girls' world: 10 nyc student photographers capturing girlhood in 2016

We chat with ten rising talents from NYU, FIT, Columbia, and Parsons.

by Blair Cannon
05 April 2016, 2:15pm

photography bianca valle

In a photography world ruled by artists like Petra Collins and Olivia Bee, it often seems that the most shared and discussed images in 2016 are being taken by younger and younger female-identifying artists. And in the age of Instagram, these emerging artists are able to share their aesthetic visions, inspire one another, and connect more than ever. Now in college, the first generation of women to be raised on social media are channeling the power they hold in representing their friends, and forging a modern image of young womanhood. Nine students and one recent grad talk photo friendships, "girly" aesthetics, and the female gaze.

Bianca Valle, 20, NYU Tisch
Who inspires you? I love Philip Lorca Dicorcia's work a lot right now.
Favorite place to shoot? I always shoot in my bedroom. I often use a backdrop l find while wandering around the city. In the past I've used a mattress, shower curtains, and blankets.
Why is it important for you to shoot other girls? My photography doesn't really revolve around feminism, but it is very feminine.I believe that women should be what they want and accept that they are who they are, so I don't try and change the girls, or any of the subjects in my photos. They wear their own clothes and make their own faces. I give them little to no direction; I place them in the world I have created for them and let them feel free to do what they want.

Andrea Granera, 21, NYU Tisch
Who are your subjects? My friends. They're inspiring, powerful, creative, artistic, and lively women.
How does nostalgia play out in your aesthetic? I see all these girl photographers and artists getting at this similar thing that I think lies in our upbringing in Internet and Tumblr culture. There's an immense comfort and fun to be had in re-exploring these stages of our upbringings as women, from Lisa Frank stickers and glitter to the bedroom. It's a new lens that our seven-year-old selves didn't have, and it's a completely different experience now when we shoot and make art with these aesthetics.
Why is it important to you as a girl to shoot other girls There's something so empowering about reclaiming and taking ownership over the things that were used to socialize us (things we all consider "girly"), and seeing the women around me do the same.

Mei Mei McComb, 18, Parsons
Who are your subjects? Until recently, I was almost exclusively photographing boys and men for skate and street brands.
What's it like to be a girl shooting guys? The first thing that comes to mind is when I'm shooting at a skatepark — and this sucks — I always feel like many of the dudes hanging and skating at the park probably assume that I'm just another ramp tramp, there to take some photos and bother their boyfriend who's trying to skate. It always ends up as, "Oh, hey! You're just, like, one of the bros." But why do I have to prove the merit of my photos, and that I'm a cool person, to feel comfortable at the park?
Do you shoot more girls now? In the past year or so I've really been growing in my photography of women. It's a lot of fun to get together with all my lady friends, with instructions for everyone to bring their most extra clothing. We call it an art party, you just get to wild out with your friends and look the best (or worst) you can.

Maria Marrone, 20, NYU Tisch
What inspires you? Books, movies, my mother. But I think what I've been most obsessed with, while developing my style, are Western paintings.
How does art history play out in your aesthetic? I'm completely fascinated by the depiction of the female form in art and the idea of "the muse." I love merging those representations with a female perspective, and reclaiming that idea of "the muse" and having women see themselves as that at all times.
Can you describe your aesthetic? I think I like to capture women as women. I think a lot of the time (especially with current Internet trends), there's a very girly and quirky quality to work created by female artists and, though I totally respect that and recognize it as a part of femininity, I personally try my best to capture women in a way that is much less character-driven.

Chioma Nwana, NYU
Who are your subjects? For the most part, I like to highlight the raw beauty of black women. I like to have my models wearing little to no makeup so that nothing takes away from their natural beauty.
What themes do you work with? Often times black women are told that we have to do all of these things in order to be perceived as beautiful: straighten our hair, lighten our skin, dress a certain way, act a certain way. Through my photos, I want people to understand that the black woman is beautiful no matter what she does or does not do.
Why is it important for you to shoot other girls? It's important for me to shoot other girls — other black girls — because the media doesn't always portray us in the best light. If we left it up to the media to tell the world who we are, we would be loud, uneducated, broke, rude, "ghetto," and ugly for the rest of our lives. I use photography as a platform upon which I can destabilize these notions and paint a more accurate picture of who black women are in people's minds.

