​petra collins on empowering young girls and freeing her body with dance

Last year American photographer Petra Collins embarked on a road trip across the South to capture young female dancers on film.

by Francesca Dunn
24 March 2015, 1:20pm

With a plan to explore what it means to be young today, 22-year-old artist Petra and her younger sister Anna embarked on a road trip with a difference. Teaming up with friends Julia, Mayan and Colin, they travelled across America's Deep South documenting young female dancers - from big band cheerleaders in New Orleans to hip hop soloists in Texas - creating three short films entitled Making Space. Expecting to see some of the issues that they themselves grew up surrounded by such as eating disorders and low self-esteem, they instead found their subjects and new friends to be confident, powerful young women. In conversation with i-D, Petra discusses female empowerment, photography versus film and what dance means to her.

Why did you name the documentary Making Space?
Anna and I are always talking about space and occupying it - how as women and/or young girls we're never allowed to do that. Even in some traditional dance like ballet, female dancers are taught to be small while male dancers take up the most space. We thought Making Space was appropriate because it was almost literally what these girls were doing! They were moving in a way that commanded attention while also metaphorically making space for a future of girls to command.

What was your road trip mission statement?
To have fun and love each other <3 Fun is inevitable for me because when doing something like this, I'm doing what I love to do.

Who drove?
Our friend Colin Sussingham mostly and Anna and Mayan the times we just wanted to have fun.

Who was DJ?
Me! I'm a dictator when it comes to road music.

What makes a good road trip buddy?
Someone chill - there is no room for complainers.

What fictional sisters are you and Anna most like?
Definitely Abigail and Amelia from Aristocrats. We never stop laughing.

What's your favorite road trip movie?
Paris, Texas by Wim Wenders.

How did you select your subjects? What made them stand out to you?
I was looking for girls who had something to say - who had a strong opinion on their bodies and dance. It's really exciting to see the different way each girl moves.

What united the girls you met on your travels?
Well obviously their love for dance but also the empowerment that came along with it. Definitely the empowerment they all had - I think seeing each other dance how strong their peers were really made us all get along so well, and of course we looked up to them and respected them.

What did you learn from them?
To not hate myself. I still struggle with self-hate and self doubt but seeing girls that young being so happy and in control really made me put my own thoughts into perspective.

Who did you look to as a role model growing up?
I didn't have many, I think my mom was really the only one I had.

What do you wish you had known when you were younger?
Hmm I still wish I fully knew this, but to stop caring about what your body looks like. It's the only one you have so you need to love it.

What is your favorite female coming of age movie/documentary?
I love the Virgin Suicides of course but my favorite I think is Show Me Love.

What does dancing mean to you?
It means freeing my body; it means letting all my emotions out and really focusing on letting my internal reach out to the external. Moving my body is one of the most important things to me - it's the best therapy.

What's your go-to move?
I guess I do a lot with my butt…

Do you see film as an extension of photography or a different entity?
It's a totally different entity! The process is totally different to photography - there's SO much more you need to consider.

Do you think film can say more than photography?
I think they both can say a lot but in totally different ways!

What are your predictions for the future of feminism?

How are Generation Z going to change the world? Find out here.


Text Francesca Dunn
Photography Petra Collins

generation z
Petra Collins
Gen Z
francesca dunn
making space