This article was originally published by i-D UK.
From challenging unrealistic ideals of beauty, to championing diverse representation, photographer and Girls by Girls founder Ashley Armitage is all about disrupting the norm. For her latest creative endeavour, Ashley has set her sights on reclaiming the female form — specifically, the ass. "People of all genders have butts," she explains. "Femme identifying people are so often sexualized and targeted on the internet; but showcasing our butts gives us a break from that because butts aren't a gendered body part." Taken over a period of two years, Taking Back What's Ours is a candid series of photographs, featuring a group of diverse women of various sizes, colors, and creeds.
Far from sexualized depictions of the female bottom, these portraits are at once otherworldly (each butt is dusted with blush) and yet incredibly real — (dimples, stretch marks, cellulite, the whole works). Playful and intimate, Taking Back What's Ours is a love letter to the female form.
What's the idea behind Taking Back What's Ours?
Taking Back What's Ours is a series I started two years ago. I was in art school studying Art History and a majority of the artists we learned about were men, and typically white men. It's no coincidence that men are the ones who have been in power, while also being the ones to make the art that we look to when studying history. This art shows us the world through a male gaze and that is only half the story. For this series, I wanted to be the one to take back what is ours and make photos that I feel represent me and my friends. We are defining our bodies on our own terms now.
You've spoken about butts being ungendered, could you elaborate on this?
People of all genders have butts. Butts are these gender-fluid body parts and they don't belong to one gender. By looking just at a butt, you won't necessarily know the gender of its owner. Femme identifying people are so often sexualized and targeted on the internet; but showcasing our butts gives us a break from that because butts aren't a gendered body part.
What was the significance of the blush?
My friend, Bonnie Robbins, art directed the blush, and she answers it this way: "Butt blush began as a way to view the body with more tenderness and humor. I liked the idea of butt portraiture, where we would treat butts with the same regard that we traditionally treat a face in photography. Each butt has its own size, shape, color, and texture to it so we tried to reflect these nuances with unique lighting and makeup situations. Blush was a natural fit for butts since they have big, soft 'cheeks' which lend themselves well to blending in complimentary hues that accentuate our subjects' natural assets."
What was it like as photographer approaching women's butts as an object?
I wouldn't even say I was approaching the butts are objects. In this shoot, the butts took on a life of their own and became subjects. It was a silly and playful experience. We were putting blush onto the butts just like you might onto a face. The butts were their own people. During this shoot there was a real tangible feeling of friendship and camaraderie. Everyone had their butts out. How much more intimate can you get?
What was it you wanted viewers to take away from each image?
I want people to feel good about themselves while looking at these photos. I want them to see the stretch marks, the blemishes, the cellulite, and be able to relate and feel proud of their bodies. I hope everyone can see a little piece of themselves in these photos.
What's the most surprising thing you learned during the whole process?
It pleasantly surprises me how comfortable and confident my friends are with their bodies. They are always teaching me how to better love and respect my own body.
How do you think your work has evolved over the past few years?
When I first started shooting I didn't really take defying beauty standards into consideration, I just used whoever volunteered to model for me. Now I make an effort to be accepting of all people in my work. It's always a work in progress and I'm always learning.
What is the significance of the female gaze?
The female gaze, and any marginalized gaze — the trans gaze, the queer gaze, the PoC gaze, the disabled gaze, and the plus-sized gaze — are all important in combating the omnipresent, capitalistic, and inherently exploitative male gaze. All art made by marginalized groups is political.
What does it mean to be a woman in 2017?
I think for white women like me, it means learning to sometimes just sit back and listen to groups more marginalized than us.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I can't wait for the media to become more inclusive of women, PoC, LGBTQI+ people, and plus-sized people. I think with more of us behind the camera, representation will become more diverse and representative.
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Ashley Armitage