Images of women aren’t hard to find, but images of women honestly expressing their womanhood can be. Stiff poses meant to elicit desire or project docility crowd magazine stands, but portraits like Iiu Susiraja’s ― a series of selfies of the artist, wielding cold hot dogs like middle fingers and cradling a loaf of bread like a child ― are harder to come by.
Susiraja’s photos are among a recently published collection edited by writer and editor Charlotte Jansen, called Girl On Girl. The premise of the art book is simple: Jansen collected together photos of women, taken by women. The result ― like Petra Collins’ similarly intended Babe, honoring women artists she admires ― is striking in its breadth.
“We need women working in every sphere so we need women behind cameras,” Jansen told The Huffington Post in an email. “That’s especially important now because our world is so much based on images. Images are our stories, our myths, they voice our truths, our documents of this time. How could we not have women creating those as much as men?”
Some of the photos in the book are intentionally lo-fi, offhandedly arranged snapshots that adequately combat the affected aesthetic of, say, magazine covers. Others embrace or comment on the performance of gender, by role-playing commonly held stereotypes about women.
“Many of the women here do dismantle the typical idea of women’s beauty, and some attack that notion quite viciously. That’s useful, because it starts to open up discussions about how narrow our images of women really are. It also shows up the extent to which femininity is molded into something palatable for commercial gain,” Jansen said. “But I think it’s also important to say that women don’t only use their bodies and the grotesque to make a statement about beauty. That interpretation would be another simplification of what women do.”
The collection also features a bevy of selfies and portraits of women posing nude, a tradition that’s historically been in line with the concept of the muse, an idealized vision of womanly appeal.
“Women want to be able to celebrate the pure forms of their bodies, just as men have been allowed to for centuries. What’s interesting is whatever we do now with nudity as women is also compared to that male lineage in art history, so women artists can’t avoid interacting with the established male idea of the female nude,” Jansen said.
The editor laments this, while also celebrating the fact that it’s easier than ever for women to capture and distribute more honest portrayals of their own lives and bodies, now that cameras are much more accessible. The result is countless images of women ― whether raw or stylized or intentionally grotesque ― worth sharing and anthologizing.
Of Girl on Girl, Jansen says, “People can take whatever they want from it ― be aroused, be amused, be disgusted ― I just hope that this can contribute to understanding the position of women in this world in a far more nuanced way.”
Images from Girl on Girl: Art and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze, out April 18 from Laurence King.