Women seen by women street photographers, @womeninstreet gallery curated by Michelle Rick
Guest Curator: Michelle Rick
Guest Curator: Michelle Rick
Please tell us a little of your background, and how you came to photography.
I am Brazilian, 31 years old and I live in São Paulo.
I decided to work with photography in 2013. Before that I had a formal job in an office, but it was never what I wanted to do, so I began to reflect on the hobbies that I liked the most to start as a profession, and from that came photography. I dipped myself into my past and found out that my mother loved to photograph. She is the person who has made most of the images of the family since her youth. I think the love came from there, from seeing my mom up and down with a camera in her hands, always ready to take pictures of meetings, parties, family reunions and trips.
Photographing the streets is even more recent. Three of the last four years I was doing newborn essays, photographing families and women, and it was only in 2016 that I began to develop my personal work. It took me a long time to realize how much I blocked myself, because of all harassment that we women suffer in public spaces. It took a lot of support and debate about our oppressed condition to get rid of some fears and insecurities. Today, the streets are my favorite photo exercise. It’s where I can be myself, explore lights, meet characters and especially develop my view.
You are member of the Mamana Foto Coletivo, please tell us about that, and how and why it was founded.
Mamana Foto Coletivo is a Brazilian female photo collective. It arose in 2016, precisely in the year that I began to explore more street photography. I met a friend, Renata, and we started discussing how much we, as women, are too little encouraged to be photojournalists or street photographers. From this debate came the need to get organized, to meet more women and find these photographers, so we can get together and take this space that has historically been denied us.
From the first moment we got out on the streets, we suffered from harassment. As if society said “Go back home, this is not your place!” That’s part of the sexist culture in which we’ve been raised. Woman has always been kept in private space, and man has always been given the privilege of being on streets. With photography this is no different, so much so that women do not even think about being photojournalists, covering wars, protests, or walking on the streets with a camera around their necks, photographing strangers.
This is the context that Mamana promotes. We look for, encourage, and publish the work of women photographing on the streets. We want to connect them, so that they become empowered and occupy these spaces.
Today we are seven photographers — in São Paulo: Renata Armelin, Bruna Custódio, Gabriela Biló, and myself; in Brasília: Janine Moraes and Jacqueline Lisboa; in Rio de Janeiro: Tita Barros — and more than twenty collaborators spread throughout Brazil.
Our goal is to be able to have presence in even more Brazilian states, and even to make connections with female photographers all around the world.
Please tell us a little background about yourself, and how you came to photography.
I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and grew up in what can be most simply described as a spiritually focused commune made up of ex-hippies (transitioned into the 80’s as “conscious yuppies.”) My mother was born in Egypt, and emigrated to South Africa as a child. My father is American, of Russian and Polish descent. I was always surrounded by a wide diversity of experiences, views and relationships. I existed in a very liberal, safe place that was tucked inside the larger environment of a very segregated and violent Apartheid South Africa in the 80’s, then a blossoming and hopeful, but still violent country in the 90’s.
At 22 I headed to the US. I never intended to stay more than a couple years, but I got sucked in to New York as people do, the sense of freedom and potential so irresistible, the diversity of the city both so familiar and so different from what I was used to.
My interest in photography began early, sparked by my father’s own photography. He was always the guy with a camera or video camera in his hands. I spent hours going through his binders of negatives, contact sheets and black and white prints from the 70’s, and was inspired to create. I have always felt a pull to tell stories of real human experience, but the medium has changed over time. I wrote some, and I dabbled with photography on and off in my teens and twenties, but cameras were stolen, lost or broken. I put almost all my energy into documentary films and television, and made production my career, first in South Africa, and then as a TV producer in New York.
In 2011 I got an iPhone and started taking pictures with it. I couldn’t stop. At first I was just amazed with what could be achieved with a phone camera. I discovered photographers who were using Instagram as a serious place for sharing and learning, and I dove in. I began to photograph on the street, in the subway, thrilled by the moments of humanity and character, the traces of a story, that I could capture with the phone. But by 2013 I was hankering for more control, and I bought another DSLR.
My world expanded from there. I photograph all sorts of subjects now, working with families and artists, as well as on the streets wherever I travel, but whatever I’m shooting, I approach as a documentarian.
I don’t think I really knew of street photography as a genre before 2013, but when I look back at photos I took in my short bursts of shooting throughout the years, I see that I was always doing it. I think growing up in the unusual environment that I did made me interested in diversity of experience, seeking candid moments that make me feel connected to those whose lives may be far removed from mine.
What is the inspiration for your Beach Bodies series?
It’s really all about that thong. The Beach Bodies series was born during a two week holiday to Rio de Janeiro in 2014.
