Photographing the Female is a transnational project and exhibition that explores female identity and representation in photography through the lens of 25 contemporary artists. Bringing together photographers from 17 countries, the exhibition explores the diverse state, condition and role of women around the world today. "Having always been concerned with the place and role of women in society I conceptualized Photographing the Female because I think it's essential that we continue to push female narratives to the forefront of social storytelling," explains Danish photographer and curator Sarah Julie Ege Høilund.
"It's about understanding that the concept of the female is totally fluid but that it's still impossible to escape societal notions and ideas. Also, in a world where images and information are exchanged every day it seemed pointless to limit the project to photographers from just one country. My friends Matilde Søes and Poulomi Basu (whose work is in the show) helped me get the project to where it is now and at its core it's all about collaboration furthering understanding and tolerance."
Wildly different, each artist offers an intimate portrait of womanhood. Juxtaposing them makes it clear that the female identity is a complex and fluid concept, which holds no ultimate truth or definition. We asked five of our favorite photographers from the project to open up about their work.
Prarthna Singh, "Sakshi." Image from her series The Wrestlers, 2015
"Living in India comes with its own share of social pressures and vulnerabilities, which are imposed, assimilated, and lived with varying degrees of severity. I have had the privilege to be surrounded by some incredibly strong women in my life who continue to remain a source of inspiration to me and to the work I do." - Prarthna Singh, India
Luo Yang, "Xie yue." From the series Girls, 2008-2016
"The world itself is diverse, there are different races and regions. I think we can only see a small part of female stories each time. But generally, I feel that there are not enough stories told. Besides, artists are very often limited by their own restrictions and regional morals. But I can see there are interconnections among different artists and portraits of female experience all over the world and a common mindset to empower the female. Hopefully, this adds to the diversity we can see and feel." - Luo Yang, China
Jamie Knowlton, "Paso Del Mango," 2015
"Predominantly, there exist underlying micro-agressions for all femmes living in a patriarchal society. Even my male-identified friends have occasionally perpetuated some type of small violence towards me and not recognized it until I illuminated it. Day to day, I deal with fighting harder for things that may come more easily to others. However, I feel it is important to highlight that this is especially true for those in poverty and lower economic situations. In the Pacific Northwest, there is a vibrant history of femmes pushing back on the boundaries misogyny places upon them." - Jamie Knowlton, US
Birthe Piontek, "Mask" (found photograph), from the series Lying Still, 2014
"I know that a lot of women are drawn to my work and that's really wonderful, but it's even nicer when men are interested and in a way moved by it. As much as my work is about womanhood, it also speaks about very universal themes like mortality, change, and loss. These are universal themes of being human, not only of being female!" - Birthe Piontek, Germany
Image from workshop with teen girls at Mumbai's Dharavi Art Room
"Being born a girl comes with a lot of baggage, since there is a preference given to male children. In my country having more than two female children at home warrants a prenatal sex determination test (which is illegal) and if the fetus discovered to be a female it is immediately aborted. Having a girl child means having to protect her from sexual harassment and molestation and maintaining her 'purity' to ensure she gets married, because to the parents of a girl there's no bigger shame than an unwed young girl. In order to keep up with the demands of the family girls have to not only give up a lot of things that they really enjoy like sports, but also have to ensure they are not too successful lest they become ineligible for marriage." - Aqui Thami, India
Poulomi Basu, image from her series A Ritual of Exile, a longterm project on normalized violence against women
Rania Matar, "Christina, 10." Beirut, 2012. From the series Becoming.
Tasneem Alsultan, image from her series Saudi Tales of Love, 2016
Photographing the Female (March 9 - 23) is part of Mumbai's FOCUS Photography Festival.
Text Tish Weinstock