It’s no secret that the rise of self-portraiture has been swift and ubiquitous. The evolution of the front-facing cellphone camera has allowed anyone to become a photographer, capturing everything from artistic nudes to sultry selfies (Kim Kardashian West even compiled hers into a Rizzoli book). But not every picture of oneself taken by oneself is created equal, which is why Yumna Al-Arashi is only the second woman in 40 years (and the first of the digital age) that Playboy recruited to do so.
The DC-raised, New York-educated, and London-based LENS photographer studied International Politics, something that has clearly informed her art. Her portraiture is both hyper-feminine and somewhat violent, with Al-Arashi situating her nude body in both biblically pure and confronting contexts to create some truly mind-altering images. Read our quick-fire questions with the photographer below.
The second woman to ever shoot herself for Playboy in over 40 years is a huge honor. Walk me through the process.
“Yes, a major honor. The idea of creating a body of work for a publication which has almost never allowed a woman to decide how she would like to be seen was the reason I agreed to this. I had the support of women all around and felt like I was walking hand-in-hand with them to take this publication to a new grounds.”
What initially attracted you to self-portraiture?
“It’s always been a way for me to express myself. The more I think about it, the more I realize that there’s a type of protest in self-portraiture. It’s allowing one to tell the world how they would like to be seen. It is a power we as women so often have not had in history.”
How would you describe your work to someone whose never seen it?
“I try less to describe and more to show and observe the reaction. I think that’s my favorite thing. I love watching people’s reaction to the initial beauty the images often hold, and then the lure that captivates them and the questions that follow. My images always end up becoming the instigator for incredible conversations.”
What do you think the modern photography landscape needs more or less of?
“Less tokenism, more originality. Lead, don’t follow.”
How has your experience been working in this industry as a young woman of color—is it opening up?
“Really difficult, to be honest. It’s slowly changing, but I think the commercial worlds are really needing to break. I am also so tired of seeing the same 10 photographers on rotation for everything. We need diversity, we need to spread the wealth of image making more widely, and we need to protect younger photographers so that this gap between the one percent and the 99 percent becomes smaller.”
What frustrates you most?
What do you hope people will take away from your photos for Playboy?
“I hope women and men can see that there’s a chance for us to stop thinking about women’s bodies as purely sexual objects.”