6 photographers changing the body conversation on instagram

These young artists are using their access to a new kind of gaze to change the way bodies are represented and discussed online.

by Blair Cannon
01 August 2016, 2:05pm

The visual conversation surrounding bodies — especially female and/or queer bodies — on social media is loaded with controversy, comparison, and censorship. But the acceptance (especially the self-acceptance) of female and feminine bodies on Instagram is ever-so-slowly becoming the norm. These six photographers are part of a wave of young people putting themselves and others on display to promote the visibility of real, natural shapes and colors. Through Instagram and Tumblr, these artists are able to showcase a different kind of visual experience, and are changing the body conversations happening across social media and beyond.

Laurence Philomene
22-year-old Montreal-based photographer Laurence Philomene uses her queer femme perspective to destabilize gender politics in the bodies of her subjects. Laurence often provides models with a wig resembling her own signature orange hair, interrupting and reframing visual identities. Her depictions of androgynous, feminine, masculine, femme, trans, and altogether non-binary people on Instagram are a refreshing break from the often homogenous world of online photography.

Milly Cope
Oxfordshire teenager Milly Cope began experimenting with self-portraiture two years ago and since then she's developed a dark yet beautiful aesthetic. Whether fully clothed, stripped down to her underwear, or wrapped in the arms of her boyfriend, Milly communicates something raw and haunting with her postures. She uses Instagram and Tumblr to display her acceptance of the natural female body, and to speak up about the limited visibility of diverse female experiences beyond that of slim, white, cisgendered women.

Azha Ayanna Luckman and Apryl Fuentes
Oakland-based photographer/editor Azha Ayanna Luckman and co-editor Apryl Fuentes (Apryl photographed above, by Azha) created the Tumblr-based publication Shade Zine to provide an online space for non-binary young people of color. Through photoshoots and interviews with artists like Sanam Sindhi and Dylan the Gypsy, the two have curated a truly special and original space in the online feminist art world, a world which sometimes excludes non-white, queer, or non-binary perspectives. The site is a source of political inspiration and pure aesthetic bliss.


Alice Joiner
22-year-old British artist Alice Joiner uses Instagram to help document the ups and downs of dealing with body acceptance and female sexuality. Images from her series, "A Diary From the Five Years I Lived With an Eating Disorder," appear alongside happier portraits of mothers and daughters, or snapshots of friends filed under #girlgaze. Alice's openness about the darkness of her disease — and other realities like "period hell" and grappling with female sensuality — is inspiring in an age when Instagram can fuel body hatred and competition.

Lauren Oliver
New York-based artist Lauren Oliver doesn't shy away from realities of the female body like pubic hair and blood. What makes her stand out, though, is her consistent juxtaposing of femininity with fruit and other symbolic objects, and her interest in the relationship between religion and female bodies. On her Instagram, Lauren mixes homages to other artists with glimpses of her own work, dealing with the overlapping aesthetics of Christianity and femininity.

Jamie Knowlton
Photographer Jamie Knowlton captures all types of bodies with an aesthetic that subtly evokes Ryan McGinley or Ren Hang but remains entirely her own — and distinctly female. Models bare their bodies with a sense of freedom that is truly captivating, as Knowlton allows them to explore with props like ropes, lace, smoke, and nets, as well as plenty of flora. A sense of self-love and acceptance reverberates through her images as she finds the rawest and most naturally beautiful features in each of her subjects — often photographed in the wilderness surrounding her native Portland.


Text Blair Cannon

body image
Laurence Philomène
alice joiner
apryl fuentes
azha ayanna luckman
jamie knowlton
lauren oliver
milly cope
shade zine