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.”
“I think that make-up should be an option for people who want to wear it, but not a requirement. As a woman, and a college student living with four other females I feel pressure to wear it from the people around me, and often get comments pointing out that I do not regularly wear make-up [...] I think we should embrace the beauty that we were given and use make-up more as a highlight of that beauty than a mask.”
“I like what I see when I look in the mirror. It took me years to be able to actually say that out loud. Make-up, for me, is a tool to enhance what's already there. I enjoy experimenting with different eyeshadow colours and shades of lipstick to make me more beautiful, but I realise that I can be just as beautiful without all of that.”
“I wear make-up to the degree that it pleases me; I always think about who I am doing it for and what it does for me.”
Sioned Kay Kirkpatrick
“I have always been afraid of clowns. When people used to ask my why, I would tell them that it was because they made me nervous because it felt that with their painted-on faces they were hiding something. Over these past few years I have struggled a lot with depression and self image, and it made me question all that I was hiding. I remember how at some times the only time I ever felt confident was with my own painted-on face. Is this make-up's fault? I don't think so. But there was something that I did realise after coming out of whatever dark place I was at: on the days that I am happy, I feel so much more beautiful than makeup can ever make me feel.”
“I love makeup because it gives me confidence. I hate makeup because it gives me confidence.”
“Treating women's faces like art is a beautiful idea, but attaching our worth to a mask of ourselves is absolutely destructive. Each woman has to find her balance.”
“There’s nothing like glamming up in the morning and starting my day with glitz and glamour. However, there definitely is something liberating and natural about being bare-faced [...] I think that after being in this wonderful No Makeup Series, I will not only go out more often with nothing but a natural glow on my face, but also feel more confident doing so.”
“A person's face is like a blank canvas. Make-up is the paint that dictates the mood of the piece. Everything a true artist creates is from the soul. Love, pain, joy transcends through every piece that is created as does make up on a person's face.”
“When I was growing up, make-up was a way to change who I was and emulate those I admired, nowadays it's more about being comfortable and owning my own skin.”
“I don't love or hate make-up, it's just that I don't need it, it's not my style and I look beautiful without it.”
“My mom never wore make-up, and she always told me I didn't need it and wouldn't let me wear it. So I never got in the habit of putting on make-up. I don't hate it or love it, I just really value my mom's opinion.”
“I love make-up because it's like a second wardrobe. I'm able to customize my looks to how I feel and want to be perceived each day [...] I hate make-up because I feel like it's so expected in today's age. Sometimes I feel like letting my natural self show and I can't count the amount of times I've been asked if I don't feel well.”
“I love make-up because you can enhance or hide any feature you want; it's like magic.”
Sandra Jack Shaw
“I consider make-up a tool; one which I use to present my best self in public. My daughters refer to my made-up look as my ‘work face’ as I tend to only wear it when I'm going to be in front of a camera. I definitely feel more confident when I'm made up, but society has taught women to feel that way. That fact truly bothers me.”
“I have an unconditional love for make-up. My profession is make-up. It is my business. It is my passion. It is my livelihood. However, I'm a believer that make-up is not something every woman NEEDS [...] Make-up can help to make a woman feel like a more polished version of herself. It allows us very strong, busy moms, executives, multi-taskers to create the illusion of an eight-hour sleep even though not many of us ever experience that [...] That being said, women are beautiful even without the help of make-up, beauty truly does come from within!”