Art Nerd City Guides: New York · Los Angeles

Dear Diary: Ashley Armitage

Looking at Ashley Armitage’s photographs feels like stepping into a secret world — a dreamy world of pinks and blues, of makeup and nail polish and hair, of ritualized routines in the lives of teenage girls and young women as they shave, apply lipstick, and hang out with friends. It’s a world that’s often been trivialized in television and film, or made squeaky clean in the service of print media advertisements. But Armitage takes us in through a different door.

British film theorist Laura Mulvey famously wrote in her 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” about the male gaze and the voyeuristic fantasy of film. Women in cinema, she argues, anticipating film critic Nathan Rabin’s “Manic Pixie Dream Girls” by some forty years, are at once vehicles to further the narratives of active male protagonists and objects of desire for spectators. Sometimes the latter can overwhelm. “The beauty of the woman as object and the screen space coalesce,” Mulvey writes in her analysis of director Josef von Sternberg’s films. “She is no longer the bearer of guilt but a perfect product, whose body, stylized and fragmented by close-ups, is the content of the film and the direct recipient of the spectator’s look.”

The women we see in Armitage’s photographs are not these perfect products. Her subjects don’t conform tidily to the narrow standards of mainstream female beauty. But more than that, Armitage’s way of seeing and framing is different. Armitage talks about her work in terms of a “female gaze.” The women she photographs are friends, and she asks them how they want to be portrayed. In giving agency to women who are so familiar with being looked at, in inviting us in to their moments of self-scrutiny and girlish intimacy, she makes looking feel tender and vulnerable and a little bit dangerous.

After shows earlier this year at LOLA and Bon Voyage, Ashley is presenting old and new work for an exhibition at The Factory in Capitol Hill this month. The Girl’s Room opens with a reception this Thursday evening, from 6-10 pm, and will be open by appointment through the end of the month before a closing reception on the 31st. Don’t miss it!

In the meantime, Ashley has generously given us a glimpse into her world with a selection of photographs and captions from a recent weekend in Seattle. Enjoy!

On Sunday morning, Derek and I woke up, laid in bed forever, and then made breakfast and coffee.

On Sunday morning, Derek and I woke up, lay in bed forever, and then made breakfast and coffee.

I made a cream cheese bagel with fresh salmon on top and an iced coffee!

I made a cream cheese bagel with fresh salmon on top and an iced coffee!

I usually take photos of girls getting ready so for once I decided to turn the camera on myself! Here is me putting on blush.

I usually take photos of girls getting ready so for once I decided to turn the camera on myself! Here is me putting on blush.

Derek and I laid on the couch. He read an old Puncture magazine and I read a Chinese memoir called The Woman Warrior.

Derek and I lay on the couch. He read an old Puncture magazine and I read a Chinese-American memoir called The Woman Warrior.

I'm getting ready for a solo photo show at the Factory called The Girl's Room. I painted these frames pink for some photos I'll be showing.

I’m getting ready for a solo photo show at The Factory called The Girl’s Room. I painted these frames pink for some photos I’ll be showing.

I also printed and framed a few other photos in more "professional" "looking" white frames.

I also printed and framed a few other photos in more “professional” “looking” white frames.

This is Derek at Value Village on a really cool but smelly couch.

This is Derek at Value Village on a really cool but smelly couch.

Cool Smelly Couch: Up Close and Personal.

Cool Smelly Couch: Up Close and Personal.

After Value Village we ran into Sofia Lee outside the Badwill Market, so she joined us on our adventure. We went into Rancho Bravo and got elotes. After that we went to her apartment to get her camera.

After Value Village we ran into Sofia Lee outside the Badwill Market, so she joined us on our adventure. We went into Rancho Bravo and got elotes. After that we went to her apartment to get her camera.

This is an accidental photo.

This is an accidental photo.

We picked up sushi and then walked to Volunteer Park to have a picnic and play frisbee.

We picked up sushi and then walked to Volunteer Park to have a picnic and play frisbee.

This is Sofi eating sushi.

This is Sofi eating sushi.

This is Sofi.

This is Sofi.

This is Derek.

This is Derek.

And the picnic! Note: Sofi showing off Perrier. After the picnic we walked around Capitol Hill and explored!

And the picnic! Note: Sofi showing off Perrier. After the picnic we walked around Capitol Hill and explored!

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