Four years ago, photographer Steve Osemwenkhae persuaded his colleague Liliana Jimenez to ditch her cosmetics and pose for him barefaced. Now, more than 100 women have stood in front of his camera for his No Makeup Series, and Osemwenkhae is hoping his project will “change the narrative” on what is considered beautiful.
What began as a showcase of natural beauty has evolved into an exploration of the “complicated relationship” women have with cosmetics, and the related issues of “social pressures, gender and concepts of beauty”. Each subject gave quotes on their feelings about make-up, whether they love it or hate it, use it to disguise or enhance or rarely wear it at all.
“Finding the models was the hardest part,” he told Stylist.co.uk. “I asked friends to take part but the replies I would receive were, ‘Steve, I love you but no thanks,’ or ‘This would not be beneficial for my brand.’ It was difficult as these women are leaving themselves vulnerable for the world to see, which is a scary thing.
“My colleague Liliana Jimenez trusted my vision four years ago, even though she didn't like the idea of having her bare face out to the world, and was the first photograph I posted. After a couple of my friends took up the challenge, I started to get lots of individuals who wanted to take part.”
He says their reactions afterwards varied, but the series has taken on something of a life of its own.“Some loved it and others wanted a do over. I originally started it as a black and white project but I got many suggestions to keep color because it would be more impactful. I felt my artistic expression being challenged but realised this project isn't about me anymore but the impact it has on other people [...]
“I believe society and media play a huge role in appearance and looks, especially the make-up industry. I want this project to show that natural beauty is equal to one enhanced with make-up.”