this photographer is showing us what womanhood looks like, fully lit
In "I Am My Own," Lena Mirisola captures a diverse group of women au naturel.
In Lena Mirisola's I Am My Own, sunlight illuminates the body hair, idiosyncrasies, and identities of her female subjects. There are practically no shadows in Mirisola's photos. The recent MassArt graduate turns away from crafty lighting and filters and, instead, offers a full-frontal view at womanhood in 2017. Her subjects look how most of us feel this year: fatigued, yet ready for battle. Because that's the thing with identity politics — when the world has us feeling our weakest is usually when we need to be our strongest. There's some fortitude to be reaped from these photos. Seeing a diverse cast of women comfortable in themselves, in their identities, in their bodies, reminds you of the purpose of resistance: defending the right to exist as we are. And that's exactly what the women in I Am My Own are doing, captured in states of naked vulnerability. i-D talked to Mirisola about the unique connections she made with her models and what she hopes feminism looks like 10 years from now.
How did this series come about?
Every semester in college we were supposed to start a new project and see it from beginning to end. It's unrealistic to complete a photography project in three months — most span years — so from sophomore year through senior year my work was basically an evolving continuation of the same project. Over the years, my work went from "young, wild, and free" teens to tumultuous relationships and then to quieter, more introspective moments. For my senior thesis, I decided to focus on women — feeling ignited by the political climate we're in right now. I became more passionate and proud to be a woman and I knew that was what I wanted to explore.
What's does the series title "I Am My Own," mean to you?
Too often in our culture do women subconsciously "belong" to others: fathers protecting daughters from going out with boys, significant others acting possessive — as if it's endearing and justified. Even the government telling women what rights they have to their own bodies. A woman's body does not belong to anyone but herself! I. Am. My. Own.
How did you come across your models?
They're a mix of friends and strangers. Most often I go down the rabbit hole on Facebook or Instagram and slide into their DMs. I'll ask a friend to bring their friends along, put out a call on Twitter, or ask women on the street (when I'm feeling especially brave).
Your subjects bare both their souls and bodies in these photos. What role does nudity play in your work?
I am in love with the female form. The shapes, the way light dances across skin, unexpected freckles and moles… the whole package. It's hard to put up a wall when you're nude and not wearing makeup. You can't really hide anything, so there's a bit more honesty and vulnerability that the subject will reveal to the camera. For this series, it's not all about fashion. It's about the raw beauty that lives within every woman.
Was it hard to convince the subjects to be nude? And what was it like shooting them during these moments?
(Almost) everyone gets naked at some point in art school. It's a totally normalized thing. Bodies are bodies — everyone has one. Most of my friends would strip down in the middle of the street without giving a damn. For new faces, I always ask, "Hey, if you're comfortable being semi or fully naked, let's make some great art. And if not, that is totally cool, too!" I go into a shoot not expecting nudity, so it's a bonus prize if I do shoot it. I also can't assume that I can post the photos online — I always ask where the photos are allowed to exist.
What does "womanhood" mean to you personally?
The word "womanhood" makes me feel immense pride. The kind that swells up in your belly and explodes throughout your body. Womanhood is power. Womanhood is pride. It is supporting your fellow females, empowering each other, and fighting injustice together.
These all look like extremely intimate moments. Are there any interesting stories behind these photos?
My favorite has to be "Felicia in the Grass." I visited a photographer friend in Portland, Maine for spring break this past March. She knows I love shooting young people, so she contacted two girls, Casie and Felicia, who wanted to collaborate for an ocean shoot.
It was 19 degrees outside. The snow covered the entire path to the beach, so we ditched the cars and took baby steps through the woods on this ice-covered snow walk of hell. We all knew this was going to be a nude shoot, and boy were the girls amazing! The sun poked out right as it was setting and lit up the dune grass, so I grabbed Felicia and had her lay down as I hovered above her, shooting super wide. They huddled together in blankets between shots, as the occasional beach-goer probably wondered what the hell we were doing. Felicia got cuts from the dune grass, but dodged hypothermia, so all was well. That image has been in three gallery shows since.
What do you hope womanhood looks like 10 years from now?
I hope the government has no say in what we can and cannot do with our bodies. That more women will be in high-level positions in the workforce. That more women will start their own businesses. That womanhood will be more inclusive to anyone who identifies as female and people will recognize the sexism in our society and take a stand! Fuck the patriarchy, 2027.
Text André-Naquian Wheeler
Photography Lena Mirisola