BA (Hons) Fashion Photography graduate Rosie Lowery discusses her project The Perfect Body, anxiety and the modern fashion industry for our LCF BA17 Class of 2017.Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the moment you knew you wanted to study fashion?
Talk us through your final project…
I was 11 when I first had a interest in the fashion world. I started using my pocket money to buy Elle and Vogue when I was around that age and I loved drawing. I decided I was going to be a fashion designer. I would draw out the women behind the clothes. Replicating the bodies I saw in magazines and design ridiculous outfits onto the figures. One of my most vivid memories of that time, which I know influences the work I make as a photographer today, was during holiday when I was 12 or 13 years old. I sat on the outdoor deck of a cruise ship sketching my girls with their crazy dresses and someone asked me about what I was drawing. I must have told the man I wanted to be a fashion designer and his advice for me was wonderful, but I didn’t understand it at the time and it is something I only understood the importance of recently. He told me, ‘I’m afraid you’re going to have to learn what real women’s bodies look like.’ That didn’t sink in for a long time. I was influenced by the models I saw in fashion magazines 10-12 years ago. I would plaster and collage the adverts and editorials to the ceiling in my bedroom – and those idealistic bodies are what I grew up believing was normal and beautiful, and the only way to be that was acceptable from that age, and something I’m only just starting to teach myself isn’t ok in the past few years.
What is the story behind your final piece of work?
The idea for my final major project started last summer when I was carrying out research for my dissertation. I was looking at the idea that women had no idea what their bodies should look like. It made a direct link to the fashion industry of course, with body ideals, shapes, sizes, skin colour, able-bodied, all that stuff. But it also communicates the fact that our vaginas are a taboo subject. Periods, discharge, anatomy, what is considered attractive/not attractive. We don’t talk about that stuff and for the most part, our vaginas are either things that have to be secret and concealed or they are sexual and explicit. But what does that, in turn, teach women about our bodies as a whole? That we are either to be sexual or be nothing at all. Porn is the only place we can see what a vagina, but porn stars are the equivalent of models for fashion – if you’re not conventionally ‘perfect,’ you’re not going to get seen for the most part. The two mediums are so similar with what they teach women about what is right and wrong with their bodies. We need to focus more on the fact that a body is a body. Bodies are natural, and every single body is different – especially as the body of a woman changes every single day. But we don’t acknowledge that anywhere within the broad spectrum of the media.
So I started off wanting to make a project about that idea as a whole, wanting to cover all the bits in between. For many, many months I was working on a project called Lady Parts – a description of the taboo surrounding our bodies. I surveyed women about what it means to be a woman, what femininity means to them, and about positive and negative inherently female experiences. I started making all this work about the ideas and opinions that I curated through that research and I wanted everything to be pink as a reflection of the narrow standards set for women about what it means to be a woman.
I was about three to four months into my work and was struggling with to see where it was going. The only unanimous feedback I got through my peer presentations was that the whole pink thing was overdone and that the raw, personal pictures of women I was taking were the most effective kind of images, the ones that just felt like we were hanging out rather than me constructing a whole thing of trying to send out a specific message. So with just over a month left I decided to scrap Lady Parts all together and go for The Perfect Body.
The Perfect Body is a collection of single images of women photographed in their underwear in their own personal environments (usually their homes but a few were photographed in their studios – an artist, a wedding dress designer, and a pole dancing instructor – for example). I interviewed each of the women about similar topics as discussed previously – what it means to be a woman, femininity, body image, etc. And then I typed up those interviews and crafted each of the 1,000+ words into 250-400 word paragraphs that I could stick next to the photo as a nice double page spread. It was honestly the best thing I could have done to finish my experience at university.
The story behind The Perfect Body certainly resides firmly within my history and personal struggle with body image and the way the fashion industry has played a massive part in my perception of my own body and its worth. I think that anyone makes their best work when it has a personal connection to them – it’s something they want to fight for change.
I don’t want young girls at any age obsessing over the way that their bodies look because of the ideals the fashion industry presents about women. Unfortunately, in many cases that is happening to all sorts of women and almost every woman I talked to throughout my entire project. Many said their body didn’t fit in with the conventional beauty standards and this was prone to affecting body image and self-perception daily. But it can change. And that is why I am working on this project, to open eyes to what real bodies are, to express that ‘flaws’ don’t exist, to show that there is beauty in every single woman.
What techniques or theories did you use to create your final piece of work?
Have you won any prizes?
I don’t collaborate as often with stylists, designers, hair and make-up as many people on my course. I started to embrace this independence during my final year and found a happy balance. Obviously on a Fashion Photography course I have to work with people because I have to photograph someone. But I learnt to make something wonderful without the use of make-up, hair stylists, and stylists.
My final project was me pushing myself out of my comfort zone to make connections with people who would let me photograph them, which has been a huge learning curve for me. I also interviewed people for my final project, which really helped me become more of a social person. About three months ago I would sit on my bathroom floor before a shoot trying to calm myself down trying not to throw up because I would be so irrationally terrified of not being able to do a good enough job and being so worried about social interaction. This project has helped me overcome those concerns and taught me I can be interesting enough to keep someone’s attention during a shoot and not worry about being a dull dud.
I think the last thing I won was when McDonalds used to have those colouring in competitions and I won a big snoopy once.
Have you met or been inspired by any speakers from the industry whilst at LCF?
I have many good memories of LCF but being able to attend the Grayson Perry talk recently was favourite. He’s been a big influence on me for a few years now and just sitting in the same room as him was a privilege – never mind being able to watch his presentation on gender. I will forever remember seeing him pedal away on his bike into the night in full drag down the street just off Oxford Street after the talk.
Describe your work and aesthetic in five words…
Working towards a positive change.
Do you have a muse? If so, who and why?
I would have to say my boyfriend is my main muse. Every time I get nervous before a shoot or having a hard time trying to motivate myself to keep going and not give up on my ideas and concepts, I always think about him and the fact that no matter what happens I can go home to him and I won’t have lost anything, I will have only learned. Being with someone in that way is very much like having an absolutely perfect comfort zone that you can step out of when you have the courage, but are motivated by the fact you can retreat right back in there as soon as the job is done.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now I can’t wait to have a wonderful summer enjoying whatever comes my way and not having to worry about meeting deadlines or trying to make something incredible. After that I’ll work it out.
How do you think your course and LCF will help you achieve this?
Whether it’s right or wrong, whenever someone asks me what university I’m at, I usually get a gasp of “WOW THAT’S SO COOL!” from people when you mention LCF. That could get me some places.
Have you heard that LCF is moving to east London? What do you think about the move?
What music do you listen to whilst you’re working? Is there one particular track or artist that you like?
I feel that my university experience would have been more of a ‘university experience’ like you would expect if I had experienced more of a campus university – I assume this is what Stratford will be like. I felt quite isolated while I was at university and perhaps the more inclusive space will help avoid this.
It changes all the time! David Bowie, Blink-182, The Who, One Direction, Cee Lo Green/Gnarls Barkley, Sum 41, Kendrick Lamar, Tina Turner, Bon Iver, Tom Jones, stuff that I just remember from growing up. I never have one specific music interest, you always have that one band or musician who you’re into that certain day. But whatever it is, music is massively important for me when it comes to concentration. I failed my first three driving tests in complete silence and on my fourth I played one of my favourite albums and I passed!
What do you think Brexit means for the fashion industry and studying in London?
I’m sorry for the students whose funding will be affected by Brexit – that really sucks. Anyone should be able to come here to study if they want, and funding is a huge influence on whether people can do that or not. We should welcome everyone with open arms to the capital and to the country.
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