“To understand female identity is to understand power and culture, struggle and freedom; Freedom to choose how you live, dress, speak, and ultimately freedom to define your own identity free from the dictations of society and its expectations across race, class, religion, geography, and socio-economic standing”
Manifest 2018, Photographing the Female
The times they are changing and female lives and identities have again become a major global topic of discussion as global politics and socio-economical environments seem increasingly unstable. Photographing the Female was conceptualised as an exhibition around the time of the first Women’s March in 2017 making it the perfect moment in time to ask the question: What does it mean to be female today? Fast forward a little more than a year and few could have imagined what would lead to what we now know as a post #MeToo world. Things are undoubtedly moving, but not just forward. As this is being written the outrage over a string of horrific attacks on women in India, including the rape and murder of 8-year old Asifa, grows – along with the frustration of lack of societal change. It all points to the urgency of initiatives that recognise and question our social norms and constraints and open up new ways of understanding what it actually means to be female around the world today.
From different regions and cultures around the globe the female experience is as different as it is similar; it is ever-evolving, moving along with the tides of our social and cultural history. If we look back at history and forward into today’s world it is not difficult to point to central themes closely linked to the idea of womanhood: The body, sexuality, motherhood, stigma, stereotyping, ritual, and tradition. For centuries, if not millennia, female identity has been constructed within the boundaries of restricted gender roles and, still, unhealthy and even dangerous living conditions are created around the world because we still rely on the boxes and categories created by society. These simplifications simply do not suffice. To understand female identity is to understand power and culture, struggle and freedom; Freedom to choose how you live, dress, speak, and ultimately freedom to define your own identity free from the dictations of society and its expectations across race, class, religion, geography, and socio-economic standing.
The question asked by the exhibition was never intended to have a definitive answer but was rather meant as an open ended exploration and as a testament to the importance of female lives and identities to history and society. PTF continues its efforts to ensure more female stories subverting traditional narratives of marginalisation and spheres of power: Because the stories we choose to put forward as individuals and institutions ultimately represent our collective understanding of what society deems important. We believe that images and the stories we are able to tell through their mediums, today more than ever, possess the power to open up minds, transform perceptions, and be catalysts for social change. What they represent is a universal language that has the potential to bring us closer together and not further apart.
The ambition of Photographing the Female going into the future with a digital life is to promote, produce, and share powerful stories and perspectives from all over to help the world understand how diverse, complex, and extraordinary the female experience is. But we also believe that stories should not live in a vacuum: We wish for them to be springboards for further conversation, which is why we will soon launch PTFemale: Community. A place where stories, knowledge, and inspiration can be shared by everyone. Our hope is that we can make a small contribution and build community, increase knowledge, and create conversation around incredible stories from all over.
Sarah Høilund, Founder of Photographing the Female