As we women get older, culturally our value diminishes and, unless you happen to be Helen Mirren and have managed to hold on to that fountain of youth and relevance, younger models are brought in to sell images. Thankfully, some artists and projects—like Advanced Style—are promoting different styles of beauty. Young artist Sasha Frolova, a freelance photographer and actress based in NYC, had done a collection of photos featuring her grandmother—who, might we just say, looks fierce as hell! We recently spoke to Frolova about her project and about how she views agism in fashion.
What was the inspiration behind the project?
I wanted to do this project for many reasons, which are even still multiplying as I reflect on the images now. On a very fundamental level, I wanted to make people think and feel. On a deeper level, I also wanted to address an issue I have grappled with personally for many years. At the risk of sounding somewhat melodramatic, I think it's safe to say that a lot of girls, myself included, feel like their very existence is in some way incorrect; possibly that they don't deserve to take up the space they do or that they have to work to prove to themselves and others that they do. It’s interesting to me to hear people’s responses, which have largely implied that I failed at making her beautiful. My intention was never to “make her beautiful,” nor was it to make her “scary looking.” The range of looks were intended to contrast the visuals of the very specific type of models backstage and in magazines who are allowed to wear these looks without viewer astonishment.
How do you think that these photos reveal ageist practices in the fashion world?
In my own life I have always been sensitive to issues of fetishized youth as I appear younger than I am. Growing up in New York City, where I was able to be independent early, I’ve had to be very self aware and careful of how I present myself to others; the way that an older man will look at me if I ride a scooter to class is startling. I think it would be unfair to attribute this unfortunately normalized fetishization of girls in culture to the fashion industry although it may perpetuate it. Girls are beautiful creatures and it wouldn’t be progress to shun them. However the type of girl that media glorifies is highly specific and often objectified without a concept to provide reason.
How do they stack up to the recent campaigns featuring older women like Joan Didion and Joni Mitchell in luxury brands? What's the difference there?
I think the fascination is shifting as many campaigns feature artists or emphasize a models interests outside of modeling. However, I find this complicated as it can often assume that through this, the problem is solved and the media no longer conforms to a particular 'type' because now there is a momentary trend towards diversity.
The difference between my work and Joan Didion in Celine or Joni Mitchell in Saint Laurent is (among many things!) that they are marketing a product and a brand. I hope that some day I can shoot campaigns and become inspired by the many beautiful and innovative collections in fashion. When I am able to do so, I hope that I may use whatever ‘type’ of subject fits the concept without compromising my candidacy as a photographer or the marketability of the images.
How did your grandmother respond to the project idea? The photos themselves?
At first she questioned her qualifications as a candidate to represent a fashion week beauty look. This ultimately became my main inspiration, causing me to ask myself why this woman who has always exemplified grace and glamour felt inadequate to represent beauty. It pushed me to contrast the elements of her day-to-day routine or comfort zone with the runway looks she no longer identified with. I was unfortunately not able to see her reaction to the photographs! We tried to pull them up on her computer but the browser was out of date… In her emails she has relayed, “Your grandfather and I thought they were wonderful. His favorite is the mirror picture and I am unable to choose.” It feels great to have both of their approval. It can be unsettling to see yourself even from an unusual angle. For her to consider it a successful project means to me that the modifications made in planning the project properly avoided any kind of exploitation.
Images c/o: Sasha Frolova; Carson Stern (Makeup), and Jacqueline Harriet (Coloring)Princess Weekes is a part-time bookseller and a full-time writer with a Master’s in English from Brooklyn College. A former intern at BUST magazine, she has since written articles for The Mary Sue, BUST and maintains her own video channel under the name Melina Pendulum, discussing the intersection of pop culture, feminism and race. She is currently working on a fantasy novel about black witches during the Jim Crow era, while attempting to purchase every liquid lipstick the world has to offer.