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!