Kimbra Audrey started experimenting with self-portraits while working as a model in New York, about a decade ago. She had some notions on photography from her high-school years, and she rapidly learned that being at both sides of the camera was challenging yet therapeutic for her.
She wasn’t particularly comfortable with her own body when she started photographing herself nude. She was suffering from depression and the values that the fashion industry was perpetuating through her persona were hurting her. But she felt exploring her inner self in a healthy, creative and productive way could lead her to a brighter path.
Slowly Kimbra began to embrace her vulnerability and love her body the way it is. She just wants to create images that are natural, honest and raw. By naturally revealing her body and a variety of emotions where she and all types of women could feel identified with, she’s also breaking down some patriarchal expectations and preconceived ideas about beauty and perfection that can really hurt self-esteem.
Now based in Paris, Kimbra lives and works for the values she believes in. She photographs only in film, develops everything in her own darkroom, and never edits photos. She has learned to embrace the ‘imperfections’ and ‘mistakes’ that occur naturally. So simple, so pure.
Historically, the nude self-portrait has been a revolutionary tool for female artists to break free from the male gaze. What has this practice mean for you?
Nudity is obviously a massive part of my work. What I find most appealing about it is that it creates an immediate state of power and vulnerability, and I really appreciate that dichotomy. When I began taking self-portraits I was extremely insecure and began exploring nude because I felt shooting with clothes created too much of a barrier and could be a bit distracting. I’ve had times in my life, and still do, where I don’t love parts of my body, and learning to love yourself takes constant work, it isn’t a linear process. I also believe there is no greater relationship than the one you have with yourself, I can’t think of a better medium to explore that relationship than with self-portraiture.
Do you have any rituals before starting to photograph?
I don’t have a rigid structure. The most important tools are my camera, film and my glasses since I actually have pretty poor eyesight. I try to be as grounded as possible and just be present in whatever I’m doing or feeling. That can be challenging as some days I might be feeling depressed, anxious or overwhelmed, but I never suppress my emotions, I try to feel them as fully as possible and let that translate into my work. I shoot so often that it’s not even something I really think about. It’s such an integral part of who I am, it’s almost like a meditative state.
What have you learned about femininity through your practice?
As I mentioned before I have not always had a great relationship with my body and that is still a practice for me. I worked as a model for nearly a decade and during that time I developed really unhealthy values of what femininity truly meant. Culturally, there is such a big obsession with perfectionism and I think that expectation affects women most severely. Something I am still learning is what my own definition of femininity is, and unlearning what patriarchal ideals have been ingrained into me. Femininity has so many facets, it’s also my body hair, my period, my hormonal acne, my breasts, the list goes on. I’m constantly learning and exploring what femininity looks like and feels like to me.
Do you feel that taking care of one’s skin is important for well-being?
It’s vitally important, our skin is our largest organ! I had really severe painful cystic acne as a teenager and it is without a doubt the biggest physical insecurity I still battle. If I’m having a bad breakout I don’t even want to see other people because I don’t feel good. Not feeling comfortable in one’s own skin can be totally debilitating. I’ve learned that skincare is so much deeper than washing your face and using the right products, although that can make a huge difference! Skincare is actually really intimate and something I do thoughtfully. Also, I’ve been vegan for over a decade now and that has helped my skin and well-being immensely.
So you consider what’s in the products you use on your skin?
Absolutely, I have extremely sensitive skin and severe allergies to perfume and formaldehyde, which are actually really common ingredients in a lot of make-up and skincare products. I have to carefully read the ingredients of everything I buy. It was truly a real delight to discover ROWSE’s pure plant-based oils, powders, soaps and shampoos. It wasn’t until I became vegan I realized how many products include harmful ingredients and are tested on animals, it’s actually quite devastating both environmentally and ethically.
Are there any essentials in your skincare routine?
The two most important things I do for my skin now are a vegan diet and body oiling. I began drinking a full glass of celery juice every morning about two years ago and it’s been really transformative. I was having some skin issues but also severe allergies and I have noticed a big change in my skin and general health after starting daily celery juice. I also practice dry brushing before I shower and full body oiling post-shower. Growing up, there was a stigma around oil that it caused breakouts and wasn’t good for your skin and I think that is really starting to change. I use a pure plant-based oil and slather myself from head to toe, it’s really the only way my skin feels fully hydrated. It’s very calming and a great way to feel connected to your own body.
What are the plant-based ingredients that you enjoy the most? Any tip that you’d like to share?
I love pure oils! Coconut, Argan, Avocado oil, they are really all so versatile! I love to do oil pulling in the morning, when I can remember, and body oiling after the shower. I love Activated Charcoal powder as well, it feels like pulling toxins straight out of the skin, and afterward my skin feels clean and completely refreshed.
And what about you hair? How do you keep such long, beautiful hair healthy?
I really don’t do much at all! I think genetics are mostly responsible for my hair, but something that’s really important is to use plant-based formulas, otherwise it gets otherwise it gets greasy much faster and therefore you need to over-wash it. I only wash it about once a week, maybe twice during the warmer months if it’s really hot outside. I also try to do a hair oil bath at least once a month, it’s especially helpful for when my ends get dry.
What does raw beauty mean for you?
I think the age old cliché that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is true. There can be beauty in everything, and it’s about finding it and going deeper than what you might see on the surface. For me raw beauty is beauty from someone or something in their most pure, authentic state. It’s not necessarily physical, it’s also a feeling. When someone feels beautiful in their most raw state, that is inspiring.
Who are some women you're inspired by?
My friends and relationships have influenced my work greatly. My best friend, Kayten Schmidt, is also an artist and does do some self-portraiture as well. Katie Silvester is also a photographer who I love very deeply, both personally and professionally. I feel really inspired when I can collaborate with my close friends. Working with someone who you already trust and love is something really powerful and special, when intimacy and connection are already established you both feel safe to work freely and know there will never be any judgement.
Photography by Kimbra Audrey