Fashion photography for a more diverse world: Paige Nolan
Turning fashion editorials into a weapon against the globalized beauty standards imposed by mainstream media, Paige Nolan has been making her name synonymous to egalitarian media representation and the exploration and the delight of plural beauties. Be it thick women, people of age or going beyond their 100th body piercing, her models stand before the camera in a confident assertion of their own particular take of charm, elegance and sensuality.
–Would you describe your work as fashion photography or as a political statement?
“I think it’s actually a bit of both (…).When I started my current project Somos Uno I had initially noticed a change in the models I was seeing in magazines in regards to ethnicity and style – especially ones such as ID, Dazed & Confused, Pigeons and Peacocks, etc – these changes were the initial spark that instigated my newer work in particular as it was so refreshing to see magazines and other photographers taking a step back from the idea of westernized beauty and beginning to represent more than just white or very light skinned models.”
This was the spark that lead her to research the representation of dark-skinned models in the fashion industry. “One statistic that particularly stuck with me was from the ID & Grace Neutral series Beyond Beauty in which they went to Brazil and despite over half of Brazil’s population identifying as black or Afro-Brazillian but less than 5% of actresses cast in Brazil are black”, she added.
Nolan speaks in favor of equal media representation: “especially if you are the majority race in your country and you’re still being told by mainstream media that light skin is the be all of beauty which it just isn’t”. She considers “everyone deserves to open a magazine, or look in a shop window or watch a movie and see someone who looks like them being represented as beautiful.”
If Brazil’s racial representation statistics seem quite a bit geographically distant from Paige’s hometown, Plymouth. Nonetheless, it’s worth mentioning that between 1993 and 2015, England’s foreign resident population increased from 2 to 5 million, and 1,8% of the total population identifies as gay, lesbian or bisexual. In a country with 54,7 million inhabitants, these figures give the younger generations all the more reason to demand spaces where diversity is suitably represented.
Paige knew that the diversity she saw in her city’s streets wasn’t matched by what she saw on films, fashion publications and other media, so she came up with “Somos Uno”: for her, it is “a statement that spreads love, beauty and diversity whilst staring in the face of mainstream media and saying that we must do better”.
This young photographer has no doubts regarding the task of the artist, that is, making visible every aspect of the world surrounding us – and diversity is the one she’s chosen to emphasize in her current work. “So I would say my work is fashion – but it is fashion built on politics”, she concludes.
-If your work could change something in your country, what would it be?
Oh! Now this is a question I have about 100 answers to! I think if I had to pick just one it would be to remove ignorance and hate. Despite being such a diverse country I still see so many people who are scared of people who are different to them so they project this fear through racism, xenophobia, homophobia and prejudice. I especially notice this around the times that we come under attacks of terror with people demanding all Muslims be deported – which is both stupid and impractical. People let the media tell them that one religion is to blame for something and they blindly follow it and respond to hate with hate (…). It’s the same with immigration and refugees (…). What is truly important is people being able to live without being terrified of the place that they live in, or for the safety of their loved ones – and I know for a fact that if the tables were turned, the people complaining would flee to another country to have a chance at life because who wouldn’t?”
It has increasingly come to our notice that the media often reinforces ideals and stereotypes that do not meet with reality. It’s not so easy to imagine how a country of long inter-ethnic heritage, like England, is still shaken by episodes of extreme intolerance. Even so, Paige is pretty certain that Plymouth is becoming “a city of self expression and culture” in which her models are “free to express who they are”.
“I would like to think that I am creating a positive image of Plymouth through my images because I am photographing the people that live here, and representing the diversity and different styles of individuals – after all they are the heart of what makes a city.”
People that inspire
Most of her models aren’t models, in fact, most of them have no previous experience of posing in front of a camera. Paige confesses that when she first started delving in fashion photography, she felt that all of her models had to be experienced, and then – she admits – she realized how wrong that was. “I stopped focusing on what I thought I should be doing as a fashion photographer and focused on what I was actually interested in photographing, which was the people”, she explains.
When she planned her sessions, she posted her casting calls online specifying how her model should look, but she didn’t obtain much satisfying results. It was then that she started asking each person that would interest her directly, she elaborates: “It is really (…) just a case of asking people who inspire me and because they inspire me it just creates some passionate and real imagery – nothing is forced and no one is trying overly hard to be a model and it just comes across as relaxed, comfortable and natural which is something I love about my work”.
Diversity and mainstream
At the current moment Paige is working on a wedding photography project, which include ethnically and aesthetically diverse models, as she thinks the currently established wedding industry is far too occidentalized, and it could do without so many white skinned brides. She also wants to go forward with her “Somos Uno” project, for she intends to make a real change in the world.
“I really want to push the boundaries of diversity and keep going until diverse beauty becomes part of mainstream media”.
It is a relief that each day more women are standing up In a traditionally male-dominated industry as is fashion. Besides established magazines as Dazed and i-D, Paige is inspired by other uprising female artists likeHannah Mae Clarke, Jasmine King and Lola Webster – all of them university students. She comments “It’ great to see so many women kicking ass!”. Women like her, who employ every artistic medium in their reach to pursue change within a unequal crushing society.
The future of the fashion industry pertains to the invisible majorities, to individuals who want to be represented as unique and diverse beings. There’s no doubt that Paige Nolan’s photos brings light to real, beautiful individuals, who are so in their very singular ways of being.