photographer chloe sheppard and the power of the female gaze
The dreamy documentarian of all things girl explains the importance of female photography and why gender should never determine one’s art.
British photographer Chloe Sheppard started taking photography seriously when she was 13 years old. She'd always been interested in art; as a kid she'd spend her days creating things — painting, drawing or making videos. But it was through photography that she was truly able to express herself. "When you're a teenager I think it's fair to say that you become dependent on certain things that can help you feel better when you feel like shit," she muses, "mine just happened to be photography. If I was in a sad mood, I'd try and take those feelings and channel them into something I could use for photos." Seven years on, and she's still using photography as a vehicle for expression. When she's not honing her craft at UAL, you can find her shooting editorials for Teen Vogue or art directing for feminist zine Polyester. Soft, dreamy, and feminine, her preference for pastel hues and intimate portrayals of girls have seen her work be described as very "Tumblr," but as she says herself, "how can a website be used as an adjective?" If anything her work operates in clichés in order to subvert them and ultimately, challenge the male gaze. Here, she explains the importance of the female gaze and why gender should never determine one's art.
How would you describe your overall aesthetic?
Maybe soft or dreamy? Recently I've been told that both my work and I are very "Tumblr," which I think is hilarious. I guess in a lot of ways my work is very cliché, though — my aesthetic consists of roses and pastel colors and girls.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I've just turned 20, am currently studying at UAL, and live in London. I grew up in a small town, then another village, just outside of Cambridge. There is literally nothing there, except fields, fields, and fields. It's a crazy contrast compared to living in such a busy city now.
Who or what inspires you?
I'm mostly inspired by the past. Every era has a certain look which I'd like to achieve in my own work. Every place I've visited over the past couple of years has inspired me too, and the people I've grown to know. I've also said it a million times but I think Lana Del Rey is probably who I've been most inspired by.
What does the female gaze mean to you?
Reclaiming what's ours. For so long we've been told how to behave, how to look, and how to live according to men, and though it's far from having changed completely, I think we're getting closer. At college I studied media, and had to learn a lot about 'male gaze theories' in regards to entertainment and I just found it so gross and dehumanizing. I love that 'the female gaze' is such a thing now as it's really just artists trying to highlight the beauty we see in other women without any other motives.
Why is it so important to have more women behind the camera?
Because it's becoming such a form of rebellion and a way to defy society's standards. Now more than ever girls are looking in the mirror and saying, 'hey, my body doesn't look exactly like that girl in that magazine, and even though I'm told I shouldn't be okay with that, I completely fucking am,' then picking up a camera, shooting a lot of self portraits and sharing them. I feel like this industry is still very male-dominated, there's been a few times where I've been made to feel inferior to a man working on the same project. That makes me super uncomfortable and I wish it didn't have to happen, which is why there's always space for more women here.
Should one's gender determine one's work?
Gender is just a concept; it's not real. So how can something that's not real define what you're creating?
What's the hardest part of being a girl?
As far as identifying as a girl goes, I've had it pretty easy so I can't really say what I think is hard about it. But I can imagine in places where being a girl means you can't go to school, don't have any access to sanitary products, or being forced to marry a man three times your age is totally legal, that's got to be pretty hard.
Feminism is part of the cultural conversation like never before. Why do you think this is?
Perhaps because of the internet. People are able to converse and interact like never before, so they're discussing issues like this more, we are more awake as a society and I think are working hard to try and make this world a better place for everyone to survive in.
How do you feel about the idea of feminism as a trend?
Well, it's like anything positive that's a trend really. I think it's wrong to be mad at it because some of those people who 'venture' into feminism to fit in with a certain idea, will end up realizing what it's really about and want to stick with it and relay those values to the people they know, which is great. Trends come and go, but feminism is something so huge and important that hopefully the majority of people who get into it, don't get out.
What's the bravest thing you can do as a young person?
I think it's subject to situation. Coming from a pretty fortunate background, the bravest thing I've known my young friends to do is quit jobs that are absolutely ruining them, so that they can pursue their dreams with creative careers. However, there's refugee kids, for example, who are way younger than I am, having to leave their families and friends in other countries or risk being killed, and that's really fucking brave.
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Chloe Sheppard