Alessa and Being a Female Nude Portrait Artist
Updated: Mar 22
I've been looking at female portraiture since I was at high school, my photography class was mainly made up of girls so our choice of model was limited, going into sixth form photographic class had no boys at all. This powerful female group was a huge influence on me, as well as my female photographic tutors who encouraged my experimentation with the photographic medium. When I chose to continue my photographic practice at uni I was going through a period of time where I was finding myself again as an adult, having been in a terrible relationship I had found a new sense of worth and a heightened sense of narcissism, there was no way I was going to every see my self as expendable again. This led me to begin to photograph myself which then took me on to experimentation with the female nude portrait, being nude felt like such a natural state to be in when producing work against societies expectation. My body had always gained attention, as a child in junior school I would wear long stripy socks and skirts constantly, people often knew me by this quirky fashion choice, but it also gained me attention from men and found me sexualised from a young age.
I decided in my first year of university that it was time for me to take back control of my image, I started with a project called 24 Hours Online which looked at the attention I would receive online. I used a website in the project which is one that I had been on since I was 12 years old, by 18 years old I hadn't really used much anymore. I felt like I had this history with this site, a history that had been twisted by adults who would send sexual messages to me as a child. My work all relates to this website the way social media was used so easily to coerce girls into sexting and meeting up, girls who are not taught that they don't need to be accepted by men to be worthwhile, who are expected to be insecure. It frustrates me that I was one of those girls, so desperate to be accepted and taken serious, desperate to be a women that it left me easily manipulated. Even as an adult on the site your receive so many unwanted messages or comments, which is what I photographed in a 24 hour period to make this project, with a narration on how this makes you feel when your surround by it in society. Most of projects are about reclaiming what has been claimed by others as I grew up, and to empower other women who have been in my position, showing them that it isn't too late, they can still be in a position of power.
Alessa focuses on this idea of female empowerment, through narcissism, sexuality, and the self-fullfillling women. I was inspired by historic photographs of nude women, including Victorian and Edwardian pornography, the women were often quite passive in the images and i felt the need to give power to these women who were used for the male gaze. But there is also something powerful looking back on the images that these women, despite the societal repercussions they could receive for their role in these pornographic photos, that they were still a part of it. I was also interested in the way that I could try to control the way my images were viewed, whether being more dominant or present in the image made them harder to be objectified or made the viewer feel uncomfortable with objectifying me. I didn't want the images to show the same male fantasy as the pornography I had looked at showed, so I made sure that the images had no manipulation to them, that some didn't have me wearing make up or not shaving before taking some. That they would just show the female form in it's many states, this is one of the reasons I created the work on analogue mediums.
Part of the work is also looking at female sexuality and self-exploration of the female body, something that goes along with empowerment and self-worth, once you understand your body you feel so much more empowered. I wanted the work to seem both natural in a homely setting, but also to bring in elements of painting into the set up. This is one of the areas I am aiming to take further in this project, especially the work of Elisabeth Vigee LeBrun, who's work involves many self-portraits causing her to receive criticism for being too Vain and not virtuous. I want to encourage women to love themselves, to own themselves, and to make their own pleasure.
Although in photography there are limitations once we create the work, when we post it or present it to the public, we are then analysed and critiqued by the audience and they will take it how they want to take it no matter how much you try to control the way your work is viewed. Some people are either are too sexist to even look into the meaning of your work, or just really don't care about the subject to view it in any other way than through objectifying you. I have received a lot of messages over the years from either dates, Instagram, Facebook who just send me "compliments" or ask for nude swaps. I wrote "compliments" because saying "you're sexy" or "your body is amazing" is not complimenting my work at all, it not even a compliment to me because you've just ignored it's meaning and done exactly what the work is trying to tackle and objectified me!
Alessa had received some great responses and I have been very proud about the work I've been creating, and being able to post it onto social media to give it a larger audience, which was a really important part of the work. I wanted people to be able to view the work to be able to reflect on what it is saying in a positive way, I even censored work to try and keep it up, even though censorship is an important part of what I want to remove considering how much the female body is censored on the internet. I am not the only person to have lost an account due to the female nude. Whilst working on this project at university my tutor Noel Bowler, told me about another artist who had had issues with Instagram's policy on nude imagery, Dragana Jurisic who is another artist who inspired me with Alessa had her Instagram account deleted by Instagram because of her 100 Muses project.
Her project looks at the female image, allowing her models to decide how they pose themselves for the photographs, rather than have them appear how someone else wants them to, they portray themselves in their image. With a simple studio set up, a single chair and a veil for the models to pose with, you see a different interaction with the space from each model, some stand, some sit, some curl around the chair and space. Rather than the model just being a passive object in the image, they are equally in control of the outcome. She managed to regain control of her account through media publishing articles on her work, which showed the importance of the work she was making and the importance it had on those who were viewing the work through social media.
Unfortunately as a recent graduate I am still in the process of getting my work out to the masses and @alessaisqueen was a way to show my portfolio for the project quickly and easily as many people use Instagram. I have found that there is no way to appeal the decision by Instagram, as they do not allow it for Policy Violations, this has been a huge blow to me as I had added contacts on that instagram account from volunteering at photographic festivals all of which has now been mainly lost.
If anyone is able to help me get back my account then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I will be creating a new Alessa account so I still have a Instagram presence but I won't be censoring it this time as it was pointless to do last time!
Thanks for all your support!