Throughout the ages, storytelling has held a central place in culture. We can imagine our ancestors’ earliest tales being told by hunters around a flickering fire, or by wizened women to wide-eyed children. In early cultures, wisdom, knowledge and culture were passed on through oral tradition, and the art of listening was as heightened as the art of memorizing epic passages of song, story and poetry. Through myth and fairy tale, through the hero’s trials and triumphs, humans shared their deepest fears and highest aspirations, passing on their heart’s treasures to the next generation.
Technology has changed the way we receive and pass on information. Our attention span has been significantly compromised, and for the youth of today, there is little excuse for not being “connected” through a constant stream of social media. As a mother of three, my youngest being a twelve year old daughter, I continuously observe situations that could potentially sabotage my daughter’s self-esteem or that of a friend’s. