Sophie Spinelle, the female powerhouse behind Shameless Photography, has shown the world that pinup culture can be for women, by women. Her pinup photo series, done in collaboration with Shameless photographers Carey Lynne and Maxine Nienow, is an epic conquest of the medium and genre, which have historically been entrenched in misogyny and dominated by men.
"Originally," Spinelle said in an interview with Mic, "pinups were paintings and photographs created mostly by men for men, though there were several very successful female pinup artists in the 1940s and '50s: Joyce Ballantyne, Zoe Mozert, Pearl Frush, Bunny Yeager." The female team at Shameless, however, is cracking open the field and reclaiming the pinup from men by photographing women in empowering positions, instead of circumscribing them to stereotypical submissive ones. "These days," Spinelle told Mic, "pinup has been reclaimed as a genre where many women artists are creating work on their own terms and engaging their models in the creative process as equals." Her colleague, Lynne, concurred, "Imagery that was once primarily made by and for men can now be accessed by women on their own terms."
Spinelle's company was born from her desire "to create a safe space for women to play dress-up and re-envision who they are." Well, she and her team have succeeded. The collection is absolutely stunning in its diversity and celebration of women. These photos prove that female sexuality is powerful.
"I think of pinup as a strong, radical genre." Spinelle and her colleagues wanted to challenge the stereotype that sexy women aren't smart or sophisticated with their photos. "The first women I met who dressed in a pinup style were smart, self-possessed and politically aware, and I'm sure that's influenced my perception of the entire genre," she said. Femininity is not a sign of weakness or incompetence. It is a sexist fallacy to think that a women in a skirt isn't also a genius. "I have friends who unapologetically wear crinolines and seamed stockings to work at their various jobs in IT, in law, in a car repair shop," Spinelle said. "Femininity and competence aren't mutually exclusive, but you'd be surprised how many people need a lesson in that."
Depicting feminism: These photos celebrate the strength of femininity, and they are symbols of feminism. In fact, feminist tropes and images — from bra burning to Rosie the Riveter — are invoked in a number of the photos to make the sentiment explicit. Spinelle also exhibits a wide range of body types, in addition to racial diversity. These models are not your stereotypical pinups. And that's the point. "Old pin up was lacking in body and race diversity," Lynne explains. "Today woman of all sizes, races, and abilities are embracing their femininity by envisioning becoming their own pin ups."
Spinelle explained that empowerment is the foundation of every photo. For this feeling to emerge, the Shameless photographers collaborated with their models. "Each woman in these images was able to create her portraits on her own terms, in her own way," Spinelle said. "For me, the most important audience for the series is definitely the models themselves. If they don't feel good about it and empowered by it, then the project is a failure."
The stylist for the project, Bryn Kelly, praises Shameless for its feminist ethics. "In the 20th century, the photographic image represented truth. Susan Sontag writes so much about this," Kelly said."But now, in the 21st century, the camera is so often a creator of lies. ... It has become clear that the commercial image of the body is, on the whole, an absurd fiction."
In this regard, Spinelle and her team are challenging the medium. "One thing that people might not know about Sophie's work is that she refuses to digitally change the shape of her models' bodies," Kelly said. "She might clear up a zit here or there or smooth a wrinkle in the clothing, but these are images of women that have not been doctored beyond the constraints of reality. They are the real deal."
Female sexuality, sensuality and eroticism are powerful: Through their photography, the women of Shameless subvert sexist stereotypes that contend otherwise and offer audiences a visual way of thinking about how female sexuality and women's bodies work to our advantage. They cannot be used to limit us anymore.