“Toole’s message is serious, but her photos have a playful quality. Her nudes are having fun. They flaunt their self-image, no longer captives of what feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey called “the male gaze.”
The concept created international buzz early in 2015 when Toole teamed up with Australian actress Caitlin Stasey to launch the website Herself.com. It showed nudes of Toronto-area women, identified only by their first names. Toole photographed them in natural light with medium-format film, giving the raw and unadulterated images the texture of a painting.
“These are strong and very brave women offering their likeness as an example of natural beauty,” Toole says. “It’s a celebration of individualism in women.”
In lengthy interviews conducted by Stasey, the women described everything from their sexual awakening to their views on love. The site attracted so much traffic it crashed on the first day. It has expanded to include the work of six photographers based in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, and more than 4,000 women have volunteered to tell their stories and pose nude.
“The project has mostly resonated with young women who are brought up in a world that does not implore them to love themselves as they are,” Stasey says in an email exchange with the Star.
“Honestly, without Jennifer, Herself would have floundered,” Stasey adds. “She brought to the project many women willing to be documented, and not only that, she made them feel valuable and comfortable. Have you ever had to ease someone’s essence out of them while they’re stark naked on a frosty Toronto morning? She is a true wizard.” - TORONTO STAR
Selected works from the Herself project photographed by Jennifer Toole: