this feminist photo gallery is reclaiming cute
Ashley Armitage, the photographer behind the Instagram account @ladyist, discusses her next project, an intersectional online space showcasing the work of her friends.
photography ashley armitage
You may recognise Seattle-based photographer Ashley Armitage as the lady behind @ladyist, a pastel-perfect Instagram account revelling in the colourful spectrum of femininity and girlhood. Now, Ashley has launched Girlfriends Gallery, a diverse online platform celebrating intersectionality, inclusivity, and body positivity through girl-centric art. Contributors include Moscow-born gif artist Sasha Katz, film/photo duo (and real life couple) WIISSA, and trippy digital roomscape artist Abby, aka Neon Saltwater.
We chatted with the photographer-turned-digital-gallerist about how the male gaze shaped her work, discovering sex positivity, and, of course, her girlfriends.
When do you first remember feeling aware of the male gaze?
Honestly, since as long as I can remember. When I was seven, I would stare in the mirror and think that I was the ugliest person ever, and really it was all because I was comparing myself to celebrities, models, or other girls around me. That's what girls are taught to do — compare themselves to, and compete with, one another.
What effect did that have on you?
I would try to be something I was not. Like, in elementary school, a boy called me "flat," so I asked my mum to take me bra shopping. In middle school, a boy saw my armpit hair and yelled "ew," so I went home that night and shaved. Today, I feel mostly confident in my own body because I've accepted that every single body is different and beautiful. My photography has also been a sort of therapy for me. By hanging out and shooting girls who are comfortable in their own skin, I too have become more comfortable.
Do you remember when you discovered feminism?
I went to this alternative arts high school and our senior humanities class, taught by Jon Greenberg, featured units on racism, classism, and feminism. We were exposed to things most high-schoolers unfortunately are not. After that class, I took feminism into my own hands. Tumblr was such a great classroom for me — I learned about so many things from a group of people close to my age. Tumblr feminists shed light on issues that I never would have thought of. I also started reading about sex-positive feminism. One book that totally changed my life was The Feminist Porn Book. Sex-positive feminism has really influenced my work today.
I consider my work sex-positive. I've never shot something that is totally "pornographic," my work often represents female sexuality. Some of my photos might be viewed as "sexy," but that's an empowering thing because my models are the ones in control of the image they're creating. In those photos, my models are being sexual, they are not being sexualised. They are subjects not objects.
I'm more into sex-positive figures than I am actual films. But Ilona Staller rules. I love the films she was in in the 70s and 80s. The soft and dreamy aesthetic of her films has inspired my work. I also look up to sex-positive writers like Zoe Ligon and Karley Sciortino.
When did you get the idea to combine your feminism with your photography?
During my freshman year of college I was going to UCSB for film. I wanted to be a director, but there basically weren't any female directors in this film programme. It was so male-dominated. I think that's when I realised that the work I make is political. Girls and women simply creating work is a feminist act.
Do you struggle with being a white cisgender woman trying to make inclusive, diverse, and intersectional feminist art? How do you resolve that?
Yes. Absolutely. Because I'm white and cisgendered, I need to be careful not to tokenise my models of colour, or my non-binary and trans models. I think it's okay for me to photograph a PoC or a non-binary person when they reach out to me. During a shoot, I need to be mindful about erasing or whitewashing their stories. I try to avoid this while I shoot by asking them "How would you like to be portrayed? What pose do you want to do?" The boundary between being inclusive and being tokenising is definitely something I am learning, and always will be, because I am white and cis.
You just launched a new girls-only gallery called Girlfriends. Tell me everything!
Girlfriends Gallery came out of that struggle I just talked about. Showcasing the art by girls, PoC, non-binary people, trans people, disabled people... It's an online gallery space aiming to examine subjects like body positivity, intersectionality, and inclusivity through art. In it, anyone is welcome, although there will always be a focus on girls, minorities, and emerging artists.
Text Jane Helpern