More Than Skin Deep with Sophie Harris-Taylor’s Project Epidermis

Written and interviewed by Amber Magazine / Amber Schormans

I have recently been talking a lot about skin positivity, and the important of realistic representation. Body positivity is a wonderful and positive movement, but sometimes we get so focussed on our bodies that we forget about accepting other parts of ourselves. Everywhere we look are smoothed out, edited and retouched faces. We often forget that the majority of images we see of people, even their skin doesn't look like that in real life. Human skin is supposed to have pores, blemishes, spots, pigmentation, marks, dimples and everything in-between.

This is why I was so excited after stumbling across Sophie Harris-Taylors series, Epidermis. A beautifully executed photographic project that focuses on women with common skin conditions. To see realistic skin represented in this way is so important, just in the same way it is to represent people of all shapes and sizes. Seeing any part of yourself portrayed is so important in nourishing self-love and acceptance. The British skin foundation states that sixty percent of British people currently suffer from or have suffered with a skin disease at some point during their lifetime. That's a big percentage of people who you can imagine, most likely currently don't feel represented in the media. This is why Epidermis is such an important project, because representation matters, and to see it executed this elegantly is truly something to admire.

Epidermis recently had its exhibition debut at The Print Space Gallery in Shoreditch, an exciting and contemporary gallery space in central London. The exhibition is open until the 13th of September, so if you're in London it's definitely one to visit.

Find our exclusive interview with Harris-Taylor below all about the exhibition and project.

What prompted you to start this project? 

Most of my personal projects seem to come from my own life experiences and throughout there is always some element of my own vulnerability I began to reflect on my own past and feelings towards my skin, I’d suffered from severe acne.  Back then, there were no idols, role models and people to look up to who had anything but flawless skin. Which obviously meant I struggled with my own self image. We’ve come a long way since then, what with body positivity and generally people speaking out about beauty standards and promoting diversity. However I still felt that there was a lack in representing skin in an honest and open way. Epidermis for me was a way of showcasing beautiful women in skins less often seen.

Do you have any specific inspirations behind the work? 

I’ve always been slightly fascinated with skin and been inspired by people like Jenny Saville and Lucien Freud and the way in which they interpret the subject matter. I wanted to try and capture some of that same raw humanity and emotional connection through a camera.

How did the models feel during and after taking part? 

Anyone agreeing to partake knew that it would be make up free. However for some of these women, this experience was something quite daunting as they’d struggle to even leave the house without makeup, so to do so in front of the camera was at first a real challenge but often actually became incredibly liberating.

Most of the women had never done anything like this before. But it

meant each shoot felt really exciting and organic. The models often started in quite a formal reserved manner but towards the end they became a lot more familiar and confident. It was quite remarkable to see.

Why did you decide to do an exhibition? 

I made the work for print & it’s such a shame these days work rarely gets printed unless it’s in a show. So to showcase these works in an exhibition was really important to me. So many series and photographs just exist online & although Epidermis had great coverage, for me the work really comes alive at a large scale. I want the viewer to be confronted with the skin in all it’s uniqueness.

Is there anything in the media around skin representation that you think needs to change? 

We need to be more educated about skin conditions. The greater variety of skin types we see, the less of a stigma there will be.

Broadly speaking the pressures come from society and the culture we live in. I think it can be too easy to blame the fashion and media industries because really they’re just a reflection of their consumers. I think it’s important for us all to take responsibility and set an example to the younger generation by embracing those things that make us unique.

There’s always going to be beauty ideals but hopefully what these ideals are will broaden over time and we’ll see this in the media too.

There will be more about Sophie Harris-Taylor and her project Epidermis in the next issue of Amber Magazine.


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