Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
Behind the camera’s shutter, I am never calm or collected. I am, more often than not, trying to figure out my next shot, my eyes darting from my subject to the light source to a detail of the scene. However, I am perfectly content.
When taking photos, I am enveloped by my camera, and I am removed from whatever social setting I might find myself in. I stop engaging in conversation and, even as my thoughts accelerate, I focus on getting what I want out of the moment. From behind a camera, I feel as though I have a purpose. My camera gives me the space to figure out what I want to say.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have been bombarded with oppressively idealized images of women everywhere I look. Take, for instance, an average ride on the subway. There are ads for breast augmentation in the cars; magazine stalls on the platform with airbrushed celebrities on every cover; images of scantily-clad models bouncing around on every billboard by every exit. These images beg women to find endless faults that need fixing, often with the goal of appealing to men. If what we see most in the media is a display of women as objects for the male gaze, it’s no surprise that the industry that creates images — photography — has historically been dominated by men.
I’m a girl photographer. I don’t let myself forget this. The first camera I ever owned was a plastic Cheetah Girls digital camera from the supermarket, which I got when I was around six. I used to run up to women on the street and ask if I could photograph their outfits when I saw someone who looked like she needed a confidence boost. Actually, I still do that.
In my sophomore year, I saved up and bought myself a semi-professional DSLR camera. I began carrying it with me everywhere I went. As I shot more and more, I noticed that I focused most on the kind of outgoing girls I like to surround myself with. I focused on the art they were making, what they were talking about, their ideas, their passions, and their self-expression. Over time, I became less interested in taking pretty pictures, and instead felt compelled to tell these girls’ stories and share our collective narrative through my art. My photographs are a collaboration between me and my subjects, part of a bigger conversation with my peers about who we are and who we are trying to be.
Recently, I have concentrated solely on photography projects that explore the empowerment of women. For the international “Who Needs Feminism?” campaign I created a series of photos in which I projected texts based on my classmates’ experiences of gender bias onto their bare backs. While taking a pre-college photography course at the School of Visual Arts this summer, I developed “The Sweat Project,” a series of saturated color portraits which depict teenage subjects, gross and sweaty after perspiring in the summer’s heat, the opposite of the romanticized representation of summertime teens in the media. I am currently working on a series called “Free the Nipple,” in which I photograph shirtless boys and girls engaging in everyday, de-sexualized behaviors in an effort to try to show what it might be like to normalize female nudity and view it as not inherently sexual.
As Berenice Abbott said, “Photography helps people to see.” The goal of my photographs is to make others take a closer look at what it means to grow up as a girl today. Even though I am a ball of energy when I am creating images, I am also in my most contented state. I know I am centered on achieving my objective. I am fulfilled.