Inclusive Beauty with Photographer Ashley Armitage | Pop-In@Nordstrom: KBEAUTY
We’re big fans of up-and-coming photographer Ashley Armitage, who centers real people in her work for fashion magazines like i-D, Dazed and Teen Vogue. Shining her own artistic (and often pink) light on models not normally seen in the mainstream – with various body shapes, skin colors and identities on the LGBTQIA spectrum – she’s already begun to break through just one year out of college.
For Pop-In@Nordstrom: KBEAUTY, our dive into the addicting world of Korean beauty and skincare, Armitage kept her aesthetic intact and further built out her dreamy world. She shot non-professional models in a simulated bathroom rather than at her house. Rare for her: a few professional models, and one of the non-professional models was a man (second time ever). Since it was a big job with a lot of shots, Armitage hired photo assistants (first time ever) and chose digital format over her beloved Kodak Portra film.
We spoke with her on set about what it’s like being new and in charge. We also learned about her surprising history with Nordstrom and mission to fight the beauty standard and “hack into mass media.”
How long have you identified as a photographer?
That’s a funny question actually. I’ve been taking photos since I was 15 – my dad gave me a Canon AE-1, a film camera – but almost this whole time I was saying, “Hello, I’m Ashley and I’m an aspiring photographer.” One time I said that in front of my mom and she asked me, “Why are you saying that? You have to take yourself seriously for other people to take you seriously. Tell the world you’re a photographer, and you will be a photographer.” So I finally changed my Instagram bio to “photographer” a year and half or two years ago.
Why do you think someone had to nudge you?
I think because I’m a young girl entering an industry mostly of older men. When my mom said that, it dawned on me. I literally am doing photography. I must be a photographer. I’m getting a BFA in photography. I better start calling myself a photographer!
You have a network of models you shoot repeatedly and don’t shoot men very often. Maybe never?
My work is typically very female-centric. This is my philosophy as a female photographer: Because the industry is so male-dominated, I want to bring together other girls and have us work together. But I’m not going to be exclusive. If a guy said, “Hey, I want to work with you,” I’m not opposed to that. Also I try not to adhere to the beauty standard. The models I choose are not professional models. And I don’t want to just shoot thin, white, beautiful girls you’d see in magazines. I want to shoot the people you wouldn’t see in magazines. People who are big, or curvy, or fat. People of color. Trans people. I want to be all-encompassing and inclusive in my work.
Are there other photographers with a similar idea you’re inspired by?
Ryan McGinley really inspires me. He does this series of nude portraits of people, and they’re not “beautiful” portraits – they show people’s flaws, but that is beautiful. It’s this large series of naked girls and boys, LGBTQIA people, non-binary people. So many different bodies in so many different ways. There’ll be people jumping on the set. Or squeezing their bodies in different ways, deforming them almost. Another photographer I’m really inspired by is Hobbes Ginsberg. She shoots LGBTQIA people and people of color. And I’m inspired by Zoe Lawrence, who pretty much only shoots people of color.
Have any of those photographers reached out to you?
Ryan McGinley hasn’t been in contact. But Zoe Lawrence sent me a message last summer: “Hey, I’m in L.A., so if you’re ever around, let’s shoot.” I was like, “Actually, I’m flying to L.A. next week for a shoot and I need models. Do you want to model for me?” We did a shoot together for i-D. Hobbes Ginsberg actually lived in Seattle, but we didn’t know each other while she was here. We know each other’s work but haven’t met each other. I really want to.
Do you have a place where you want to see your images?
I want to hack into the world of mass media. I think I’m starting to, but I want to break that barrier. And I want other female photographers to have their work out there, be visible and be seen. Eventually it would be really cool if you opened a fashion magazine and you didn’t just see stick-skinny models, but you saw all types of bodies. On this shoot, I’m able to do that.
Is this Pop-In project part of your overall mission?
Yeah. This shoot right now is exactly the kind of work I want to see everywhere and to seek out in my life. I think it’s so cool that Nordstrom is making a priority to shoot real people. They asked me if I had people in mind, or friends. I was like, “Yeah! I work with these people, and they’re great, and they all have different bodies and skin colors and I’d love to bring them on.” So they brought Claire and Ankober on. I think that’s the coolest thing ever. Those are the people I work with on my personal projects. And I get to bring them with me. It’s seriously been really fun. Bringing your friends on a project makes it feel more casual, loose and maybe a little more authentic. I’m working with my friends. The rapport is based in friendship. We’re able to capture these intimate moments because we’re friends.
They trust you.
Exactly. Trust is very important in this.
You usually style all your own shoots, light all your own shoots. You work at a thrift store. Do you source from there?
I source a lot of my stuff from the thrift store. I don’t know if you will share as much excitement about this as me, but a Leica came in a few weeks ago. And it was almost pristine. The viewfinder was just a little dirty. I just need to send into Leica to get cleaned. And I got a Leica camera for $50! And it’s beautiful. And it’s a Leica lens too. I’m very much self-funded. And I’m pretty new at this still. I have my own studio in my apartment, and it’s a lot for a young person to buy multiple seamless rolls at a time. They’re like $50 for the 10’ wide one, and it adds up. And then there’s shipping. So I’ll treat myself once every other month. A lot of things are gifted to me. On birthdays, my parents will ask me what I want and I’ll say, “Just get me a bunch of Kodak Portra film.” I haven’t bought everything at once, it’s been this slow build over time. And I finally have a decent set-up. One of my neighbors is a photographer – she works for Nordstrom, actually, Yume Nakajima – and she gave me her old-school portrait lights. So I use those. For gels, I use LED lights, work lights from Home Depot. That’s a cheap route to go. If I want color lighting, I just do it through a Home Depot work light.
What about your sense of color? Your favorite colors, your chosen colors. You seem to have a palate you like to work with.
I do have a palate and color is very important to me. When I started with photography, I used black & white film because it was cheaper and because I could self-develop it at home. Then I transitioned into color film and this whole other world opened up to me. I like to use a lot of pastels. I choose pink over red every time. And baby blue over dark blue. I always work with pastels and it all goes back to the female-centric aspect of my work, they’re all “girly” colors. Pink is a very prominent color in my work.
I wonder if that’ll always be the case.
I’ve thought about that. Because right now my work is really youthful and girly and adolescent. But as I grow older my work might change with that. Right now I shoot young people because I shoot my peers. But what’ll happen when I’m 30? Or 40 or 50 – or when I’m an old lady?
This will have been your pink period.
Exactly. That’s funny. But it is very girly. And that’s because I am still very young and I consider myself girly. I’m 23 but I feel like I’m 17 still. I remember when I was 18. And I feel like time goes fast. That’s real.