Ottilie Landmark, Heather Glazzard, Nora Nord, and more are pushing for representation in a world that has largely overlooked them
In the likely scenario that you've ever picked up a fashion magazine, at some point you’ll have probably experienced an urge to tear out a page from an editorial and stick it to your wall because it touched something within you. Though fashion is often dismissed as frivolous, the opposite, in fact, is true – and fashion imagery is particularly powerful: Offering not only a world in which to dream, it also gives us a glimpse of the people we would like to meet or even be someday.
It goes without saying, then, that fashion imagery is crucial for representation, shaping ideas of beauty, and what kinds of people fit within those boundaries. Of course, it can be damaging too, reflecting the uneven hierarchy of our society. That’s why there’s a huge deal of power that comes with being a woman working in the realm of fashion photography – and, even more so, being a queer woman working in the field.
Looking back across the last couple of decades, one name immediately springs to mind. Collier Schorr has been a crucial and pioneering figure when it comes to portraying queer desire and gender ambiguity in fashion. Starting out in the late 1980s and gradually transitioning from the art world into fashion, Schorr’s work unpacks the subjective natures of objectification and representation – be it regarding men through an erotic gaze or offering female models an incredibly powerful presence in front of the lens.
In an interview with Aperture, Schorr once recalled a shoot for Saint Laurent where “the models were styled and encouraged to perform and play outside of what is traditionally seen: heteronormal women”. Reminiscing on her earlier practice, she added: “I wanted to essentially make a billboard in a gallery that talked about visibility and representation at a time when there was no real lesbian representation in the art world”.
Though lesbian culture is still far from being fully present in the mainstream, there are many more authentic voices rising up and pushing it to the forefront: from meme-makers and online curators to fashion designers like recent CSM graduate Ella Boucht, whose final collection explored lesbian dresscodes and queer gender presentation. But the rise of the female queer gaze is not just about lesbian culture or the fashion industry – it’s about ambiguity and fluidity when it comes to gender expression, and the representation of desire and love which have been culturally supressed for centuries.
New times need new images – here are seven female queer photographers to hit follow on.
Today, the image of sexual desire is almost synonymous with the male gaze – something London-based photographer Ottilie Landmark is intent on changing. “I looked a lot at classical male photographers such as Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, and Mario Testino in an attempt to subvert the male gaze," she says. “I think my images have a sinister tone to them, as well as sexual tension. That said, there are also intimate and private moments from my own life. Bringing these dualities together I want to tell a story about female desire.” In Landmark’s work, sexual desire is fluid and multi-faceted: from bold and empowering to nuanced and intimate, as seen in portraits of her wife, fashion designer Sinéad O’Dwyer.
Representation of people of colour, and especially queer people of colour, is central to the work of Naima Green, an artist and educator based between Brooklyn and Mexico City. Her latest project Pur·suit (which she is currently showing and developing further at Recess in NYC) is a 54-card poker deck that features portraits of queer womxn, trans, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people. The idea for Green’s card deck emerged after she stumbled upon artist Catherine Opie’s Dyke Deck, which was made between 1990-1995 in the Bay Area, in a New York Public Library database in 2017. Not only she is seeking to fill the gaps of representation in the queer community, she is also examining queer love, friendship, and chosen families through the means of portraiture.
HEATHER GLAZZARD AND NORA NORD
Heather Glazzard and Nora Nord met on the MA fashion image course at Central Saint Martins in London. Their final project Porridge is a documentation of the emergence of their romantic and creative partnership, and “a relationship outside the binary heteronormative world; a relationship where gender roles are dismantled, negotiated and communicated”. Consisting of a series of self-portraits and over 60 images taken of each other, the clothes each wears are an essential part of the project: with some handcrafted from rubbish, and others, like oversized blazers and loose shirts, hinting at society’s ideas of gender roles and other established norms. As the photographers conclude, “this is a documentation of a couple with complete balance of power”.
“My queerness is intrinsically linked to my kink identity, and both absolutely inform the way I create work,” explains NYC-based photographer Lanee Bird. After moving to New York five years age, she began exploring kink in her personal life and creativity – and now she is one of the most prolific photographers working with fetish (latex, leather, you name it) and NYC’s kink community. She also curates Dressed For Pleasure, “an archive at the intersections of fetishism, fine art and pop culture” and collects vintage fetish magazines and books which often serve as a source of inspiration. “Many of my compositions are created through the lens of my own submissive desires. I love to capture dominant personalities in my photography because of my attraction to those types of power dynamics in my personal life,” she adds. “Photographers can’t disconnect their own gaze and voyeurism within their work, and my queer gaze towards my subjects comes through in the way I frame and position the body”.
Cherry Auhoni studied footwear design before pursuing her calling of becoming a fashion photographer. She studied at Middlesex University and London College of Fashion and frequently shoots editorials alongside her personal projects about queer young people and their identity. Her project DYKE is a documentation of the global lesbian community in all its diverse and powerful glory. “Lesbian history has frequently been associated with silence, invisibility and denial. Growing up I remember the lack of visual representation and not seeing any queer female role models who were strong and confident about their sexuality. That strength and confidence is what I want to capture in this project. I also hope to play a part in making lesbians and dykes more visible in the world,” Auhoni explains. “Queerness is an entity that brings people together, queerness does not discriminate against age, gender, race, nor class. There is no other community that has this unity, this unique bond where everyone is different but united.”
Based between Moscow, London, and LA and shooting all over the world, Russian photographer Emmie America is commited to bringing the queer perspective into the way she works. “I think for me being queer most importantly is realising that it is the person you care about more than any aspect of their physicality. It is the person you fall in love with, not their body or gender. This same idea translates into my work, where I am very inspired by the people I photograph and care deeply about them,” she says. She also admits that with the Russian “gay propaganda law” the most important thing is speaking up and using one’s artistic voice to promote tolerance and LGBTQ+ rights: “I do my best to get involved with these kinds of projects and spread the information to as wide of an audience as we can. Last year I did a project with Glamour Russia about love and I said I would refuse to shoot it unless we include a non-heterosexual couple.”
With a background in classical music and dance, Simone Niamani got into photography in 2015 after she moved to New York. Working as a model made her realise that she really enjoyed the process of shooting – and she soon moved into testing out her first cameras on her friends. “A queer perspective feels incredibly integral to how I express myself in every aspect of my life, although I would love to focus on making a series solely devoted to dyke representation. I have always generally just shot my friends (many of which are queer) but to create a body of work with the specific intention of bringing more visibility to the lesbian community is something that I really aspire to do this year”, she says. The visual history of the movement is something Niamani is also very interested in: “I’m such a sucker for nostalgic dyke imagery. In particular, I’ve become a little obsessed with dyke relics from the 90s. I recently bought a copy of Love Bites by Della Grace on eBay and I really like Catherine Opie’s work. I’m also currently on the hunt for old issues of Girlfriends and On Our Backs magazines.”