Maisie Cousins On How ‘Female Photographer’ Is Not A Genre

Photographed by Maisie Cousins
S.E.X series by Maisie Cousins.
Maisie Cousins is a 23-year-old photographer from West London who deals in the visceral and grotesque. Her work eschews the conventional ideals of beauty and sex that we are served up by, say, fashion photography, and instead hones in on strange surfaces, icky materials and lesser-seen body parts. The effect is jarring. Super-saturated and super-guttural, Maisie's photos can't help but force a reaction out of you. They've also earned her a place in the Tate and on Dazed's 100. Here, she speaks to Refinery29 about her influences and intentions, and tells us what it's like working with rotten meat and vegetables for a living. When and how did you first pick up a camera?
When I was a kid, I would borrow my mum’s 4 megapixel camera and take pictures of my barbies just for fun. I carried on an interest with photography throughout my teens, especially with things like blogging and social media coming into my life. I’m not a very academic person but I always knew I wanted to either do painting or something creative. Living in London in a small flat meant I couldn’t do anything on a large scale and photography enabled me to create big photographs from very tiny set ups. I ended up studying a BA in Fine Art Photography after I realised this is what I wanted to do. How has your style and subject matter changed since then?
I think my general themes and subject matter have stayed pretty consistent but I’ve noticed the type of work I make depends on where I’m living. For instance, when I was a teenager living at home in West London, I was really into black and white and shooting on film. Out the window is a view of the Westway and Trellick Tower, which I think heavily influenced me. When I went away to university in Brighton I found the buildings and surroundings so uninspiring and started making a lot of studio work. Now that I’m back renting a small flat, it’s all close up still life stuff in my home studio.
Photographed by Maisie Cousins
What girls are made of series by Maisie Cousins.
What, for you, makes the perfect subject?
For still life, it’s got to have lots of different textures going on. For portraits, I never usually pick my models, instead I like to let them come to me when I put out casting calls. That way I feel more comfortable shooting them.
You often focus on the female body, quite viscerally... What do you seek to expose?
The realities of having a body, I suppose. Most of my work stems from a personal place and I guess I’m sick of seeing imagery aimed at me that I cannot in any way relate to. It’s very boring and dishonest. I think it’s important for art to be relatable. Your work is very concerned with texture. What are some of the more unusual materials you've found yourself using?
I often use a lot of things that are lying around in the flat like make up, fruit, bath products, snails. Sometimes it can be really smelly – for instance right now my kitchen table is probably a huge health hazard.
Photographed by Maisie Cousins
Grass, peonie, bum series by Maisie Cousins.
What's it like working as a female photographer in 2016?
It’s all I know, so it’s hard to say. I do think it’s amazing how much exposure female artists are getting at the moment but I think it’s important we don’t just get made into a commodity. It’s weird to me that ‘female’ is a genre. I want mixed group shows and I want the same stuff the boys get. Do you find that you have to balance commercial work with your own pursuits as an artist?
I never really say yes to jobs that don't match me, it really helps having my agent Lydia. I actually find it really hard to take pictures of things that I don't care about.
Who are some other photographers inspiring you right now?
A lot of my friends are photographers and they inspire me to keep creating. Francesca Allen, Joe Skilton, Matt Martin, Milo Belgrove. Photographers I wish could be my friends – Nobuyoshi Araki and Martin Parr.

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