A Feminist Survival Guide to Seattle
I’ve been obsessed with Ashley Armitage’s femme/inist photography for a while now. I was first attracted to her art because it is sensuous without being sexed-up, it’s feminine without being a male fantasy of femininity. On her Facebook wall, she has described her aesthetic as “the female gaze.” When women create art, it is inherently a political act, since we are working against the societal norm to be the painted but never the painter, the viewed and never the viewer. But how do we capture images of ourselves that are not mere replications of the male objectification of the female body that has always defined “art” and “beauty?” Armitage’s work explores these questions, this tension, in saturated color worthy of a girl-group album cover.
On January 23rd, she was featured in Girl//Grit, a showcase of four brilliant Seattle photographers (seriously, check out Allyce Andrew, Lauren Max, and Makenzie Stone to have your mind further blown) curated by Katherine Humphreys of LOLA. My questions and her responses are below.
J: What is the female gaze?
A: To me, the female gaze is media controlled and produced by female-identifying individuals. I believe that a girl will inherently photograph another girl differently than a guy might. The definition and presentation of the female gaze will change from girl to girl, but when I’m taking photos I like both parties (photographer and subjects) to have agency and to be comfortable. I think the female gaze shows other females in a more authentic way than the male gaze might.
J: Tell me more about your artistic vision.
A: In my art, I like to focus on girlhood and femininity. I like my photos to be light-hearted and playful. In future projects I want to focus more on things that are usually hidden or seen as taboo, like female bodies that don’t necessarily fall into the narrow molds that we call “beautiful”.
J: Was there a flashpoint for you in becoming a feminist or creating feminist art?
A: I went to an arts-integrated alternative high school. In my senior year, my humanities class focused on Feminism, Racism, and Classism. That year blew me away. When learning about feminism, we’d all sit in a circle and talk about our experiences. The motto of the class was “experience discomfort”. This class forced us to confront and unlearn the socially unjust beliefs we’d held for years. I used to be insecure about voicing my opinion but that class gave me the platform I needed to speak confidently.
J: Tell me about your dreams for a women’s art space in Seattle.
A: I often go to the free art walks around downtown Seattle and Pioneer Square on the first Thursday of every month. Every time I’m there I’m reminded of how exclusive the art world can be in terms of gender, race, and class. Galleries and museums are filled with art by white men. In 2011, of the 400 works on display at MoMa only 14 were by women — that’s only 3.5 percent. I think that the art world should be a place accessible to everyone. It’s rare to find female-centric art spaces in a male-dominated art industry. I’d like to create a welcoming environment for women everywhere. I would not exclude men from participating — but I’d like to make it clear that the space is female-focused.
J: Why do you think there needs to be space for wimmin’s art specifically?
A: Okay wow, I was unfamiliar with the word “wimmin”. I’ve seen and heard womyn, but not this variation. So I Googled it, and look what Urban Dictionary (and I know Urban Dictionary is a joke, but still) has to say about the definition of wimmin: “Alternative spelling of women. Preferred by rabid psycho-feminists because it eliminates the men aspect”. It’s important that women, womyn, or wimmin have a space for themselves. The art world is a boy’s club so it’s critical that women and other minorities have a place to call their own.
[Ed.’s Note: Call us rabid psycho-feminists, but we here at She’s With Me just love playing around with different ways to spell women, feel free to comment below with your favorite way to “eliminate the men aspect.”]
J: What reading, listening or watching material informs you as a feminist?
A: I love anything written by Ruth Ozeki. My Year of Meats is probably my favorite book. I think I’ve read it four times in the last few years. The Feminist Porn Book changed my views on porn. I used to lean towards an anti-porn stance. I still think that the porn industry can be harmful to women, but that doesn’t mean that safe, feminist porn doesn’t exist. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio is another great read. I also love Sex and the City. Seriously, huge thank you to Samantha Jones for teaching me everything I ever need to know about sex, and to Carrie for teaching me how not to be in relationships.
J: Who are your fave artists?
A: Petra Collins, Mayan Toledano, Dafy Hagai, Nan Goldin, and Shae Detar.
(I really want to say William Eggleston, but I also really like that I have an all female list).
J: Do you consume more media by dudes or wmn? Do you have a policy about that or do you just gravitate to whatever indiscriminately?
A: I don’t really have policies for that, I just consume media with a lens that I can’t ever seem to take off. Sometimes my criticisms get in the way of actually enjoying the media. Like, I’ll be watching a movie and I’ll be thinking, “oh of course the main character is a straight white dude”, or, “oh of course there’s only two people of color in this entire film”.
J: Who are you collaborating with?
A: For the most part, I work with close friends. Photo shoots are so much more fun and authentic when working with people you know well.
J: What else should I have asked you?
A: What did I eat today? Oh thank you for asking!
A four-egg omelet, three sausages, hashbrowns, clam chowder, a tuna fish sandwhich, a chile verde burrito, and way too many chips.
Ashley Armitage is a 21-year-old photographer based in Seattle. She likes sleeping 13 hours a day, eating until she’s too full to move, beating boys in video games, and Derek. Fill your various feeds with the female gaze by following her on FB: https://www.facebook.com/ashleyarmitagephotography; check her out on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/33842952@N02/ ; follow her on Insta: instagram.com/ladyist.