An Interview with Photographer Ashley Armitage
21-year-old Seattle-based photographer and filmmaker Ashley Armitage's work is largely a tribute to female friendships and femininity. Her dreamy, nuanced photography lets viewers into the intimate, magical moments of girlhood. They depict beauty routines and sleepovers. They unabashedly celebrate and normalize body hair, tampons and bras. The collection is a celebration of girlhood by one of its own products. Its creation is an especially empowering and important act in a society that attempts to ascribe exactly what young girls should and shouldn’t be.
Armitage's work is brave, beautiful, unapologetic and startlingly honest — much like Armitage herself. I sat down with her to discuss her vision, her future, and what it’s like to grow up.
So obviously, you love photography. When did you start getting into it, and why is it your chosen medium?
I was always fascinated with photography as a kid. Photography was never really something I consciously chose, it just sort of happened. Growing up in the late 90s and 2000s there was always a camera, a camera phone, or a camcorder around. I have two younger siblings and we'd get together with neighborhood friends and I'd always end up playing director and photographer. We were always making little videos or doing photoshoots. Then when I was 15 I got a Canon AE-1. It was only recently that I saw photography as more than a hobby but as a lifestyle.
In a few sentences, what is your art about? I want to show girls and women as more than just a stereotype, character, or mold. In media, I feel like I see them same girl over and over again. In my work, I want to challenge the mass-mediated beauty standards by showing more varied representations of women. We can't be what we can't see!
You recently directed a mini documentary, Josie, Gemma, and Irene, about what it’s like to exist as a girl in this patriarchal society with incredibly narrow beauty standards. Can you tell me a little more about the inspiration for and creative process of it? I just finished Josie, Gemma, and Irene, and it started as an experiment but I loved the process and the end result so I've decided to make it an ongoing project. This first film was just five minutes long so I only got to touch on issues like body hair on women, racism in Seattle, and eating disorders, but in future segments I'd like to focus in on one thing at a time so that I can dive deeper into it. I think it's so powerful to have girls talk about these types of issues. It's also therapeutic. And I think it's super important to give girls a platform to speak when normally they might not have one.
Where do you hope to take your photography in the future? I say that my goal is to show girls in varied representations, but I should push this in my work even more in terms of, you know, race, body type, gender, sexuality, ability. Long-term goals, I'd like to make more of these documentaries. On the first one I didn't have a crew. It was me doing EVERYTHING - shooting, directing, interviewing, audio recording, and editing. In the future I'd like to assemble a small crew to make these documentaries even better. I'd also like to do more collaborations and group exhibitions with other female artists.
Now a little more about you. What do you think has been the best part of growing up so far? I think the formative teenage years are just so fun! I'm 21 but I still feel like I'm a 15 year old girl and I probably always will. Teenagedom is about experimentation and mistakes but it's also about self-discovery. In this time you learn so much about yourself and about the world around you. I think the best part for me was going to college in Santa Barbara and finding pieces of my adult self by partying a lot. I felt like an independent rebellious girl.
But then the even better part of growing up was realizing I didn't need to party to be more of an adult. The opposite was true — when I cut out the frivolous and unhealthy socializations and vices I became a much happier person and it also allowed me to be fully productive. I feel so much autonomy and freedom by being able to focus on myself and on my growth as an artist.
If you could tell your 16 year old self one thing, what would it be? "Everything will be okay."
What do you feel is the best thing about being a 21-year-old women? I feel like right now is a really cool time to be a young woman artist because there's this movement of young women all working together and building each other up and being super creative. The internet also makes all of this possible. I'm able to connect with girls worldwide and do long distance collaborations. The internet also makes art accessible. Platforms like Tumblr and Instagram not only inspire my work but also allow me a way to distribute my work. There is a movement and a network of really talented and powerful young women right now, and I'm happy to be here at the same time as them.
And the worst? Well, we still just tryna dismantle the patriarchy.
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