Historically, the male gaze has always been the one to frame and depict women. This, of course, sets up unrealistic and often hyper-objectified ideals of what is deemed beautiful in media and art. As we move towards a more equal playing ground and #ChooseToChallenge these biases, turn your sights on the women who are reclaiming the visual narrative. 

Seek out and celebrate the women who are portraying the diverse and complex representations of femininity. Not sure where to start? Here are a few photographers who will hopefully inspire you as much as they are empowering representations of femininity:

Amani Azlin

The Malaysian artist and photographer may not yet be a household name, but you’ve definitely seen her work around town. One of the few creative forces behind campaigns for Malaysian labels the likes of Nelissa Hilman and also emerging singer Lunadira’s music videos, her projects usually revolve around the motifs of sisterhood and heritage. Our favourites include local producer I-SKY’s music video Suara Kamar and the IKAT series, which was shot to visualise the girlhood bond we wear with our braids. 

Vanessa Wong

For the #ShotOniPhone photographer Vanessa Wong, black and white imagery is an invitation. Her latest series, created in partnership with Apple ahead of International Women’s Day, captures a dramatic portraiture of life in Hong Kong through various public and private scenes. 

From moody street shots to portraits heavily engaged with shadow play, Wong’s style departs from the typical femininity that oftentimes utilises colours to convey warmth and emotion. Specialising in black and white night photography, Wong is particularly adept at capturing Hong Kong’s dynamic nature at night. Of her photos, the Hong Kong-based Wong says, “I hope people who see my work can use their creativity and imagination to compose their very own unique interpretations — to use black and white as a way to recreate their own story with their own ‘colour’.”

Luo Yang

Chinese photographer Luo Yang has been capturing the girls and women around her since 2007. In the photo series that made her a force to be reckoned with in 2018, GIRLS was an attempt to understand the lives and identities surrounding her. But the honest portraits have since become the epitome of underlying tensions and emotions of an emerging Chinese subculture and her native country’s ever-changing social structures. 

Her follow-up, New Generation, was more subjective and saw playful yet serene portraits of not just girls, but also boys, gender-fluid, and transgender people, challenging the traditional beliefs about femininity and womanhood in Chinese society.

Michele Yong

The Sabah-born, Paris-based fashion photographer has shot for many an international title and a slew of renowned and up-and-coming fashion brands. Her style is a balance of femininity with edginess, resulting in a sleek, simple, and refined aesthetic. Something else that’s big with the Malaysian-born Yong? Humour and imagination. Her ‘Gram is a revolving door of that which sits between pretty, ugly, weird, and humorous. 

Nadine Ijewere

At only 26, Nadine Ijewere became the first woman of colour to shoot a cover for British Vogue. Mere days after International Women’s Day this year, the Nigerian-Jamaican photographer also became the first black woman to photograph the cover for American Vogue as the publication revealed its April cover. 

“I feel like in doing this I’m proving to younger girls from a similar background that it’s achievable,” she said in an interview with Vogue in 2018, “It also feels like part of a broader shift within our culture to include far more diversity, both behind the camera and in front of it.” And if the popularity of her Instagram page is anything to go by, where she showcases her work with mixed-raced models, there is a definite (ongoing) shift in the fashion industry’s beauty standards. 

Kanya Iwana

For filmmaker and photographer Kanya Iwana, a picture of the world through her lens is a cinematic and romantic experience. And publications like Vogue and W Magazine also tend to agree, since they are long-time publishers of her work. 

Indonesian-born and Los Angeles-based, Iwana captures women in a fierce and raw light that really showcases her fine arts degree in theatre. Her imagery almost always captures a sense of nostalgia and vulnerability, making it as evocative as it is therapeutic to scroll through. 

Petra Collins

An artist, model, and photographer whose aesthetic has made her one of the leading voices in the new wave of the female gaze, New York-based Petra Collins is widely recognised in fashion and art for her dreamy, hyper-feminine aesthetic. Having photographed covers and high-end editorial for publications such as US and Italian Vogue, Dazed, and The New York Times, the Canadian photographer has exhibited in institutions like The Museum of Modern Art, The Tate Modern, and Hong Kong Art Basel. 

If that isn’t enough, she’s also lent her hand to the film and music industry, shooting music videos and artwork for artists such as Selena Gomez, and directing short films for Gucci and Adidas. Accolades and official works aside, her ‘Gram feed is brimming with imagery that’s equal parts dreamy and edgy. A must-follow for inspiration. 

Anna Aiko

Born in Tokyo and raised between Eastern and Western cultures in Japan and France, Anna Aiko is a global traveller and dedicated photographer. Her most recent series, ‘Women of The Desert’ captures the craft traditions of nomadic women in Dubai. As a female photographer, she was enabled a rare insight to the Bedouin women who travel according to the flow of the seasons in the vast desert. Of the series, Aiko says, “I was able to access the hidden beauty of those Arabic woman’s life, which inspired me to know more about empowerment of the woman and their culture.” 

And perhaps, in these uncertain travelling times of COVID-19, her vibrant images can inspire you too to find out more about the empowerment of the women in your culture.