Photographer Sophie Harris-Taylor knows what it means to live with a skin condition. As a teenager and throughout her early twenties, Sophie suffered from severe acne. It really affected her self-esteem, making her feel shame and embarrassment. Luckily, over the years she learned how to live with it.
Now, she's using her medium to give others the opportunity to do the same. In hopes to open up the conversation about skin, she created a portrait series called Epidermis. While normality is usually defined by the images we see all around us, we are led to believe all women have idealized, flawless skin. But they don't. Many women live with conditions such as acne, rosacea, and eczema and many of them feel pressure to hide them behind a mask of makeup. For her project, however, Sophie showed these beautiful women unashamed of their bare skin.
"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
Epidermis is a series that was born out of Sophie's personal and commercial projects where she has about 10 years of experience. "I'm interested in the human condition," she told Bored Panda. "Typically portraiture based, often with some elements of place and surrounding, I use people to express my own pre-occupations and concerns."
“My acceptance of eczema as a feature of mine that will wax and wane rather than a flaw to be constantly fought in an attempt to rid myself of it.” - Issey
"Most of my personal projects seem to come from my own life experiences and throughout there is always some element of my own vulnerability," she explained. "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."
“[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
Sophie wanted to not only start a discussion about skin, she hoped this work could also empower other people, making them feel more comfortable in their own skin. "It’s still something I personally struggle with but hope one day I can practice what I preach. With a lot of these kinds of series, there’s an element of trying to shock, but that was the opposite of what I was trying to achieve. I really wanted Epidermis to be seen as a beauty shoot first, and a commentary on skin second."
And it worked, in huge part thanks to the beautiful models in front of Sophie's camera. "My casting was quite social media based," she said. "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 realized it wasn’t in any way exploitative and I was actually trying to find beauty in this."
"I prefer not wearing makeup and letting my skin breathe. When I was younger, I would never leave without wearing makeup. I can’t remember the point when I stopped caring but now I’ll happily wander about without it. In the evenings if I go out, I like the transformational element of wearing makeup. I’ve moved away from using makeup as a way of covering up my skin but see it as more of an artistic venture.” – Annie
After working on the series, Sophie believes she's realized that we are a lot more self-conscious of our image than one could imagine. "I think that’s true in most things. I was genuinely amazed by the reception the series had and the coverage it received. I’ve had personal messages from people all over the world thanking me for shedding light on the subject. I think it shows that the more open and honest we are about these things, the less alone people feel and the less stigmatized they become."
The photographer added that it’s important for us all to take responsibility and set an example for the younger generation by embracing the things that make us unique.
“I can see that vulnerability but instead of belittling it and interpreting it as a negative thing, I think it comes across as powerful. Usually, we take pictures from our best angles to hide the things we dislike, but these pictures confront those features and make you realize that maybe those things really aren’t that bad after all.” - Charlotte
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
“I'm personally trying to re-train myself in how I understand what beauty actually is.” - Ezinne
“It sounds quite trivial but as someone with already low confidence, having bad skin often leaves me worrying about if others are staring at me, and I find a lot of my time is occupied with negative thoughts about my self image- something I know is really unhealthy and I’d actively love to alter.” - Charlotte
“My skin has always affected me. I've always been a naturally confident person in every other aspect of my life but if I think someone is looking at or judging my skin, I will instantly feel self-conscious.” - Sarah
"I was embarrassed to even step foot outside my house. The thought of people looking at all the "problems" on my face gave me anxiety. I just wanted to hide my face from everyone. It's been a difficult process, but I feel more empowered and I stopped caring what people think of my skin anymore. At the end of the day, it's just skin. It shouldn't dictate my entire life. Though my skin has gotten better ever since I started taking better care of my body, I've accepted that I may never have perfect skin. And that's okay.” -Joice
"As I have gotten older, I have realized that skin isn't naturally smooth, even, untextured and that none of the faces I looked at in real life looked like my 'ideal' skin. That's not to say I don't sometimes stop and look in the mirror and feel ashamed of my face, particularly if I'm out and about with no makeup on, but I've learned that those thoughts aren't useful and try not to obsess over them.” - Izzy
“I’m annoyed at myself that I spent so long thinking people would judge my personality based on my skin. I guess you’re always your own worst critic. I'm close to a place where I'm accepting that I'll never have perfect skin, and that's okay.” – Alice
"My self esteem has continually decreased as the acne progressed. Most recently I've become more introverted though I'm naturally more of an extrovert. I've noticed I'm also a lot more critical and sensitive about myself even beyond my skin.” – Ezinne