Subverting the Narrative

photo by Justin Dingwall

photo by Justin Dingwall

It won’t come as news to most of us that Photoshop and the multitude of photo apps that alter images have led to unrealistic views of ourselves. Women and men alike face body image issues in an era when taking selfies at every possible moment has become the norm. The objectification of women in advertising is a serious problem that has been hotly debated for years. Showing flawless and anatomically impossible bodies is harmful on many levels, and unfortunately it has become even more ubiquitous.

Many of us consider it a welcome sight when advertisers challenge this narrative. The Dove Real Beauty campaign was among these. Their efforts to show women as they are were widely praised, though some critics felt that ad campaigns for products like Axe and Slimfast should be altered or cancelled as well if Unilever (the owner of these brands) was genuinely concerned.

Justin Dingwall is a commercial photographer from South Africa who is using his skills to make work that subverts the standard narrative of what beauty is. In his fine art series Albus, Dingwall tackles the stigma associated with albinism. Worldwide, it’s estimated that 1 in 20,000 people are born with albinism; in South Africa, the estimate is 1 in 4000. Those who live with albinism in Africa are often discriminated against and subjected superstition and violence.

In a series of over 40 portraits featuring Thando Hopa and Sanele Xaba, Dingwall uses lighting and styling to question traditional ideas of femininity and masculinity and accepted standards of beauty. He includes religious symbolism; butterflies to convey transformation and The Madonna to convey comfort, acceptance, provision, and compassion. His beautiful portraits set a new standard, while also challenging us to consider how we perceive beauty.

What have you seen that subverts the stereotypical narrative of beauty?


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