In today’s hyper-saturated image landscape, the need for strong female figures has never been more important. But what does an empowering role model look like? Throughout history, women have been portrayed through the eyes of men, shaping how generations upon generations of women see themselves. In their project Metamorphosis, Dutch photographer Lois Cohen and stylist Indiana Roma Voss journey through history to reimagine female archetypes as bold new icons for the 21st-century woman.
Doing away with the unrelatable, monolithic representation of what a woman should look like is at the heart of this mission. “I think we were discussing the lack of diversity among Disney princesses and the white-washing of certain female characters such as Betty Boop, and it soon turned into this conversation about the lack of diverse female representation in general,” says Cohen on the origins of the project. Sick of the “docile dolls” that dominated the visual landscape of their adolescence, the duo set out to create heroines that could speak to the full spectrum of women they knew, embracing all of their many dimensions and contradictions.
From the archetypes of art history such as the Odalisque and Venus through to religious icons like Madonna, via pop culture idols like Barbie and the Power Rangers, the pair reached far back into the archives of visual culture for their source material. “While researching this project, we really looked for women who had been misrepresented and that needed redeeming of sorts,” explains Roma Voss. Drawing on the aesthetics and symbolism of each character, they then used casting, location and styling to transfigure them into a contemporary context. Collaborating closely with a range of different women, these archetypes are playfully subverted by the new women who inhabit them.
“Each archetype we created represents something different,” says Lois. “That was the whole point: to be as diverse and therefore inclusive as possible in terms body image, cultural and racial representation and gender identification.” Together, the icons of Metamorphosis express the feminism that Cohen and Roma Voss stand for, nodding to details from our contemporary landscape. “For instance, the Disney princess picture refers to the poses of protest, signifying the women’s march. In the location we tried to find a backdrop that was reminiscent of the beginning of the 20th century and the suffragettes,” Roma Voss explains.
For both stylist and photographer, this personal project is a blueprint for how they want to continue working in an industry context. “As far as commissions go, I think this project has really set the tone for my standards when it comes to inclusivity, and I think that clients know what to expect when they book me on something,” says Roma Voss. She also points out that images created in the realm of fashion have the power of visibility. When it comes to issues of representation, this is both a curse and a blessing – if used in the right way. “A big pro is that we, as creatives, have the power to create imagery that the world will see,” she says. “Working in the fashion industry, this is imagery that is more relatable to more people than say, abstract art, for example.” Using this platform to address body positivity and inclusivity, the pair hope to empower a new generation of women.