Ayla Reyes is a 23-year old photographer who went viral for her stunning photo series featuring people with disabilities that are defying the beauty norms of today.
Braving the impossible beauty standards the world has set before us, Ayla Reyes could’ve chosen the usual statuesque models for her undergraduate photography thesis, especially since her main visuals were an homage to Renaissance art. A movement often criticized for portraying unrealistic human proportions despite the techniques used by masters like Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci among others, Ayla made the bold choice of casting real people—persons who have unique attributes that refuse to conform to society’s definition of beautiful.
Entitled Anomali, Ayla Reyes’ photography work for her thesis has been recognized as Outstanding Thesis at the University of Santo Tomas, College of Fine Arts and Design. Originally spelled as “anomaly” or something that deviates from what is normal or accepted, it was a word play on another tagalog phrase, “anong mali,” hence the title. It was a breathtaking portrayal of Greek goddess Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, and The Girl With A Pearl Earring.
The now viral Facebook post by Ayla Reyes has been liked and shared for more than 20,000 times. As it so deserves! Below, we have a conversation with the budding photographer who currently works as a graphic designer for an apparel company.
NYLON Manila: How do you define beauty as a photographer?
AR: As far as outer beauty goes, there shouldn’t be a specific definition. The whole point of this project was to get people with a variety of physical attributes to show everyone that there is no blueprint for beauty. Everyone is beautiful in their own way. Inner beauty is what’s important—which I also wanted to symbolize not just by recreating, but reinterpreting the classic art pieces with their individual stories and personalities in mind, because they’re more than just their appearances. They’re people with beautiful minds and hearts.
NM: What made you decide on choosing this topic for your thesis?
AR: I’ve always been in love with fine art. I wanted to choose something I know I would be passionate about as a thesis topic. While I was brainstorming for concepts, I realized that classic art usually featured the same kind of people— fair and clear skinned, full bodied, and other Euro-centric standards. These art pieces were the beauty standard for centuries. So, I thought, this isn’t what beauty is anymore. Why not recreate these with a wider variety of people that didn’t necessarily fit that mold? It would be such a statement to redefine beauty standards by literally redefining the art!
Who did the casting for the shoot? How were you able to find the perfect muses?
AR: I did the casting. Some models were friends of mine, some were friends of friends, and some were strangers I found online. I wanted to feature different kinds of physical attributes or disabilities, so during the screening process I tried to curate it in a way that different kinds of conditions were featured like skin conditions, limb deficiencies, and other body conditions. After I reached out to them, I got to know them and their stories to be able find the perfect artwork to pair them with.
How was the experience after the shoot and what did you feel?
AR: It was incredibly fulfilling and one of the best experiences of my life. The best part was really just meeting and getting to know these people. I can say with all honesty that they are some of the best people I’ve ever met. They’re all so strong and kind. In the end all the stress and effort was really worth it, because I was able to bring this advocacy to light. I hope that not only will this uplift people with similar experiences, but also inspire society to adjust to inclusivity. Inclusion matters!
Check out the rest of the photo series and read through their stories below:
THE STAR BY EDGAR DEGAS
DAVID BY DONATELLO
DIANA BY AUGUSTUS SAINT-GAUDENS
PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG MAN BY RAPHAEL
STATUS OF NYMPH TETHYS AT THE FAÇADE OF THE LLOYD PALACE
For more of Ayla Reyes’ work, you can visit her portfolio here.
Photography by AYLA REYES
Makeup by KRISTINE JAN ALFONSO and HANNIE FRANCISCO
Hair by ALLISON ANNE DELOS ANGELES
Styling by ASHA ANGELES
Models ISABELA LUMBA, ROSE MARCIAL, SARAH PIMENTEL, MARKUS OPERIANO, NESTOR MARAVILLA, JULIUS DE JESUS, HANNAH ALVAREZ, OLIVIA GARCIA, TRIMA ARMEDILLA, AUBREY SICAT
Production Design by BRAVE BUILDS PRODUCTION
Shot on Location at EDGE OF LIGHT STUDIOS
BTS by Ayla’s dad, Dwayne, Jemimah and John