What struck me almost immediately upon arriving at the beach was how women of every imaginable body type seemed to feel so at home in their own skin. Not just there, but out there in all their glory, and without shame or regard for shape or age. Thong bikinis were not reserved for those with toned and tight behinds. So many women claiming the beach as their own within the space, claiming the right to be there in their bodies just as they were. To be comfortable, to be sexy for their own sake, to be physical and to bare their bums and bellies to the sun, to walk and run and stretch and enjoy. I bought a purple thong bikini from a vendor on the beach and joined in. It gave me a freedom and comfort I had never experienced in a swimsuit before. It’s a feeling that has stayed with me. So I began to photograph the Beach Bodies I saw that inspire me with their unselfconsciousness, both male and female. They give me permission to be that comfortable in my own skin. I’m on the lookout whenever I hit the beach, in any country on any continent.
Do you find it different to be shooting on the beach than any other locales, a different mindset for your approach?
I’m trying to capture people in a moment that is particularly unselfconscious, so I try to be even more discreet than I would on the street, where I care less about being noticed with my camera. I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable or under scrutiny, which would be contrary to what inspired me in the first place, so even though I’m usually shooting undetected, I always maintain a respect for my subject and I hope this comes across in the images I’ve chosen to include in the series.
Do you think being a woman has an affect on your approach?
It certainly has an effect on the subjects I choose and the way that I see, which I think is with an empathetic and strongly feminine quality. And it definitely has an effect on how I am perceived on the street with my camera. But my womanhood is inextricably tied up with all the other things shape my vision — being a 5 foot tall, introverted, white girl from Africa just to name a few. Which has more effect on my approach? I don’t know.
Please tell us a little about yourself, and how you found photography.
Travel is my destiny.
Travel has been shaping my life since I was born 50 years ago in Italy. I grew up in Rome and travelled a lot around my country, as my extended family was spread out from north to south.
Since there was no course in International Relations in the University of Rome, I had to move to Florence, where, eventually, I graduated in Political Science with a research thesis about the “Armenian Question.” History and International Law have always been among my main interests, together with movies especially the ones of the Italian Neorealism, the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) and the Classical Hollywood.
Somehow, I married in Bologna, and since then I’ve spent years on trains, as my job was in Rome. I worked for several international NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) dealing with different tasks on development projects for disadvantaged communities, in particular women and children and on international adoptions. Very hard work sometimes. And often it involved travel, again. From Ethiopia to Vietnam, from Pakistan to Cambodia and so on, many journeys took me away from home into very different cultures, and that was hard to deal with. But all of these experiences have shaped the person I am today — very open and open-minded, with a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm for life.
But, this is the past.
Five years ago, I started my adventure with photography, after I quit my job due to the economic crisis that devastated my country. We all went through a rough patch. Photography gave me a new life, and a new perspective on life! Books, exhibitions, workshops. I experimented with different genres — from landscape, to still life, to portraits, and macro, letting myself being amazed by the magic of light and colors. Yet, something important was lacking. So, street photography and social documentary were the natural conclusion of the search, and as of three years ago these are my primary interests. And it cannot be otherwise. I love people and their stories, I have dealt with them for so many years, and now today, with my camera, I feel very much connected to them, and so comfortable in a way I never had before.
Do you feel it is a difference mind set or approach when you are photographing at home in Italy vs. while you are visiting other places?
My mindset is pretty much the same, both in my country and abroad. I am very open, eager. A hunter ready to react and interact with what draws my attention and interest. And I usually do not know what it is until I see it, as serendipity plays a big role in my work. Very rarely do I go out with any concept in mind — my instinct drives me. Rome is an open book to me, I know all the corners of this city, but even when I go back to the same places, I let it surprise me.
Though my mindset is the same, my approach at home, on the other hand, is different. As Grazia Neri (the founder of the most important Italian photo agency, now closed) said once, the privacy law is killing the daily life genre. Unfortunately it is true. This concern is mirrored in my many photographs with shadows, silhouettes and people’s backs. Often not an aesthetic choice but a necessity. I am developing a sixth sense of when it is wiser to step back or even not to click.
In Italy laws are never clear enough, and this is an issue I take into account when I walk the streets in my country. Without generalizing, things are a bit different abroad, where I feel less suspiciousness, and more photography friendliness. Paris, for example, was a surprise to me, people seem very accustomed to being photographed, as it is in several countries outside Europe that I have visited recently. Or maybe, in some places, there is less consciousness of this fluid concept of privacy.
Anyway, in both situations I look for a close contact, even for eye contact, that to me it is a sort of a mutual and mute deal between two strangers that meet for a split second. I am not only an observer, an outsider freezing fleeting moments of strangers. I feel part of the stage, and close to the people I document. Of course, I have many pictures where people are totally unaware of being photographed, but the ones I like most, that I feel closest to me, are those where I am there too, with them and their look, successfully frozen in time with my camera.
To what extent does being a woman play into this approach?
The access of women to some subjects, like children for example, is certainly unrivaled when compared to men. But, being a woman does not make things easier, and it is not always true that people on the streets are more compliant with us. In London, once I was asked to stop making pictures of children playing in a square. I was astonished as the place was full of photographers, and I was acting openly and not in a sneaky way. I stopped and moved on. And this was not the only time. I think that it does not really matter being a woman or a man, it depends on the culture we deal with, and on our attitude and approach, that must be always respectful.
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