BEYOND PHOTOGRAPHY - The Leading Experimental Photography Platform

VULVINATION

AN INTERVIEW WITH GRACE HOUGHTON

Today's society has been characterised by ongoing paradoxes, with the seeming rise of female empowerment, body positivity and self-acceptance on the one side and an increasing form of censorship on the media we use to express ourselves, on the other. Over centuries, women have grown used to being told by society that they must regulate their bodies to fit the norm. To the fact that images of unaltered women are seen as unacceptable. And that media, as our Social Media platforms, are still censoring images that celebrate femininity and the female body masked under 'terms of use' about nudity, pornography or infringing imagery. Grace Houghton tackles all these issues with her series vulvination - a celebration of the female body with the vulva in particular. Amazed by her amazing, and socially pressing, artworks, we are more than honoured to have interviewed her.

"Could you introduce yourself to us?"

Grace, 26yrs,  Australian living in Amsterdam.

"Your series '"vulvination" seems to be tackling some important issues surrounding the female body. Would you be able to tell us more about what you are trying to convey with your work?"

Imagine being able to soak and relish in the beauty of every part of yourself. Being able to share your softest self without fear of manipulation, misinterpretation.  No more wrestling with perfection and craving the need to distort, contort. What if our selves and bodies were not mismatched, not detached but celebrated with relevance and confidence. No shame, rising upward with no fear of being dominated. 

One of the most identifying physiological factors of being a woman is the vulva. This complex element of the female anatomy has so frequently been named and bound to the one element which is most commonly associated as a vessel for male pleasure - the vagina. I want women to take back ownership of their vulvas, labia, clitorises and vagina’s. As their own, as something to be proud of - for themselves.

With a rise on non-medical vaginoplasty and labiaplasty procedures, an array of vulva perfecting products and the never-ending insecurities women face, from pubic hair to size -  a beautiful part of our body is hidden, shamed and often surrounded by doubt, for many women.

I became fascinated in these small details of my own body, and thought, ‘“What if I could take this one, small moment and transform it into an entirely new world of its own?”. So I began distorting, highlighting and moulding the conventionally ‘indecent’ or unseen elements of these photographs. 

The simple act of taking a vulva selfie and creating a long-lasting experience is a tiny step towards taking back control of our own anatomies.  

"What does your artistic journey look like? How do you go about making your images?"

I always start with a photograph. My inspiration comes most often in one of those moments everyone has but doesn't share… Picking ingrown hairs, trimming toenails, the mess accrued in the kitchen or bathroom after a busy day. 

I then take a photo using my iPhone camera. Recently, my female friends have also been taking self-portraits of their own vulvas and sending them to me. 

I do not have one track in transforming these photographs into their own world, but I like to play around with printing the photos, scanning and utilising many programmes from Photoshop, Blendr, After Effects, Unity and TouchDesigner or using libraries such as P5.js.

"Have you faced any issues digitally with publishing or showing your work at all?"

I have not had enough experience trying to seriously publish my work online to have faced any real issues. When it comes to online platforms, I personally use them more as a tool for fun. I do see Instagram as both a positive and negative platform - I love that anyone has the opportunity to create, publish and share their vision, but it also results in hyper-trend focused work being created solely approval of the masses. 

"Indeed, we also experience this paradoxical relationship to Instagram. What is your stance on Instagram's censorship policy?"

Censorship affects more than an individual image, it silences important dialogues that need to be addressed in the public sphere. The fact that there is still a separation between women and men's bodies within censorship is painful. How do we as a society, expect to move forward in terms of equality when gender still has such distinct separations? Globally reached systems, such as Instagrams censorship policy, continue to distil disparity between levels of acceptability regarding sexuality, body autonomy and power dynamics between genders.

"Lastly, where do you think photography as a medium is going?"

I think photography will always be a specialised artistic craft with traditional roots, but I also see very exciting and interesting responses to the medium with the rise ‘normal’ people with phones. ‘Ugly’ photos and documenting the painfully mundane as well as extreme distortion are both interesting retorts to the hyper-perfected, technically composed imagery and content we are surrounded by. 

What I find very curious, is what will become more relevant socially; that of prolific and technically perfected imagery or that of the normal uncouth perspective?

"Thank you ever so much for this empowering interview, Grace!"

For more of Grace's fantastic work follow her on Instagram.

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