Jordan Tibero, 23, FIT (2015 graduate)
Who are your subjects? When I was studying at FIT, there were so many fashionable and intriguing people walking around campus, so I'd frequently go up to the girls I would see and plan shoots with them.
How does femininity play out in your photos? Commentary on femininity is something which I believe I do within my work subconsciously. For the past few years I have been taking portraits of one of my sisters, who hadn't cut her hair for about five years and let it grow to be a few feet long.
Why is it important for you to shoot girls? Visually, I have never had much interest in the male body. I have always felt much more comfortable and inspired while photographing girls since I began shooting at 15. Romance and femininity have long been associated with each other, and I suppose the dreamlike colors and diaphanous haze my images possess speaks to that.

Isabella Tan, 22, NYU Tisch
Who are your subjects? I love shooting women. Don't get me wrong, sometimes it's really because a lot of my guy friends are shy, but I mostly photograph women.
Why is it important for you to shoot other girls? Back home in Malaysia, in my time, there weren't a lot of female photographers. With the rise of the Internet, more are emerging, but back then, there really weren't a lot. Photography was seen as a man's profession, and I could tell that for women it was sometimes uncomfortable to be photographed by men — we're constantly worried about the male gaze. I think it's important that the world and people can be seen through a female gaze. 
How do you utilize a female gaze? I shoot a lot of nudity. To me, feminine nudity is all about the curves of the body, the shapes of the body, and how to make it beautiful and haunting and mysterious.

Kristin Kempa, 21, FIT
Who are your subjects? I shoot self-portraits. Over the past few years I've been documenting and examining my role as a female patient living with endometriosis (a painful condition in which cells similar to the endometrium grow outside of the uterus).
What inspires you to take photos? I'm inspired by the endometriosis community. Thanks to strong women who have the disease, I was pointed in the direction of diagnosis and proper treatment. Hearing the stories of other brave women who aren't ashamed of their pain and potential infertility has given me the strength to tell my story through images.
How is self-portraiture empowering? We live in a society in which we don't want to think or talk about menstruation, let alone diseases of the reproductive organs. Photography has allowed me to create my own narrative and further forge my identity. My most personal images were taken during the year I was waiting for surgery to confirm that I had the disease.

Laura Alston, 20, Columbia and Central Saint Martins
Who are your subjects? Currently, I'm photographing friends because I just started to understand photography in greater detail, and friends are always there to let me play around with the camera.
How is your work feminist or feminine? I always like to draw, discuss, and photograph black women because not only is that a part of my identity, but it is also an identity that I feel hasn't been represented enough in media in a complex manner.
What themes do you work with? I've been spending the past four years just focusing on the intersection of black women's natural hair, art, and hip-hop in my brand, Afro Baby Movement. Too often I see photography that caters to the male viewer. It's always refreshing to see women photographing women for women.

Maya Baroody, 20, NYU Tisch
Who are your subjects? My friends because I like showing them how they look to me, and how beautiful they are. I also take a lot of self-portraits in the studio and on my phone, because it's important to give myself that same love and aesthetic appreciation that I give to my friends.
Favorite place to shoot? I love night life photos, it keeps me entertained whenever I am out and it allows me to explore the space around me and escape into an aesthetic vision.
How does femininity come up in your photos? Femininity is about capitalizing on all the things you have that nobody else has, because there is nobody out there just like you. Femininity is about loving and empowering other girls. I often use photography to make friends. If I like a girl's style and attitude, I might ask her if I can take pictures of her.


Text Blair Cannon

Art School
Bianca Valle
Maria Marrone
andrea granera
chioma nwana
isabella tan
jordan tibero
kristin kempa
laura alston
maya baroody
mei mei mccomb