Girls on Film: the heroines of feminist photography

Girls on Film: the heroines of feminist photography

Girl on girl action

Text: Yeong Sassall

Ros Brennan explores ten photographers celebrating femininity and bringing new meaning to the female gaze

Unless you have been living under a rock or in some alternate social media-free universe, you would've heard Donald Trump's heinous "locker room chat" comments undulating over airwaves this week, causing women to choke on their cappuccinos in disbelief and bygone suffragettes to turn in their graves.

After a week that will go down in history as a low point in gender equality, I thought it fitting to offer some visual relief in the form of ten female photographers turning the lens on the fairer sex and celebrating the sisterhood. Raw, uncensored and evocative, these images symbolise a departure from the traditional 'male gaze' representation of women in art as the submissive damsel in distress, whose body is owned by her male counterpart.  

Consider this imagery an antidote to the chauvinist buffoonery of late, a hallmark of women's liberation, fleeting moments frozen in time that rattle off a cheeky F-you to the universe. Pin them to your visualisation board and take those lady boss vibes with you everywhere as an invisible anti-bad vibes cloak of armour.

Amanda Charchian

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Hailing from Los Angeles, Amanda Charcian's ethereal imagery presents us with a fresh way of seeing the female nude. One of the main concepts in her work is an idea she calls a "pheromone hotbox," which became the name of a recent critically acclaimed showing of her work alongside other female photographers. In her own words, this is "the specific idea of what happens when a woman photographs another woman intimately, and the biologically confounded process our pheromones go through during that time." These complex sensual, though not explicitly sexual relationships lend a tension and an allure to her incredible images. @amanda_charchian

Mayan Toldenano

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Mayan Toledano's photography embraces feminism, featuring empowering portraits of women from all cultural backgrounds, including her native Israel. In her recent intimate series of teenage Israeli soldiers, Mayan was looking to redeem a small piece of her teenage girlhood during which she served as a soldier herself and was stripped of all cultural "feminine" symbols. She has an eye for capturing femininity, enhanced by a dreamy pink colour palette and wrapped up in the hazy glow of nostalgia. @thisismayan

Juno Calypso

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London-based Juno Calypso's photography is self-portraiture meets performance art, based around a fictional character called 'Joyce'. For her 2015 Honeymoon series, she took Joyce on a solo trip to a Honeymoon hotel in Pennsylvania which she describes as "a pink 1960s gothic nightmare", which made for the perfect backdrop to explore the value we place on marriage and women's changing attitudes towards it. @junocalypso

Steph Wilson

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Steph Wilson is a fashion, fine art and portrait photographer and based in Hackney, London. She says of her work "My current theme of work, which I try to merge into my editorial shoots, has found itself based around constructs; social constructs of etiquette, gender, sex and beauty. Reconstructing these generic limitations of something deemed gross or inappropriate is what currently drives me: making something acceptable out of the taboo, something ugly out of the "beautiful" (or vice versa)." @stephwilsonshoots

Logan White

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Graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, the US-based photographer has built a reputation for capturing beautifully atmospheric and feminine images. Inspired by the likes of Araki, her photography often depicts mysterious imagery, but with a romantic or feminine edge, which was played upon in her recent involvement with the all-girl zine/photo project teenVAG@loganwhitephoto

Sarah Maple

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British artist Sarah Maple's work often deals with the complexity of her background: her father is white and British, her mother is an Iranian Muslim, and she attended a Catholic school. Her controversial pro-feminist art is a mixture of photography, self-portraiture and performance, which has won her as much critical acclaim as it has condemnation. Maple created the Anti Rape Cloak work as part of 'The Sisters of Perpetual Resistance' residency, for which she was asked to create an 'object of nuisance'. She then took the cloak on her travels and photographed herself wearing it in various locations and situations. @msmapes


Marianna Rothen

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New York-based photographer Marianna Rothen's images are whimsical and surreal, with otherworldly haziness, a rich, earthy colour palette and a breathtaking use of natural light. Rothen's fascination with capturing the female form stems from her years in the modelling industry. Combined with decrepit interiors, wilderness and seductive subjects, Rothen's photographs emanate overtones of mystery and dissatisfaction that become part of a larger narrative. @mariannarothen

Lynn Bianchi

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Lynn Bianchi is a New York City-based fine art photographer and multimedia artist. She says of the Heavy in White series (pictured), "It focuses on self-criticism and identity and refers and challenges at the same time classical and contemporary concepts of beauty and form. The process driven by spontaneity, parody and conceptuality produced a collective sense of liberation for all the women that worked with me on the series. The Heavy in White women are not trying to impress or perform. They are playing and eating with relish, celebrating their bodies without trying to be something other than what they are."


Lalla Essaydi 

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Lalla Essaydi is a Morrocon born photographer known for her staged photographs of Arab women. She currently works in Boston, Massachusetts and lives in New York City. Influenced by her experiences growing up in Morocco and Saudi Arabia, Essaydi explores the ways that gender and power are inscribed on Muslim women's bodies and the spaces they inhabit. She has stated that her work is autobiographical and that she was inspired by the differences she perceived in women's lives in the United States versus in Morocco, in terms of freedom and identity. Several pieces of her work combine henna, which is traditionally used to decorate the hands and feet of brides, with Arabic calligraphy, an exclusively male practice. @lallaessaydi

Orianne Lopes

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French born photographer Orianne Lopes is part of a new generation of women using photography to reclaim ownership and visualise multiple black female identities that neutralise the dominant singular narrative of the past. In her own words, "I like to explore the human being in its social context, particular our identity, gender and intimate experiences. I am also interested in the declination of the Venusian figure (for it sexual and feminist connotations) in art and photography." @oriannelopes

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