Visual Culture

These 9 Photographers Are Capturing Girl Culture Today

Katie McGrath
Mar 10, 2017 9:03PM

Like so many parts of our contemporary world, youth culture has been revolutionized by technology. Today’s teenagers have grown up with access to digital platforms like Instagram and Tumblr that have empowered them to build communities and cultural awareness, and share informed social and political opinions. Within this landscape, female photographers are reclaiming their image and the way young women are portrayed in the media—with body-positivity, individuality, diversity, and acceptance as foremost concerns.

With greater connectivity across the globe, photographers are finding new ways to share their voices. Some, like twenty-something artists Petra Collins and Mayan Toledano, are harnessing their girl power to form all-female creative collaborations like The Ardorous, World Wide Women Collective, and Girls Only NYC, to name a few. And many are members of The Girlfriends Collective: a curatorial project that focuses on all-girl independent publications. Below, we spotlight nine photographers who are capturing today’s image of girlhood.

Valerie Phillips (@wynterinspace)

© Valerie Phillips

© Valerie Phillips

© Valerie Phillips

London-based photographer Phillips has long been fascinated with youth. For the past 15 years, she has sought to capture the souls of teenage girls, which culminates in her ninth book, Another Girl Another Planet (2016). Titled after a track by an English post-punk band and inspired in part by a love of outer space, the book pulls together the photographer’s favorite images across the years, and across the globe—from a portrait of PJ Harvey in star-spangled underpants in Los Angeles to Sara Cummings defiantly climbing a traffic pole in London. As with all of her work, the subjects are shot with messy hair and little or no makeup, displaying their quirks with unapologetic confidence.

Ashley Armitage (@ladyist)

Courtesy of Ashley Armitage.


Through diverse, un-Photoshopped photographs of women in her friend group, the 22-year-old Armitage is redefining the media narrative around young women. Last year, the Seattle-based photographer published an image to her Instagram feed that zoomed in on a friend’s unshaven bikini line. And just before summer, she shot a feature for Teen Vogue titled “The ONLY ‘Beach Body’ Inspiration You’ll Need This Summer,” for which she photographed girls of all figures in an effort to dismantle the cookie-cutter industry standard. Armitage is also co-founder of Girlfriends Gallery, an online platform for promoting emerging artists.

Courtesy of Petra Collins.

At age 24, photographer, filmmaker, artist, model, and curator Collins influences teenage girl culture as much as she documents it. Since her early contributions to the feminist pop-culture Rookie Mag, Collins has gone on to shoot campaigns for Gucci, release two photo books with her girls-only art collective, The Ardorous, and direct music videos. All the while she’s stirred controversy with her Instagram of her unwaxed bikini line and a provocative American Apparel t-shirt collaboration. Collins’s work is both confrontational and empowering. Her un-retouched photos dispel the vintage beauty standard by creating a new one—one that spotlights girls of all sizes and ethnicities, and embraces their vulnerabilities.

Francesca Allen (@fr3nchiejane)

Courtesy of Francesca Allen.

The 24-year-old photographer Allen shoots London’s budding generation of young women from the inside. Armed with a Canon film camera, she photographs her peer group—some professional models, others who’ve never gone before the lens—to tell the story of coming of age in Britain. Her best-known series, shot from the age of 17 until her final year of art school, “Girls! Girls! Girls!,” is comprised of over 60 images of girls. At the tender ages between girlhood and womanhood, Allen’s subjects are laughing, lounging, sporting blue or pink hair, with their bodies untouched by Photoshop.

Nadirah Zakariya (@nadirahzakariya)

Nadirah Zakariya, from the series “GIRLHOOD,” 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

Now based in Kuala Lumpur, Zakariya was born in Malaysia, grew up in Texas, Georgia, and Japan, and later moved to New York. Her “Girlhood” series, which shows sisters throughout their lives, reflects on the strong bond she held with her own three sisters as they moved around the globe. These photographs were shot with a Leica T in Kuala Lumpur in spring 2016, and feature young women who are strictly blood relatives. A highlight among them is a beautiful black-and-white image of two 16-year-old sisters, Ilya Syuhaila and Ilya Syuhaili, dressed in headscarves and sharing a pomegranate.

Jheyda McGarrell (@jheydamc)

Courtesy of Jheyda McGarrell.

Courtesy of Jheyda McGarrell.

As a photo and video curator for the artistic platform Art Hoe Collective, 19-year-old McGarrell gives exposure to young artists, photographers, poets, and creators of color. “A main part of Art Hoe’s goal is gaining representation for people of color in the arts community,” said McGarrell. In her personal work, a mix of fashion, documentary, and fine arts photography, McGarrell works with a similar goal, in “representing those like me, who have grown up not seeing their black, chubby, queer bodies represented positively, if even at all,” she said. Born in California, McGarrell moved to New York to study photography at NYU. Her work can be found in Rookie, on Dazed, and on Instagram.

Mayan Toledano (@thisismayan)

Courtesy of Mayan Toledano.

The Israeli-born, New York-based artist, designer, and photographer Toledano has crafted an impressive portfolio that depicts the dreamy, glitter-filled, safe space of girlhood. Calling upon her past service in the Israeli Defense Forces, for her series “Girl Soldiers,” she returned to Tel Aviv to photograph young female soldiers off-duty in the unseen moments of war, as they check their phones, apply lip gloss, and lounge on military-issued bunks after a long day. The images picture these young women’s struggles to define their individuality, while all clad in the same army-issued khaki pants, button-ups, and combat boots. She is also one-half of Me and You, a collaborative online shop that celebrates girlhood and female friendship, which she created with her best friend Julia Baylis.

Dafy Hagai (@dafys)

Courtesy of Dafy Hagai.

Hagai’s 2014 book, Israeli Girls, captures teenagers in the Middle East—and they don’t fit the conservative stereotypes some might expect. As if pulled from American teen film classics, like Heathers or Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, her images illustrate a generation of young women discovering their bodies and sexuality. Subjects are stretching in a high school gym, sunbathing naked in a park, drinking a milkshake, or smoking a cigarette. Hagai’s pictures reflect her own experience growing up in a suburban beach town just beyond Tel Aviv, in close proximity to the tension-ridden West Bank and Gaza Strip. But despite that environment, the images depict a free-spirited vision of teenage girlhood that dispels misconceptions around Israeli youth.

Jessica Gwyneth (@jessicamenace)

Courtesy of Jessica Gwyneth.

Courtesy of Jessica Gwyneth.

London-based photographer and stylist Gwyneth unearthed her passion for photography while creating her zine, Hullu, which documents young creatives in fashion, music, and art scenes worldwide. In her most recent work, Gwyneth has explored the way in which social media has fostered dialogue between young girls and the rest of the world, giving them agency to develop and disseminate their own opinions on issues like politics and sexuality. For “That’s What She Said,” a project produced in collaboration with creative director Izzy Whiteley, the pair shot teenagers in bedrooms or at youth clubs and asked them to write a handwritten note to accompany their image. Their responses reveal a generation that is far more tuned in than the media often suggests.

Katie McGrath