petra collins reclaims running mascara and 'female hysteria' in raw new series, ’24-hour psycho'

Among the neon, tear-streaked portraits of her recently opened show in San Francisco, the photographer talks to i-D about depression, dark comedy, and Carly Rae Jepsen.

by Alyssa Pereira
13 April 2016, 2:55pm

Petra Collins sits with her legs folded in a large chair onstage. The visual artist and photographer is fidgeting with three kitschy silver necklaces untucked from her burgundy "McClatchy High School Water Polo" sweatshirt while considering a statement by conversation moderator Dr. Nicole Archer:

"It's hard to produce the image of a sad girl without her being a girl that's been victimized."

Collins agrees. The observance, spoken during a public conversation at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, sums up the challenge Collins faced during the creation of her newest series of photographs, 24-Hour Psycho. However, that challenge doesn't seem to be one that Collins overthought.

"[Sadness] was just a natural step as I grew up," she said earlier in the day at the city's Ever Gold gallery, surrounded by 65-inch prints from her new series. The imposing images lining the space depict young women as they weep, lit by vivid, jewel-toned fluorescents. "Dealing with everything, especially as a working young woman, there's pressure to not be emotional. I wanted to make that into something more powerful."

At 17, Collins created The Ardorous, an online platform for a female artist collective, eventually making a book out of the site's content. Since then, she's worked on numerous photography, film, and live performance art projects, including some with friend Tavi Gevinson at Rookie, a short film with Adidas, a new Carly Rae Jepsen video, and just last week, a modeling stint with Gucci — not to mention contributing to i-D.

A couple of days after returning from shooting the Gucci campaign in Tokyo (during Japan's ultra-short cherry blossom season), Collins sat down with i-D to talk sadness, "Boy Problems," and 24-Hour Psycho.

Tell me about your newest project, 24-Hour Psycho.
I've been doing documentary-style photos of girls' lives for a long time [while] I've struggled with mental illness. It runs in my family and I didn't feel like I had agency towards it, like I was allowed to have those feelings. As a girl, being sad or depressed is not seen as anything. Growing up with that and seeing my mom go through it, I've been thinking about how women are only allowed one or two emotions. We're not dimensional characters, basically.

[When shooting,] I want to make sure I'm the most passive person in the group, so they have the power. There will be four or five girls and I'll go to their apartments or they'll come to my bedroom so that it's a comfortable environment, and we'll all just talk and listen to sad music. Then it all snowballs. One girl will start crying and the other girls will get into it. I'm always asked if this is professional lighting, but they're actually just holding tiny LED lights.

Did you always know you wanted to use fluorescent tones for this project?
My original photos are already pretty saturated, but I'm really into the movie Suspiria, all the really intense colors in that. I also wanted this to be like paintings, so it just made sense to use that sort of lighting. They had to be sublime and otherworldly. I wanted you to sit in front of them and be engulfed in them.

Where do you see your work going from here?
I hope to keep making art like this, but I also want to move into film. It's something I'm really passionate about. For me these [images] are really cinematic, so that's what I want to be doing in the next couple years

As far as film projects go, we have in common that our favorite song on the Carly Rae Jepsen album is "Boy Problems."
And my lighting in that is so similar to this. She's so sweet, and I just think she's one of the best people in pop. I approached her; I just love that song and I thought of a video, and I was so intense about it. Every character in that video was a friend or person I admire. That's why I feel like it works so well. People were really into it.

There was one scene in the video — a woman taking a selfie in a casket...
I'm obsessed with horror and dark comedy. It goes well with that line, "I've got worse problems" [like when] you get wrapped up in leaving a relationship, and you don't pay attention to anything else in your life. I thought it would be funny if literally one of her problems was that her friends were dead, like "I have worse problems than you."

You've talked before about making art because you feel like you need to make art. Is there a divide in the art world between people who think that way and people who "sell out"?
I think the art world is horrendous. The people who can be solely artists are people who already have money and a studio. People go on this notion that selling out or doing commercial stuff is [bad], but that's very old school and boring and I'm not into it. I think there's a whole new generation who are creating artwork for different platforms. With the internet and Tumblr, Instagram and those platforms, it opens up the spectrum of who can put their work out there.

You've influenced a lot of young people, especially through social media. Does that put a lot of pressure on you as an artist?
Of course. The more people are looking at it, the more they expect from you, [but] I feel lucky to be in this situation. It's also hard when you're a woman and people like to have only one or two women on top — they don't like a multitude — so I feel like a lot of people want me to represent every woman, but I obviously can't because I'm one cis white girl.

It does create a lot of unnecessary strife.
And it really shouldn't be that way. It creates conflict between women and feminists as well, [but] we really shouldn't be fighting each other, we should be bringing other people up who do different things. That's one of my biggest worries — I don't want people to think that I'm not representing them on purpose. It's more that I shouldn't. They can tell their own stories.

'24-Hour Psycho' is on show at Ever Gold [Projects], 441 O'Farrell Street, San Francisco, through April 30.


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Text Alyssa Pereira
Photography courtesy of the artist and Ever Gold [Projects]

mental illness
san francisco
Petra Collins
Carly Rae Jepsen
photography interviews
24-hour psycho
ever gold