By Her, For Her

Two-time Olympian Aly Raisman

Following her first photography class, then 13-year-old Taylor Ballantyne called her mother in tears after coming to this realization: “I figured out what I was going to do for the rest of my life.” 

Sixteen years later, Ballantyne continues to do what she loves, which currently involves shooting for Sports Illustrated. Recently, the Malibu native shot a campaign—which has received national attention—called “In Her Own Words” for the magazine.

An hour after shooting photos of the U.S. women’s national ice hockey team (which just won the Olympic gold medal in Pyeongchang), Ballantyne spoke to The Malibu Times in a phone call.

Her love of photography stemmed from a decision she made when she was in middle school. Her parents urged her to do something productive over the summer, which prompted her to take classes at Santa Monica College.

“I actually didn’t want to read or write,” she said, and decided on something simple—photography. And it stuck.

After graduating from Malibu High, she moved onto the now-shuttered Brooks Institute and later, the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Following a series of opportunities and help from mentor and photographer Ken Regan, Ballantyne took a job as photo technician for SI.

“I was a terrible photo technician,” she recalled. “I don’t have a technical head; I have a creative head.”

Eventually, she made the crossover to swimsuit photography, which she has done for three years.

It’s in this position that she came up with the idea for “In Her Own Words.” 

“First and foremost, this campaign is really about truth and celebrating these women and everything they come with, from the inside out,” Ballantyne said. “… This project came about because I really wanted to create something where I could show these women in their truest form.” 

She first brought the project to the magazine’s editor, MJ Day, a year ago. The editor threw in her full support, going so far as to not appear on set during the shoot; Day didn’t want the women to “perform” during the shoot. 

“Because I was a woman and a comrade of theirs, [the models] really felt comfortable around me,” Ballantyne said, which allowed her to ask them for their participation. 

She doesn’t describe the models as such; she calls them entrepreneurs, mothers, directors, role models.

The premise was that the women would pose nude, with words written on their bodies, for a black-and-white photoshoot in a Brooklyn studio. As to the exact words, placement and even assistance with final photograph selections, Ballantyne left it up to the individual woman. 

“They needed to become the art director,” she said, adding that she desired a true collaboration.

Her only rule? The words chosen had to be positive.

“In my mind, change your perception, change your outcome,” the photographer said.

Robyn Lawley served as partner and cinematographer while Sailor Brinkley Cook took behind-the-scenes photographs; both were also featured in the photoshoot. The models were women of all shapes and sizes, including Lawley, Brinkley Cook, Paulina Porizkova, Hunter McGrady, Ebonee Davis, Georgia Gibbs, Maya Dalbesio Olivia Culpo and two-time Olympian Aly Raisman. 

The project made SI history as the first black-and-white, all-female crew photoshoot for the swimsuit issue. 

On the subject of #MeToo and #TimesUp, Ballantyne said the project wasn’t done as a result of the movement, contrary to headlines. Instead, she explained that “In Her Own Words” was “in perfect conjunction with this era.” 

“This isn’t just about women being sexy, being naked. This is more naked than naked.” Ballantyne said. “They’re showing their truth.” 

“In Her Own Words” is also available on video on SI TV, available on Amazon Channels.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include all participating models.