Epidermis: In Conversation with Sophie Harris-Taylor

Epidermis: In Conversation with Sophie Harris-Taylor

As we launch new products we aim to always come back to skincare that is natural and inclusive of all. Skin is so important, it is the largest organ of our body, and its job is to protect us. As it continuously grows, old skin cells die and new cells are created. It is easy to get caught up with what’s ‘trending’ instead of what is best for your skin, and that won’t cause any harm to it. The beauty industry campaigns that we see have given us an idealised version of skin. But, in fact everybody’s skin is different. It is important to remember that our skin is precious, and it protects us every day. It is completely normal to have discolouration, spots, wrinkles, etc. In fact it is estimated that around 95% of people aged 11 to 30 are affected by acne to some extent. However, some struggle with their skin more than others. This can really affect their mental health, which is why this week we spoke with photographer Sophie harris-Taylor, who hopes to showcase all skin types by creating beautiful images of people with different skin to let others know they are not alone and this is completely normal.

Sophie Harris-Taylor is a photographer who creates images which focus on self-reflection and relatability. Her Epidermis series features 20 women from across the UK who all have varying skin conditions. These raw, softly lit, images were taken naked, and completely make-up-free. The style of the images mimic the beauty campaigns we see, showcasing natural beauty instead of enhanced visuals.




Could you tell us a bit about yourself, and how you got into photography?
“I’m a London based photographer, I work on both commercial assignments and my own personal projects. I guess I’ve always been doing it in some way, back to when I was in my teenage years. I was always the one documenting everything. University opened my eyes to photography as an art form and that’s where I probably began to find my voice. And over the past ten + years, it’s been something I’ve grown more and more confident with.”

“The camera is really just the medium for me that I use to express my own ideas and explore subjects I’m interested in – but equally, it could be a paint brush.”


What inspired you to create your work, and why do you choose to photograph people?
“My work is often inspired by my own vulnerabilities, preoccupations and life experiences. Using others to explore these subjects. I often find myself treading the line between representing my subjects truthfully, whilst also reflecting my own view. Stylistically I’m drawn to strong light giving the often mundane and intimate moments a bit more significance. I guess each of my projects sit somewhere between documentary and something more stylised and formal, but it’s a bit of a spectrum. I’m interested particularly in the human condition, the broad similarities, the niches and the nuances of these. I like that my work seems to have an emotional resonance with people, but also a relatability and accessibleness.”


What do you hope to emote through your work?
“I guess all of my projects have a bit of a different aim, but I always hope to create something beautiful, perhaps something that isn’t conventionally beautiful as well as this.”


Why do you feel it is important to show raw images?
“Because we’ve become so used to seeing ‘idealised’ versions of ourselves, the fact that you can now take a selfie with a filter on that makes us look younger, thinner, more fresh faced, made up. It’s almost distorted our own view of what we really look like as well as what others look like. I think now more than ever, we should embrace raw images, something a bit more real and relatable perhaps. I think we’ve gone too far the other way and it now means, botox/ fillers/ implants/ all these kinds of treatments are becoming a must have for the younger generation when they REALLY don’t need it and it’s almost now just the new norm.”




Could you please tell us about your work Epidermis?
“Anyone agreeing to partake knew that it would be makeup free. However for some of these women, this experience was something quite daunting as they’d struggle to even leave the house without makeup, so to do so in front of the camera was at first a real challenge but often actually became incredibly liberating.”

“Most of the women had never done anything like this before. But I think this worked in my favour. It meant each shoot felt really exciting and organic. The models often started in quite a formal reserved manner but towards the end they became a lot more familiar and confident. It was quite remarkable to see.”

“I photographed them in my home studio, it’s pretty small but has great natural light. I tend not to work with assistants on my personal projects, this makes it more intimate. And I generally try to avoid artificial light where I can, this was all natural daylight.”


How did the idea of Epidermis begin?
“I began to reflect on my own past and feelings towards my skin, I’d suffered from severe acne. Back then, there were no idols, role models and people to look up to who had anything but flawless skin. Which obviously meant I struggled with my own self image. We’ve come a long way since then, what with body positivity and generally people speaking out about beauty standards and promoting diversity. However I still felt that there was a lack in representing skin in an honest and open way. Epidermis for me was a way of showcasing beautiful women in skins less often seen. With a lot of these kind of series there’s an element of trying to shock, but that was the opposite of what I was trying to achieve. We need to be more educated about skin conditions. The greater variety of skin types we see, the less of a stigma there will be.”


How did you find the models for these images?
“My casting was quite social media based. I approached a few people who were already sharing their skin stories and through this finding a voice and an outlook. Once I’d started sharing a few photos, it was much easier to put out an open casting as people realised it wasn’t in any way exploitative and I was actually trying to find beauty in this.”


How do you think skin affects our mental health?
“I think it can have an enormous effect on people’s mental health, we as a society seem to place huge importance on our physical appearance. And our skin is often the first thing people see, so we worry about how people will judge us and often people with skin conditions lack self esteem and confidence. I can’t comment on everyone but these a few quotes from some of the women I photographed speaking about their mental health.”

“I stopped taking opportunities because I felt I could amount to nothing because my skin looked a certain way. I have grown so much over the years and these thoughts and beliefs subsided. I have grown so much with my confidence and I couldn’t be happier.” – Abi

“Being diagnosed with an incurable skin condition at a young age had an enormous impact on me. I felt like I had no control over my appearance, my self-confidence was destroyed, and I felt fearful of my future.” – Lex

“[It] caused me constant physical and mental pain. It was completely unbearable. But I wouldn’t change it as it has made me so much more confident and strong.” – Mariah


What do you think the beauty industry can do to stop stigmas surrounding skin issues? 
“I think body positivity, as a movement, came before skin positivity. That was partly a reason for me making the work. There were so many photographers shooting, more diversity when it comes to size, shape, race and genders, but we still seemed to be showing only one skin type which was flawless.
So in the same way we see clothing brands, such as Nike, showcase more body types both in store with their mannequins and in their campaigns; beauty brands could do the same when it comes to skin. I believe the greater variety of skin types we see, the less of a stigma there will be, and given more time people will be more understanding about different skin conditions. I think by doing and showing more diversity when it comes to skin types it’ll make people feel more inclusive and less alone, as well as that they’ll be able to relate to the brand a bit more.” 

Why do you think photography is a good platform to promote skin positivity? And how did this shoot differ from standard portraits?
“I think we can connect to a photograph almost immediately. We can see something of ourselves, or someone we know perhaps. With platforms like Instagram it means we can share photographs so easily now, it’s all very accessible, and I guess in some ways it means a lot of good work gets lost, but it also means images can get round the world within seconds. It’s definitely got its pro’s and cons.”

“Exhibiting the work was important to me as I was able to showcase the images at a really large scale and it meant viewers could get up close to the skin and be confronted with skin that perhaps they’d never seen before, it added a whole new dimension really.” 

“I don’t know if this shoot was all that different from standard portraits really. I think most portrait shoots often come with their own challenges and hurdles. For me at first getting the casting was tricky, and making sure the women felt really comfortable with me and in the environment was pretty important. I’d say these were the biggest hurdles. Just being that bit more mindful and approaching everything with a bit more sensitivity.”



With special thanks to Sophie Harris-Taylor


Website – Sophie Harris-Taylor

Instagram – @sophieharristaylor