Here’s How SI Swimsuit Photographer Josie Clough Empowers Women to Feel Their Best
The Australian photographer reflects on her career.
Australian photographer Josie Clough has made a name for herself with her empowering, sexy and fun, ’90s-inspired photographic style. Clough’s achievements include working with SI Swimsuit four different years from 2017 to ’20 and being one of the first women to photograph a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit cover in 2019. (Lauretta Houston also photographed an SI Swimsuit cover that same year).
The 34-year-old has built an impressive career despite having no formal photography training and raising a family at the same time. She is the mother to two children: Smith, 4; and Vincent, 2. Additionally, Clough founded her own swimwear line, It’s Now Cool, which she runs with her husband. Her photographic style is evident in her swimwear line, which is also heavily inspired by the ’90s and designed for women to feel their most beautiful.
We caught up with Clough to discuss her photography style and work with SI Swimsuit after her recent photo shoot with Nina Agdal in Australia.
Early Career and Style
Early in her career, Clough fell in love with the energy and fun of being on set, and after working with Russell James, another Sports Illustrated Swimsuit photographer, she found her niche in photographing swimwear. Her photography is about empowering women to be their sexiest selves and having fun while doing it, and she says Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue photos were actually a huge inspiration in her developing her style.
She described her young age at the early part of her career as being one of the things that helped models feel comfortable with her. “When I first started, being at a similar age to the girls I was working with, it was like we were all friends,” explained Clough. She is still good friends with models she met in those early days.
According to Clough, her female perspective brings a unique element to her photography, especially when photographing female subjects. She believe that being a woman allows her to see and appreciate the beauty in different ways, and she thinks about what looks sexy to a woman as opposed to what a man thinks looks sexy. She often models poses herself to show the model what she wants to achieve.
Said Clough, “Empowering women to be their sexiest self … can mean different things for, for different girls. You know, sometimes it is just really sexy poses and rolling around on the beach and other people that might be laughing and feeling confident and strong.”
Her personalized approached to her work creates some really intimate and strong photographs. Nina Agdal described in her first time working with Clough that “It felt like I was shooting with someone who had known me for a while and understood my strengths.”
View all of the photos from Nina Agdal and Josie Clough’s recent photo shoot in Australia.
MJ Day, SI Swimsuit’s editor in chief, discovered Clough after a model submitted a casting portfolio which included several of her images. Clough’s first experience with SI Swimsuit was photographing a body paint feature in 2017, which she joked felt like a test because she was so young at the time. The results were gorgeous, and Clough has continued to work with the brand for years through many life changes.
When photographing for the 2019 issue, Clough was pregnant with her first child while working with SI Swimsuit models in Australia, and when she returned to photograph the 2020 issue, she brought her son along for the photo shoot in Scrub Island, British Virgin Islands. (Fun fact: Samantha Hoopes also brought her son along to the same photo shoot).
Getting a Sports Illustrated cover was always Clough’s ultimate aim in her photography career. When Day informed her she had gotten a 2019 cover, Clough was initially sleep deprived, and it took a few minutes to let the news sink in. She remembered the moment, saying, “I think I’m really sleep deprived, and I don’t really understand. Like, I’ve reached the pinnacle of my life.” Clough described that it felt especially significant to photograph Camille Kostek in Australia.
Balancing Work With Motherhood
Clough discussed the significance of being able to build her career while building a family. She explains that she is lucky, in that she has a supportive partner who has helped her balance the responsibilities of home and work life.
“I think it’s that whole balance of needing to even up the gender roles as much as possible, you know?” explains Clough. “Just because women get pregnant and have have the babies doesn’t mean that like, they just need to give up everything.”
While she continued to explain and acknowledge that while some women feel fulfilled choosing to solely focus on parenting, which is an amazing choice, that just didn’t feel like the path for her.
Another thing Clough wants to normalize is that it’s OK to not be perfect.
“I can tell you there’s sometimes where … I get so envious when I look on Instagram and I see like friends … just, you know, being like supermoms, and then I’m like, oh, my kids have had chicken nuggets every night this week. … But it is important that women do realize, if they want to [have a career and a family], that opportunity is there. … SI [Swimsuit] has been really amazing at representing that. Giving opportunities to, to women. … Just because they’ve had a baby doesn’t mean that they’re not sexy.”
Clough joked several times that because her career goal was getting an SI Swimsuit cover, she didn’t know what she would aspire to next. Her recent focus has been on building her swimwear line, It’s Now Cool. The brand has been taking off in recent years, and although she still creates incredible images, like this recent series shot with Nina Agdal in Australia, her current focus is growing and expanding her business.