Photographer Alexandra Leese discusses her new zine Me+Mine, which features 44 women from around the world, shot nude in their homes
In the history of visual culture, there are few subjects that have been portrayed more widely and more divisively than the female nude. Women’s bodies have been etched into ancient stone, painted onto canvas, and captured on camera since the advent of photography in the 19th century. And, whether deified or damned, the female nude has predominantly been portrayed through the altering eyes of men. Shrugging off the objectifying constraints of the male gaze, Alexandra Leese’s new zine aims to reclaim the modern nude, giving ownership back to its female subjects. Entitled Me+Mine, the project sees Leese capture 44 women from around the world as they bare it all from the comfort of their own homes, together forming an intimate collection of images which Leese describes as “us sending nudes to ourselves”.
Leese began the project in April of this year, a month into the UK’s first coronavirus-induced lockdown, and at the height of a collective panic about the future. Like many, this was a time the image-maker used to reflect inward. “I began by photographing myself first, as a means to keep myself busy, and also explore the relationship I had with my own body,” she says. Leese then began reaching out to other women – through friends of friends, and via Instagram – inviting a diverse community of women from all corners of the world to be part of the series, capturing them through webcam. “I think in some way I was craving connection and a sense of community, in a world that felt increasingly isolating,” Leese explains. “It became a space for me to be able to give the women involved a chance to feel empowered, beautiful and safe, and in so doing hope to inspire others to feel this way too.”
Capturing these women with the same sensitivity and warmth with which she recorded herself, the images in Leese’s Me+Mine present a quietly powerful manifesto for self-love, entirely removed from the over-sexed ideals of beauty impressed upon women in our patriarchal world. “Me+Mine’s message at its core is about our relationship with our bodies, taking back control over how we perceive and love ourselves, in a society that is constantly telling us how to,” explains Leese. Of her hopes for the project, she says, “I hope they can feel the sense of community, hope and kindness I felt while working on the project, and that it encourages people to persist on their journeys of self-acceptance and empowerment.”
Proceeds from the zine will be split across three charities: Black Trans Femmes in the Arts, Trans Law Centre, and Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre UK, which were selected in collaboration with the women featured in Me+Mine.
Here, four of the women featured in the zine speak on their experience of being photographed and their hopes for the project…
“To me, being part of the project means that I have the legroom to write my own narrative. Not only with my words, but also with my body. Because most of the time, womxn don’t even get the chance to do either. Being photographed by Alex was such a wholesome experience. I was a bit nervous since it was the first time I’d ever been photographed naked, but once we started talking, I felt a huge wave of comfort and relief. My hope for this project is that whoever sees it will recognise a piece of themselves in all of us… I just hope that the vulnerability in the photos encourages you to embrace yourself, in all your forms.”
Mia, Hong Kong
“This is feminism to me. Women photographed in their most natural and raw state, not seeking anyone’s approval, not held to any societal standards. [Being shot by Alexandra was] such a pleasure. She made me feel so comfortable and gave lots of positive feedback. I felt like it was a calm and peaceful environment where she allowed me to be vulnerable, and let me know that that was beautiful. I hope [the project] broadens people’s perception of what a beautiful woman is.”
“I’ve been really insecure about my body for most of my life. I have a skin condition called vitiligo, which causes white patches on my skin. I used to hide it in every way I could. I have struggled to accept my body the way it looks, and I’m really proud of the photos Alex took. It reminds me that even though I don’t look like the average woman, I’m perfect in my own way. I really hope this project reaches those women who are struggling with their appearance for some reason – I hope it inspires them to see that we are beautiful in our own way.”
Ally, United Kingdom
“Being someone who has been subjected to sexual assault and abuse a number of times makes projects like this all the more important and meaningful to me. After moving to London and coming of age, I was viewed as ‘exotic’ and ‘thick’ for my ambiguous looks and having ‘large assets’. I suddenly became a prized possession, a present specially gifted for men and that’s all they saw me as – a sexual object. Being a plus-size model means I’m able to be the representation for something I never had growing up and means everything to me. Showing women, especially WOC, that only you can define yourself and you are in charge of yourself, no one else can take that away from you no matter what they do or say, your body is your body. [I hope this project continues] to show young women, especially my big brown girls, that they are beautiful the way they are. To love yourself, your whole self, and that everything we do is for ourselves.”
Me+Mine is published by Antenne Books, and is available for pre-order now.