"Epidermis": A Candid Series on Skin by Sophie Harris-Taylor
“Facial skin is the first thing you see when you meet someone. It’s a such a big part of who you are, yet even within the ‘body positivity movement’ -which I’m all for- the subject continues to be off-limits”, Sophie Harris-Taylor told Mindful Feminism.
The British photographer picked up on this silence and created Epidermis in response. A stunning & candid sequence of what ordinary women with different skin types truly look like behind a lens. “I wanted to make a beautiful series of images that at first was loosely based around acne, but is really about showing skin that we don’t usually see -real skin.”
As of right now, there are 34.6 million posts on Instagram under the hashtag #skincare, so it’s no secret that flawless skin is a current societal obsession. And with that backdrop Epidermis becomes even more relevant as one of the few counter discourses on the matter.
The collection of photos is set up as a beauty editorial, although stripped of all the falsity mainstream media frequently employs. “As a photographer, you’re constantly asked to manipulate images and retouch heavily, which is something I’m quite against,” Sophie mentioned. In fact, she only shoots with natural light, guaranteeing a certain rawness to the images she creates.
As is the case with all of her projects, the initial inspiration for the series stems from personal understanding. “When I was younger, in my teens and early twenties, I suffered really bad acne, so I came to the idea for Epidermis quite organically.” Women covering up and feeling ashamed of their skin was something she found herself thinking about frequently. “I’d be sitting on the underground, and I’d notice that all the women surrounding me would have so much makeup on and I’d wonder why people feel this pressure, this need to always wear makeup.”
Precisely those standards of “perfection” made the process of finding the subjects for the shoot a bit tricky at first. “These women aren’t used to being in front of a camera, let alone without makeup, so a particularly challenging part was getting them to the studio. Having to make that journey without their makeup on and feeling anxious about what was going to happen wasn't easy at all.” From the beginning, Sophie strived to make the women feel like this was a collaboration. “I really wanted to get to know them, so before actually taking the pictures, we shared our skin stories and common experiences, and once they were in front of the camera it was very relaxing.”
The overall praise Sophie has gotten for this work has naturally been heartwarming. “I've received messages from all over the world, and I think it has made many people feel better -like they’re not alone.” However, the reactions she’s cherished the most are those of the women photographed. “How at peace they were with themselves or how liberating they found doing the shoot was very gratifying. Many of them said they didn’t focus on their skin when looking at the final images. Instead, they saw themselves and thought things like ‘I have nice hair’ or ‘quite nice eyes,’ and that was especially rewarding.”
"I’d love for this positivity to continue, to see more ordinary people featured in the media so that others don’t feel the need to cover up or be ashamed of their skin conditions." The dream, Sophie says, would be "for this work to be done in 20 years without it being a thing at all.”
To end, we had to ask what liberation felt like personally for Harris-Taylor and her response will be inspiring us for days. “Every time I’ve cared less in my life, I’ve felt better. Even with regards to my work, when I’ve stopped second-guessing myself, this series, for example, it happened organically, I really didn’t overthink it, and it has probably been one of my most successful series because of that –because it came from a place of freedom.”