Elise Dumontet

GENITALSGENDER

Using gender-neutral pronouns
causes no harm. Referring to people by the pronouns they choose, is basic to human dignity. And being referred to by the wrong pronouns, particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. 

Trans. Queer. Gender Fluid. Non-Binary. Younger generations are becoming more educated on all the terms that are available to us, and naturally less people identify with the only two terms a lot of the world have been taught are available. Making assumptions about someone’s identity based on their looks can be insensitive.

‘Genitals ≠ Gender’ is a campaign to support those who choose not to be defined by the terms that society has defined as standard. Especially as fluidity is becoming increasingly visible. Using gender-neutral pronouns means we don’t associate the person we’re talking about with the false gender binary of male or female. When we use the right pronouns for someone, they are more acknowledged and validated.

Each model has a story to tell. They all believe that positive representation matters in art, fashion and in the media – they want to see more people who look like they do. Their views on gender diversity and identity help to make personal pronouns commonplace. Created for International Pronouns Day to bring awareness of this issue.  

Benny identifies as non-binary and prefers to use the pronoun ‘they’, however Benny is fine with being referred to as ‘he/she’, should the person speaking be aware he/she is slang in this instance.  As a non-binary model, Benny says he  is casted for certain types of work and goes on to tell us, “when I first began modelling, I was only booked on jobs that wanted me to look, what they believe, a ‘man’ looks like. I’ve been told at a shoot before: “try to think about girls” because my body language is feminine, or maybe my limp wrist was just screaming ‘I’m a homosexual and this will affect the product in question’ in their heteronormative world”. 

Laiah identifies as transgender and prefers the pronouns ‘she/her.’ She tells us “a personal pronoun matters because it’s my way of controlling how I see myself in order for others to see me that way.” She continues to talk about representation of gender nonconforming people in advertising and “brands that came to mind that have championed a narrative of inclusivity are Calvin Klein and Fentyxsavage. Both have made a real impact as far as changing perceptions, challenging cultural norms and opening the world up to new concepts of what is truly beautiful, unique and authentic.”

Adrian identifies as non-binary and prefers the pronouns ‘he’ or ‘they’. He goes on to say, “I’m definitely bi, trans, queer and plus (non-binary/both genders). I’ve also ID’d as both the L and G as well at some point in my life. It’s been quite a journey.”  Adrian says “I’m constantly mis-labelled. A lot of people assume I’m a trans woman and ID as female, which is not my story. I feel like there’s no label that really fits me perfectly I see myself as being no gender or both.”

Dol is a non-binary and prefers to be identified with the pronouns ‘they’ or ‘them’. they tells us “being non binary, I’m not sure gay/lesbian quite fits right for me. Lesbian has always had a huge stigma for me as there has been so much sexualised media and talk that “lesbian” seemed like a horrible thing. Queer - although used as a slur through history - is a term I feel most comfortable with as I feel power in reclaiming the word. It is a word that I feel is an umbrella and doesn’t stick with any particular gender or which leaves it open for me to fall in love with whoever I please without feeling as though I am invalidating myself.” 

Dol adds that people tend to stereotype what the LGBTQIA+ image should “look” like. “Lesbian women are expected to look “butch”, gay men are expected to look “flamboyant”, trans women are expected to look like “men in wigs”, and trans men are expected to look like “tomboys”. I truly could go on for pages talking about how stereotypes are forced upon the community and the damage that it causes us all - specifically young people who are trying to figure out where in this world they belong and who they truly are. Should anyone go against the “norm” we are considered liars or “deceiving” because others can’t figure us out.” A piece of advice she would like to pass on is that “those who mind don’t matter, those who matter don’t mind.”

Jordan’s a transgender model who’s preferred pronouns are ‘she/her’ and ‘they/them’. She says “personal pronouns matter when used correctly, as it affirms and reaffirms that I am somewhat understood, and respected on a basic level.”

Arron is a gay model who’s preferred pronouns are ‘He/Him/His’. He goes on to say “Persons pronouns matter because it is part of their gender identity, using someone’s correct pronouns is a sign of respect.” And he goes on to say “I identity with LGBTQIA+, mostly with G, gay. I think like many minorities, including LGBTQIA+, people always wrongly use stereotypes. It’s dated, offensive and boring.”


Created by beauty & portrait photographer Elise Dumontet and Paul Hogarth & Elspeth Lynn of the agency Unbound, the ‘Genitals ≠ Gender’ is a campaign to promote diversity, equity and inclusion of all people across race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age and ability. The ‘Genitals ≠ Gender’ campaign is not a fight against gender, but a way to empower individuals with a sense of pride. Elise explores the definition of identity. And helps other to understand it.



IT’S NICE THAT

After 20 years in the industry, photographer Elise Dumontet questions the real meaning of beauty.

Having cemented her place in the beauty photography industry, Elise explores the definition of beautiful.

Words Jyni Ong at It’s Nice That


Elise Dumontet had a rather untraditional route to becoming a photographer. She never studied the medium, or a creative subject for that matter. Instead, she felt the need to do something practical, and enrolled in catering school to train as a chef. Though it was miles away from photography, she tells us, “I always knew I wanted to be an artist,” and in some way, cooking provided the creative foundation for this. After all, cooking is just as much a form of art.

