Fanny Beckman is an incredible portrait photographer and writer who uses her creative work to explore feminist activism – and has worked on projects exploring dance, domestic violence towards women, ethical fashion and mental health struggles.
Her most recent work is a body positivity photo series ‘Women of My Generation’ where she took portraits of a variety of different women in their underwear in their bedrooms. This was recently displayed at an exhibition at Brighton Dome for Brighton International Women’s Day, accompanied by a short talk about her project. All the women featured responded to a call out she did on social media and were made up of a combination of her friends and also people she had never met before.
What is special about Fanny’s work is that not only does she capture raw portraits – through a combination of her gentle presence, gift of getting people to open up and dedication to empowering women through the set up of her shots she is able to build trust with anyone she meets and create powerful imagery of women, often in vulnerable positions, that truly reflects the beautiful and often raw and honest conversation that goes along with it.
Can you explain your inspiration for your body positivity ‘Women of My Generation’ exhibition? And what was the message you hoped to convey to women looking at these beautiful photos?
For the last eight years, I have combined my photography with feminist activism. Recently I’ve noticed that the body positivity movement has bloomed massively on social media, which is a massive relief. I am all about opening conversation about topics that have been hushed historically, and body dysmorphia is one of those issues. With more and more influencers/celebrities/authors being open about their feelings towards their own bodies, more and more conversations about these feelings have been brought up, and I have discussed it a lot with my own friends. I noticed quickly how many people who have suffered, and the shame that surrounds eating disorders for example. This is my attempt to question and challenge beauty standards and to prove that it is perfectly possible to feel comfortable and confident in whatever body shape you are.
Was it easy to find women to volunteer to have their pictures taken in their underwear? What do you think convinced each of these women to go for it?
It was surprisingly easy actually. I posted on social media that I was looking for models for my upcoming exhibition and got a massive response. I had to turn down a lot of people, unfortunately, due to a time limit, but I am planning to extend the series and to contact these girls again.
I realized that most of the models did this for themselves, to go out of their comfort zone and to become more comfortable showing themselves in their underwear. I am so happy to be part of their journey towards better self-esteem!
We love Fanny’s gorgeous photo of local fashion activist and founder of Revival Collective Hermione in her Navy Longline Bralette, don’t you – we’re so proud to be featured in such an inspiring and thought-provoking photo series.
Without mentioning any names, do you think any of the women you photographed find it to be a transformational experience do you think? If so could you tell us a bit more…
Yes, I do. It has been transformational for all of us, myself included. I definitely feel like I have achieved my goal to contribute to these women’s confidence, mainly because they have told me so. However, going from feeling hate towards your body to loving it doesn’t happen overnight. But if I have made a little change for the models and the viewers, it means the world to me.
Moreover, it is not only the actual photoshoots that I feel have been transformational. The conversations behind the scenes have been just as important. Women are bursting to share their emotions and to feel less lonely, and I hope that future viewers can sense this and start questing beauty standards themselves.
As a woman yourself, what is your relationship with your body and body positivity?
I had a problematic relationship with my body at an early age. Unfortunately, I don’t know many people, especially girls, who don’t share this experience. We live in a society where beauty is prioritised and whoever doesn’t fit the norm is often left unhappy. My body has changed a lot throughout the years, depending on how much I’ve exercised, puberty, if I’ve been stressed etc. One thing that I have learnt is that no matter what body shape I have been in, there has always been something that I’ve disliked. I’ve also realised that my appearance hasn’t defined my happiness.
The norm is incredibly narrow which makes people feeling too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny, way too small breast, way too big breasts etc. The list can go on and on. I’ve learnt to accept my body and to be grateful that I am healthy and smart and that I have more important stuff to think about than my looks. Sometimes those rational thoughts are
easier said than done though, depending on mental wellbeing and if there is anything else in life I struggle with. But overall, I feel very confident and grateful for my body.
I know you are very interested in questioning gender roles and combining photography with feminist activism. Can you tell us a bit more about previous projects you’ve been engaged in?
As earlier mentioned, I have combined photography and activism for quite a while now. I started at an early age to help feminist organisations producing content for their social media, and I was a press photographer for events and feminist conferences back in Sweden, where I am from. However, my biggest art project before ‘Women of My Generation’, was about domestic violence. It’s a series of 9 portraits of women scarred (both physically and emotionally) by domestic abuse. It’s a collaboration with the Women’s Shelter of Malmo where I volunteered for 2 years before moving to England. This project has been exhibited a few times in Sweden, the last time was in the Swedish Parliament in November 2017.
What is next, have you got anything exciting projects coming up that we should know about?
I am planning to extend my latest project since I still have a list of women to take photos off. I am currently trying to find galleries and art venues where I can display my photos. I really like the combination of exhibition and having a longer talk about the issue, and would love to do more of that.
And finally, we’ve been thinking about the ‘female gaze’ – considering how female photographers look at women and women’s bodies differently to the usual ‘male gaze’. Do you agree?
This is a really interesting observation, and I am very glad that you noticed a difference – thank you! The male gaze is very present in most media, and unfortunately, it is not only men who take photos from this perspective. We are all so used to seeing typical “male” and “female” poses, as well as different angles and lights being used for different sexes. It takes a lot of time and education to start seeing these patterns, but once you do it is impossible to ignore them. The fact that I am a woman taking photos of another woman doesn’t necessarily remove all the stereotypes and sexualisation. Women are very much affected by what is considered desirable, just as men. However, as previously mentioned I am constantly questioning gender roles, I have studied loads of advertisement throughout the years, both by looking at photos (private at home or at school/university). This has helped me to identify the underlying structural norms which create and recreates sexism, and therefore have had a massive influence on me developing as a Photographer. For example, I would never take photos of a woman in her underwear from above. The bird perspective has been used for centuries to objectify women, make them look smaller and ready to seduce the viewer. Instead, I take photos from slightly underneath her torso, to make her look more powerful and confident. It doesn’t only affect the final result of the photo, but also the dynamic during the shoot. I don’t want to stand above these girls, I sit on the floor admiring all these inspiring women who give me their time. You are incredible.
If you’d like to see more of Fanny’s work, you can find her Instagram @feckman, her website www.fannybeckman.com and on Belongcon’s website too.
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