New York-based artist and filmmaker Jessica Yatrofsky has spent her entire career exploring the dynamic confines of gender. The hugely successful follow up to I Heart Boy, Yatrofsky's recent project I Heart Girl saw her photograph 100 women over a period of several years. Challenging traditional representations of women in mass media, her latest offering is a moving image project that compiles a series of screen tests, featuring all the women she shot for her photographic monograph. Naked without being objectified, or clothed without accentuating the subject's gender, I Heart Girl - Screen Test deconstructs our institutionalized notion of femininity and reminds us of how beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. Currently in London to give a lecture, Beauty, Gender, and The Camera, with androgynous model and muse, Dana Caputo, and with lots of exciting projects in the pipeline, we caught up with the artist to find out how it's all going.
Where does your interest in the female form come from?
With the I Heart Girl series I was inspired by the inherent strength and beauty of the female form. To work with women to create images that can explore both femininity and masculinity was very intriguing to me. I am interested in how we choose to define ourselves as women but more importantly as individuals.
What was the idea behind I Heart Girl - Screen Tests?
The screen tests are really an extension of all my portrait work. I routinely make these screen tests of all my subjects simply because there is a difference in seeing subjects moving and 'in the round.' It's very powerful to see how each person moves, their micro expressions and how they hold their bodies. Having the opportunity to linger on these moments in the film and examine the nuances in these subjects allows for another layer of expression and representation beyond the still images.
Screen tests are all about performing for some unseen beholder, typically a man, how does this power structure relate to what you're trying to achieve?
What does it mean when the women are performing for a woman? For me, it eliminates this idea of a traditional power dynamic because the subject and photographer are both women, and equals. Both are indeed playing their respective roles, photographer and subject, but when depicting these women I felt I was representing myself so that is how I approached each subject.
What effect does a moving image have on the element of nudity within the film? To me, it adds a certain starkness, reality and immediacy compared to the stills. Were your sitters as comfortable being on film as they were with your photographic work?
Video allows the viewer to be more of an active participant in that a moving image holds your attention in a different way. Everyone seems very easy and familiar with the idea of video now, so when I made the screen tests I didn't feel like there was any difference in comfort level or any shift in how the subjects presented themselves.
There's an obvious voyeuristic element to the whole piece. What kind of emotions do you want your viewer to feel?
I'm attached to this idea of both variety and repetition. I like the idea of seeing a subject multiple ways and capturing subtle shifts through repeating the same poses. And with the I Heart Girl - Screen Tests my intention was to capture and convey this moving process of the portraiture work and perhaps to reveal another side of the subjects.
Tell me a bit about your Gender Beauty & The Camera lecture series.
Gender Beauty & the Camera is a touring conversation series moderated by my longtime friend and collaborator Dana Caputo. The talk moves beyond the scope of I Heart Girl and discusses larger topics involving body politics and comparing our beliefs about beauty and how they inform the way we perform and define gender. The next talk will be held in London on February 22nd at the Shoreditch House.
What do beauty and gender mean to you?
Beauty is both ephemeral and enduring. To me beauty is an energy much like gender in that it's an expression and a very individual experience.
I am currently working on another photography monograph series that includes a variety of subjects and, of course, focuses on portraiture and on the body. I am pairing up subjects and bringing them into nature and juxtaposing those images with intimate indoor portraits. I am also in post-production for a film I directed that explores a relationship between two men and deals with identity, sexuality, and intimacy.
In addition to film and photography projects I will be premiering a series of podcasts as part of the New York Fem Factory where we will be in conversation with some really amazing guests to discuss gender, body politics, identity, and censorship, all topics that are inline with the mission of the movement. It will be an opportunity to explore and dissect the current cultural landscape through dialogue.