After years of working in catering in London, Elise, who is originally from France, eventually found a job in a photography studio. It was here that she “fell in love with the medium” and “finally found a way of expressing [her]self.” For eight years she worked as an assistant for a number of fashion photographers, honing her craft along the way and developing a unique aesthetic, greatly admired today. She found a passion for beauty editorial photography which soon became her niche in the medium, explaining, “I fell in love,” when first encountering this sub-genre.

Currently globally represented by AtTrayler, Elise’s extensive list of clients include the likes of Vogue, L’Oreal, Clinique, Space NK, Penguin, Harpers Collins and Sunday Times Style; just to name a few. In her latest series, Hues, she captures the beauty of people with albinism, vitiligo, piebaldism and benign hypo-pigmentation. The genetic conditions affect the production of melanin, causing a lack of pigmentation on the skin. The photographer captured her subjects with delicate subtlety, paying particular attention to lighting which compliments the models’ fair complexions.

On the series and her work in general, she says: “I often shoot personal projects with little to no idea of how things are going to turn out. I know who I’m going to shoot but what happens with my models is always down to how we interact and how the lights are going to bounce off their skin.” For Hues, these elements were even more unknown. “Their paleness and the reaction to the flash was a mystery,” Elise adds. “So I just let them be.” Working patiently with the models’ natural responses to the photography studio, she learnt just how sensitive the lights were to those with a pigmentation issue.

As the models’ eyesight gradually became accustomed to the bright lights of the studio, the photographer and models got to know each other, talking and laughing along the way. “It all became magical,” Elise says of the experience, “I somehow couldn’t take my eyes off of them. I felt they needed protection at first but they don’t. All I see now is pure beauty and strength.”

Having spent the best part of the last 20 years shooting advertising beauty campaigns, Elise was no stranger to photographing beautiful women. And after so many years capturing the conventionally attractive, in the past few years, she’s explored the mainstream definition of beauty, turning her lens on a different kind of beauty often discredited in the norm. “I want to help people find their inner beauty,” she says on the matter, tapping into the subject’s personality in turn. “Not just showing what’s obvious but bringing them a sense of empowerment.”

With this conscious shift in representation, Elise stepped away from the overly retouched images of glossy magazines and centred her practice on the knowledge that “beauty is about knowing and accepting who you are, and I’m hoping my pictures show that.” Fundamentally, people are the heart of her photography and are an unending fountain of inspiration for her, even more so given recent times.

During lockdown, Elise spent the period of isolation on her own, going without physical contact for weeks. Although it was complicated on one hand, on the other, it made her “fall in love with people even more.” In an epiphany of sorts, she realised “all those hang-ups and stigmas we all have about our body suddenly don’t matter any more. The masks have fallen down. We wear less makeup, dress more casually.” And for Elise, “we no longer care about the weight that society imposes on us and the way we should look.”

In other work, Elise has just finished filming for a project titled World Women Hour. Depicting 60 women and in turn 60 stories in one-minute segments, the film documents myriad women from a variety of backgrounds sharing tales from their life and how they’ve been impacted by education. She is also currently working on a project with Unbound, collaborating with LGBTQ+ people which will be released at the end of October 2020.



HUES

The Skin We’re In took a new turn when Elise began collaborating with Zebedee Management, an inclusive talent agency representing models with disabilities. Through them Elise made a portrait series with amputees, and another about children with Down’s Syndrome. For this shoot, the latest instalment in the project, Zebedee provided models with four rare conditions: Vitiligo, Albinism, Piebaldism and Benign Hypopigmentation. Here, as elsewhere in the project, Elise was keen to photograph her subjects the same way she would any other model. “It’s important that you don’t focus on the difference. That’s already there. So no artifice, no crazy fashion statements, minimal make-up. The image is made by them being who they are.” 

Elise is optimistic that “things are changing”. The industry is increasingly open to older models, models of different sizes and skin tones, she says, and we’re seeing high profile campaigns for both designer brands and high street chains that feature models with disabilities. “The problem is we’re so used to looking away,” she adds, recalling a conversation with one of the models in her earlier series, a double amputee, who told her about how it felt when people turned their heads when they saw her in the street. “With these pictures, people can take the time to look and to ask questions. She said to me: you made me feel like I am there. I exist.”


WHISTLES

Elise Dumontet has just shot the beautiful Arnelle @MilkLondon for the latest Whistles swimwear collection.⁠ 

We’re into the natural feeling studio lighting. We’re into the relaxed yet empowered stance. More like this please, dear fashion industry. ⁠




SKIN WERE IN PROJECT

A solo project and exhibition by photographer Elise Dumontet, in partnership with G.F Smith “Skin We’re In” is an emphatic and audacious photographic project celebrating a wide spectrum of body imperfections and the power of personality that lies within them. 


Elise, an advertising beauty photographer for the best part of 20 years, is telling a visual story of imperfections. From spots, wrinkles, moles, freckles and stretch marks to amputation scars and limb differences. Imperfections which the beauty & fashion industry, and by extension society, still airbrushes and stigmatises.


Through her personal journey and a collaboration with Zebedee Management, an agency representing models that have either been born with a limb difference or had an amputation, Elise has created a photographic commentary on body acceptance, representation and the un-retouched realness of the human skin.

“I have for a while been trying to step away from the overly retouched images we see in magazines. My work has become more real and more in tune with what women expect to see when using the products I’m trying to sell. They want to see reality. Falling in love with real skin has been the starting point of this piece of work. Not only stop correcting imperfections but making them a real feature of what makes all of us”. – Elise Dumontet

The exhibition showcased approximately 80 photographic works.


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