Photographer Francesca Rowse redefines Cornish womanhood in her Y2K-inspired series
Inspired by her favourite icons of the 2000s, the Cornish photographer’s new series explores the themes of feminism, regional identity, and social care.
- Elfie Thomas
- 26 April 2022
“I am a country bumpkin, born and bred in Cornwall,” Fran Rowse tells It’s Nice That. The photographer comes from a long line of fishermen and farmers, “I am the first person in my family to work in the arts and go to uni”, she adds. For a large part of her life she has struggled to find her place in rural Cornwall, which she describes as an “overbearing male dominated social hierarchy”. Photography and art offered her solace, allowing her to create “a world that I felt I belonged to”. And to her delight, when she began sharing her work, “it turned out that other people wanted to belong to it as well!”
Her series Maids is a gift to young women and girls who, like her, have at times felt lost between the romanticised image of rural Cornwall and its harsh realities. “As a very gentrified area, on the outside Cornwall is shown to be a rich wealth of beaches, sun and fun,” she explains. “But the realities for locals living in the inner parts of Cornwall and more remote areas are quite different. Extreme levels of poverty and lack of jobs create a dull future outside of the summer holiday season.”
Using her golden trinity of skills – “fashion, styling and play” – she set out to empower young women and girls in her community and to carve out a new definition for Cornish womanhood. For this vision, 2000s culture was an important reference point for Fran. In her eyes, “Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are the aesthetic epitome of the freedom of womanhood and girl power”. Dressing the young women she casted in ball gowns and extravagant jewellery, Fran set up a “stark contrast” between the Cornish landscape and the glitzy fashion statements of Y2K. “I have been described as the creator of the Cornish bimbo look,” she laughs. “I wear this as a badge of honour!”
But the series isn’t just about escapism and imagining glamorous futures that could have been, “this is about giving young people in Cornwall a choice, giving them the sense of power to make informed decisions,” says Fran. She wanted to empower the people she photographed to follow their dreams, “whether that be to have a baby and be part of the traditional women’s life plan or go to university,” she says. “None of these options are better than the other, they are both equally hard, demanding and rewarding.”
Photography and fashion were simply Fran’s chosen “vessels” to help celebrate the many facets of Cornish womanhood. One of her favourite images depicts a mother with her child, both dressed in a sparkly shade of lime green. The picture focuses on their loving embrace, rather than showing their faces. In this way, Fran’s image manages to feel universal as well as distinctly personal. It shows the “reality of a single mum in Cornwall” in a sensitive way and embodies the photographer’s aim for Maids, to create “a movement that does not judge...just wants to support”.
The intriguing way in which Maids deals with the themes of “feminism, regional identity, and social care” by treading a delicate line between girlhood fantasies and an un-romanticised view of Cornish society has been very positively received. “I am gobsmacked by the response,” Fran admits. Encouraged by the success of her book, Fran hopes to continue inspiring her fellow Cornish maids through all aspects of her creative practice. She is already working to cast Cornish faces for various major fashion campaigns and says that she is “excited to work in more communities, with the finances to create more visually impressive work,” and is launching a big exhibition next year.
Fran Rowse: Maids (Copyright @ Fran Rowse, 2021)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.