ashley armitage chronicles all things girl
The Seattle-born photographer is intent on changing the image of female representation.
Growing up in Seattle, Ashley Armitage would spend her early days drawing unicorns, horses and monster trucks, but it wasn't until she discovered photography that she began to have a real affinity for art. Frustrated with the media's representation of femininity and its constant dissemination of images of thin, white, able-bodied cis women, Ashley's intimate portraits of her close female friends counter the dominant narrative of what society thinks it means to be a woman. Shooting real girls with real bodies and real imperfections in dreamy pastel tones, Ashley represents the female sex in all its natural and diverse beauty. But it doesn't stop there: not content with celebrating women in front of her camera, Ashley also champions those behind it. In an industry that is typically dominated by men, Girls by Girls Agency is a platform dedicated to female photographers only that she and her fellow female photographer friend, Ophelie Rondeau, set up earlier this year. Currently working on her Bedroom Series, a series of portraits of girls shot in their bedrooms, we catch up with the artist to talk about all things girl.
What drew you into photography?
I'm so bad at drawing or painting. I was always taking pictures as a hobby, but I never considered it as a career. I wanted to be a filmmaker so I went to UC Santa Barbara for cinema studies my freshman year of college. I didn't care about the studies so I just took a bunch of film production classes. The production classes were insanely male dominated so it was really hard, as a freshman girl, to be heard. I pushed for the opportunity to direct a film and when I finally did, my crew of about 30 people consisted mostly of guys. I faced so much resistance. It was hard to get some crew members to listen to me. Guys were constantly trying to "help" me, or "explain" things to me, even though I was the director. So I switched schools to study photography because as a photographer, I am my own boss.
How would you describe your overall aesthetic?
A dreamy candy pastel girl world.
What is it that you're trying to do with your work?
I'm trying to infiltrate the industry of mass media to show more than just the cookie cutter girl or woman who fits into the accepted beauty standard. I'm trying to show real girls with real bodies and real imperfections. All we ever see in the media is a thin, white, tall, cis, straight woman. We need more diverse representations. I want every single girl to open up a magazine or turn on the TV and see themselves represented.
What is it about the intimacy of friendship that is so poignant for you?
Friendships and relationships between girls are so important because as minorities, we need to stick together. Female friendships are intimate and powerful and necessary and hilarious and beautiful. I like friendship as a subject matter because I want to combat the clichéd depictions of girls as catty and jealous, fighting for the boy. In my photography, I want to say, "Who cares about the boy?" It's all about the girls.
What do you want your images to say about your sitters?
I don't want my photos to say one general thing about all of my sitters. In my photos, and especially in my Bedroom Series photos, I want the sitter to be able to say what they want to say, not what I want to say about them. My photo shoots are huge collaborations. My friends will often bring their own clothes to the shoot. During the shoot, I might give a little direction, but I mostly want them to be able to direct themselves. I want to give girls and minorities a platform to be seen and heard.
What do you want your images to say about your women in general?
I want to show that we have a choice, that beauty is more than one narrow definition, and that our perceived beauty does not determine our self worth. I've been posting a lot of photos of hairy girls lately, and although the feedback is overwhelmingly positive, I've gotten some negative comments saying things like 'ew' and 'that's not feminine'. I'm trying to combat this by showing that feminine can mean a multitude of things. I'm trying to show that the meaning of feminine is subjective; it's a choice and it can be whatever we want it to be.
What's the story behind Girls by Girls?
Girls by Girls is a project by Ophelie Rondeau and me. We met through Instagram. One day, she reached out to me and we started talking about creating a platform for girls and by girls. In its current state, it is just an Instagram account, but our website is nearly finished. We'll be launching soon and then we will start posting submissions from other girls immediately. I think it's really important to showcase the work of minorities. I'm a girl, so I experience sexism, but I'm white and cis and abled so I don't experience other social injustices like racism, ableism, and transphobia. It is so so so important for Girls by Girls agency to not just be another example of white feminism. Once launched, we aim to be intersectional.
How do you want it to evolve?
Eventually, I want to add more girls to the team. Right now it's just Ophelie and me. I especially want to add girls with other viewpoints and experiences.
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography Ashley Armitage