It can be difficult to stand out from the crowd in the highly visual, all-prying society we live in. Social media platforms have instaled unspoken norms on what an audience wants to look at, and artists from all backgrounds are squirming to fit into an uncomfortable mould.
PollyEllenS is a London-based alternative model. The label 'alternative' is one that Polly recognizes as surprisingly mainstream today, she tells Konbini. Everyone wants to prove how unique they are, but Polly prides herself in her own uncensored identity — which may indeed stand out on the somewhat homogenous modelling spectrum.
A sea of freckles and bold tattoos sign her 'alternative' look that has followed her since her career began.
"I never really aimed to 'fit in' into a particular group or section of the industry."
Modelling found Polly in her teenage years, and her career continued to grow with the rise and accessibility of social media. The platforms were harnessed by photographers, artists and models, encouraging a rise in visibility for creative individuals.
Her occasional photo shoots became more regular, and soon what started as a hobby became a full-time job.
Pushing the boundaries of the mainstream definition of 'beautiful'
Polly's distinctive style compliments an industry which is finally ready to embrace it. She explains that tattoos for example were often frowned upon in mainstream media a few years ago, and yet now tattooed models are fronting luxury brands to sell their products.
"I think the power of social media has influenced these trends too, changing and always pushing the boundaries of what people may or may not find beautiful or interesting", Polly tells us.
A conventional prejudice sees tattoos as intimidating, nudity as provocative. Polly's work ethic focuses on portraying a strong, empowered and independent woman. The importance is in representing pride in her identity and the potential of woman, unafraid. And this courage conveys a powerful, positive message, universally understood through her art.
Nudity is not synonymous with pornography
There is no hiding in Polly's work. Where social media platforms are censoring work and removing posts at the first glimpse of exposed human anatomy, she points out that there is of course a difference between pornographic images and ones that are artistic. In order to spread her work, she complies — her Instagram feed sees her shots partially censored. "It can be annoying, but it'll change", she says. Surely we all know that it's high time to free the nipple by now?
"I always try and create images of interest and power rather than just something sexual", she says. Throughout Polly's work and her long-time collaboration with her favorite photographer Haris Nukem there is a clear artistic vein and powerful message that seeps into the final shots.
Nukem captures models with an intense proximity, giving his photos a visceral texture and wildly unique images. Polly sees our common prejudice around nudity as an unnecessary precaution. Neither systematically sexual nor the sole cause of body insecurities, she feels much more open when nude without anything to hide — which clearly transpires in her work, testimony to the 'stronger connection' that she refers to having when in front of the camera.
Drawing emotion and strength from everywhere
Always in front of the camera, Polly reveals that she is inspired by those who surround her. Her mother, "so strong both physically and mentally", reminds her of her own ambitions and keeps her driven to strive for beauty, strength and grace. Photographer Haris Nukem channels the tenacity that Polly aspires to. "He makes magic, it really is amazing", she says.
As well as close family and friends, strangers spark a curiosity in Polly's work. "People watching is my favorite pasttime. I love watching the world go by, wondering who they are and where they're from", she reveals. What do they love? What do they hate? Questions on people's inner thoughts and secrets inspire Polly, always connected to emotion and opening her own mind.
Music gives Polly an energy in her work and hones in on the freedom and unashamed openness she channels throughout. By following and trusting every movement, she manages to lose any prejudice, and gain a raw honesty that comes across in every shot.
"I love listening to every rhythm and I absolutely love to dance!"
What Polly's work, Haris' work and the wider community of artists embracing nudity and disregarding "the mould" shows is that there is no specific template to create inspiring and powerful art. Inspiration can be found from everywhere and ultimately there is more beauty to be found in what you're willing to show rather than what you try to hide.
And in case you were wondering, one of Polly's biggest loves is pizza. Body positivity doesn't always have to be about compromises.