10 Female photographers who push boundaries for Femininity

During this latest wave of feminism, the art of photography has evolved hugely in every aspects of exploring femininity, challenging societal norms of gender identity and standards for women. From color-coherent sets of beauty shots to repulsive and daring photo series depicting body positivity, gender equality has never been more all over our newsfeeds. As their works continue redefining femininity, almost every female photographer finds themselves being defined (and most of the time, self-defined) as feminists. Here’s my breakdown of some of the most brilliant female photographers out there in the youth culture.

1. Nastia Cloutier-Ignatiev

18-year-old, Montreal based portrait, fashion and beauty photographer Nastia Cloutier-Ignatiev gets fascinated by faces and bodies — that is as if lips and eyes dictated the way she capture the instant. “I like to say that my photography is about what is attractive in a girl, about her feelings and bad habits. In one word: It’s about badass girls. I like to empower women because I find that often in fashion we look too often vulnerable, and I hate that”, Cloutier-Ignatiev describes her work. Right now, she is working on a project called “The Close-ups project”, compiled of a four-part series with four different themes exclusive for C-Heads Magazine. You can check out this brilliant young photographer on her website and her beautiful Instagram feed.

From her series “Close Ups #1: RED” for C-Heads Magazine. “Red is not vulnerable, red is hot, badass and strong, and this is what I want my models to look like in my images.” Cloutier-Ignatiev was inspired and empowered by the color red, and that is what she wants to show through her photographs.

2. Tamara Lichtenstein

Inspired by femininity and love, 25-year-old Texas based Tamara Lichtenstein’s work features beautiful and soft film shots, taken on her Contax T2. “You can’t replicate the quality of film with any digital camera. There is something nostalgic and beautiful about film and light.” Lichtenstein explains her love of film photography, “I have always been a nostalgic person, not in a negative way at all either. I feel that film helps me express everything that is going on in my mind in just the click of a button.” Her work can be described by four words: sensitivity, femininity, youth and light; and her muses embody the truest essence of her aesthetic. Check Lichtenstein out on her Instagram, and thank me later!

Photography by Tamara Lichtenstein, featuring model: Emma Vaux.

3. Hobbes Ginsberg

Well-known in the youth culture for her cyber-punk, gaudy-colored self portraits, queer-indentified LA-based Hobbes Ginsberg rips up outdated ideas of femininity and pushes the gender dialogue forward through her work. However, she doesn’t want the conversation about her photography to end here — Ginsberg’s work tells her experience dealing with depression and anxiety, as well as her development as an artist and an individual. Using photography as an outlet for taking all her negativity, Hobbes reclaims self-appreciation and channels her struggles into something positive. Her self-portraits are a cross between vulnerability, candidness and fantasy, visibly presenting her queerness and the best version of herself.

Photography by Hobbes Ginsberg, featuring herself

4. Petra Collins

Canadian photographer Petra Collins tackles taboos of nudity, teenage sexuality and conventional ideals of beauty through dreamy pastel film photos with an undertone of feminist politics. While her work may paint a picture of an over-the-top artist: from showcasing her pubic hair in the provocative self-portrait series “The Hairless Norm” and getting banned from Instagram to her controversial American Apparel T-shirt design, 22-year-old Collins is anything but. The majority of her fluorescent-lit photos capture one of the many paradoxes of being a young woman today — partly empowered by one’s sexuality, partly punished by it. Step into the world of colorful youth culture and femininity redefined by Collins by visiting her website and her Instagram.

Photography by Petra Collins for Purple Magazine Issue 24

5. Maisie Cousins

London artist Maisie Cousins can’t remember when she wasn’t gravitated towards creating art. Her work — grotesque (in the most brilliant way possible), hedonistic, provocative and colorful; featuring ambiguous liquids, oozing body fluids and slimy texture on skin — explores the bolder aspect of femininity and focuses on embracing the “ugly bits”. Steering away from polite representations of the female body, Cousins is privy to shots that confuse and disgust, melding ideas about feminism, nature, impulse and arousal in her stunningly vibrant portraits. “Palatable or fashionable feminism isn’t really empowering anyone; it’s just profitable”, 23-year-old Cousins shares her thoughts on feminist art becoming a trend.

Photography by Maisie Cousins, from her series “grass, peonie, bum”

6. iiu Susiraja

The bizzarre work of Finland-based self-portrait artist iiu Susiraja is obviously not for everyone. Seeing life as her muse and calling her art a “playful anarchism”, Susiraja’s work exhibit dramatic domestic situations involving femininity, the body, traditions, social stereotypes and love — in the most satirical and distinctive way possible. Susiraja, using self-portraits, focuses on creating the message that “the abnormal may be normal” and examining the relationships between women and the domestic home. Her series titled “Good Behaviour” features her posing with a range of household items — from a broom under her boobs to baguettes in her hat — putting the idea of abnormality to question.

Photography iiu Susiraja, “Luuta (Broom)” from Susiraja’s series titled “Good Behaviour”

7. Lauren Withrow

Fashion industry’s Brooklyn-based photographer Lauren Withrow’s works are mostly editorial portraits. The aesthetic of Withrow’s photographs is somewhat rough, gritty and exudes hauntingly nostalgic atmosphere. Her models seem to all be on journeys alone, like runaways. This sensibility is most vivid in her female subjects, where that isolation subconsciously begs questions. Withrow has captured a sense of pent-up energy and even adolescence in apparent adults that feels uniquely millennial. You can follow her on Instagram to look out for future projects and exquisite shots.

Photography by Lauren Withrow, from her series “Wanderer”, featuring model: Savannah Burton

8. Zanele Muholi

Master of fine arts in documentary media Ryerson grad Zanele Muholi is more than a photographer: She’s a visual activist. The South African artist is well-known for capturing the essence of black queerness in Africa, and her activist work has made an immense impact on South Africa’s attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community. Muholi combines her work in photography, video, and installation with human rights activism to raise the voice of visibility for the black lesbian and transgender communities of South Africa. To date, Zanele Muholi: Isibonelo/Evidence is the most comprehensive museum presentation of Muholi’s works and features several of the artist’s ongoing projects, both in her home country and abroad.

Photography by Zanele Muholi, Self portrait, continuation of MaID series (source)

9. Phebe Schmidt

Australian editorial and portrait photographer Phebe Schmidt uses her satiric sense of humor to create incredibly perceptive statements about the nature and place of women in today’s society. Schmidt’s photography work can be recognized with its solid, vibrant yet muted color palettes featuring shades like mustard, olive, navy colors, and strategically placed subjects and nontraditional compositions. She rejects conventional expectations of beauty and gender roles by, ironically, creating images that almost-but-not quite meet those expectations. With that said, there is nothing comedic about her work, nor it should be taken lightly. It’s a wry view of our culture, but one that is absolutely necessary in today’s dialogue.

Photography by Audrey and Phebe Schmidt, editorial for Sleek Magazine

10. Thy Tran

Closing the list is none other than the intriguing Vietnamese photographer Thy Tran, whose work captures often bizzare and faceless figures in banal moments. All shot on film, the work of Thy leans towards the abstract and surreal realms of human relationship with the surroundings, and this essence is vividly shown especially in her photographs featuring female muses. “People often ask me why there is ‘no face’ in my photos,” Thy talks about her art for InstaElite “for me, portraiture without a face allows me to stay focused on their body language and how I imagine their identity to be. […] I have a lot more to imagine, a lot more to offer by telling a story without the face.” Thy is currently studying in Melbourne and working as an editorial photographer for clothing brand IIE IE Girls. You can check out more of Thy’s killer work on her Tumblr account, as well as her Instagram.

Photography by Thy Tran. Collaboration with Yatender
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