clients in the field of beauty, I was able to work with several brands from L'Oréal and LVMH and today I am very happy that I was given the chance to prove myself.
Launay's first editorial was printed one year prior to her graduation in 2017 in submissions-based magazine Jute. Although not widely popular within the public sphere, Jute was fairly well-known amongst those looking to break into the fashion industry during the mid-to late 2010's. This was due to its egalitarian approach to publishing work; it was free to submit to, judged work based on quality rather than budget, and was popularised by social media. Launay was also twice featured in Atlas, a publication that was started by and for fashion photography students, which soon garnered a global following. Much like these publications, Launay's work represents the peak of the Instagram era in fashion photography. Never was this platform more influential or integral or fashion photography more accessible. In the days of the pre-video-based algorithm, Instagram began to democratise commercial imagery permitting the prevalence of pioneering practitioners like Harley Weir, Petra Collins, and Juno Calypso. At the epicentre of Launay's work is the echo of ephemerality, reminiscent of the early days of impressionistic and internet-inspired imagery.
Harley Weir 'Red Sensations' 2016
© Harley Weir 'Red Sensations' 2016
But what of Launay's take on her own work? Launay cites inspirations in including Charles Negre, Mathieu Trautmann, Cho Gi-Seok, Frank Horvat, Paolo Roversi, and Sarah Moon stating that her initial passion for photography was invoke by an undeniable urge to 'capture the moment.' Such a broad spectrum in influences not only explains the varied technical approach we see in her portfolio but grounds it. Far from an amalgamation of tight crops and pretty girls, Launay's work demonstrates a deep and profound appreciation for her craft proving once again that the only way to be a brilliant photographer is to love photography.