On the day of the inauguration, I spent a few hours with photographs by young women artists at the #girlgaze: a frame of mind exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography in LA. It was my personal West Coast protest: what better place to focus my attention for a few hours than on a diverse, global array of girl artists.
It felt political to enter a space designed with the aesthetics of a teenage girl’s bedroom in mind–all neon pink, selfie-generating machine, and Lana del Ray on the playlist–and to call that space not lesser-than, not derided, not frivolous, but art. Important art.
The Girlgaze project, a multimedia digital platform “that generates visibility and creates community for the next generation of female photographers,” was founded by Amanda de Cadenet, along with an impressive team of collaborators. Their mission is to “support girls behind the camera.” Their manifesto, posted at the entrance to the show, reads:
We are taking back the word girl. We are pushing back against the cultural projections and traditional gender roles imposed upon girls from the outside world, media and culture. Instead, we aim to represent the intelligence, creativity, complexity and diversity of girls’ experience—across nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, and economic background—by taking the camera into our own hands. It is up to us—those who identify with being a girl—to show our perspectives, tell our stories, and determine our own identity, sexuality, and beauty.
I interviewed one of the artists in the exhibit, Abby Berger, who, at sixteen years old at the time of her acceptance to the show (though she’s now seventeen), was one of the youngest #girlgaze artists. Abby, who lives in New Orleans, is also the daughter of a friend of mine. I remember when my girlfriend shared with me that her daughter’s photography was gaining some notoriety on Instagram. A few months later, this friend told me Abby’s work would be shown in Beverly Hills—and I knew immediately that she meant the #girlgaze exhibit.
Abby attends New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA), a public performing and visual arts high school in the Bywater; though a self-taught photographer, Abby credits the Internet for helping her develop her style by providing ways to learn new things from the photographers she looks up to. I asked Abby how she found out about the #girlgaze show and how she submitted her work: “I found #girlgaze through Instagram. I really liked their cause and everything they stood for, so I was always tagging them in my photos. And then, one day I got an email asking to submit work for the gallery!”
Abby said that the #girlgaze show, “as a whole has given me so much more confidence, not only as a young photographer, but as a girl.” Reflecting on the role of feminism in her artistic vision and process, Abby added, “When it comes to photography as an artistic medium, you can celebrate any kind of woman. Photographers are able to capture the inner and outer beauty that these women show the world on a daily basis.”
The #girlgaze show is separated into a few distinct sections, each focused on a theme and displayed on panels of varying heights. Photos are printed in a range of sizes, with some digitally projected. The variance in presentation style echoes the point the curators aim to make about diversity in girls’ experiences and representation. One section focuses on the history of female photographers, shedding light on the work of Cindy Sherman, Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, Mary Ellen Mark, Annie Leibovitz, Alice Austen, Claude Cahun, and Lee Miller. Another section, “Girls’ Inner World,” focuses on work that recognizes “the depth, complexity and messiness of growing up as a young female, [delving] deeply into issues of mental health, teen suicide and grief, exploring the photographers’ experiences as they navigate these realities.” The section titled “How Girls See The World” groups together unique interpretations of lovers, family, friends, and intimacy.
A camera set up against one wall of the exhibit space will take your photo, multiply it into a kaleidoscopic representation of you, and email or text the prismatic final image to your phone. If you then post this photo on Instagram with the hashtag #aframeofmind, you can print out a hardcopy as you exit the show.
Some aspects of the #girlgaze show–certain photographers’ aesthetics, the neon colors, the connection to Instagram–remind me of the “female gaze” that has already been noted in the art world, as well as the Gurlesque movement in the literary world. As Lizzie Widdicombe wrote in “The Female Gaze of Petra Collins” in the New Yorker this past October, “Collins is the poster girl for an aesthetic that has taken hold in the fashion world and some quarters of Instagram—a dreamy, hyper-feminine approach that sometimes appears under the headline “the female gaze.” Widdicombe goes on to report that Collins believes “what she and her female peers must do [is] create a space where their work can be appreciated.”
It’s clear that the Girlgaze project, in all of its iterations, is contributing a space where the work of women, of girls, of teenagers, is celebrated and given the acclaim that it deserves.
The exhibition closes on February 26, 2017, but if you miss it, there’s always the Instagram account, an upcoming biannual zine, and a series of grants provided by The Girlgaze Foundation to fund emerging female photographers and filmmakers.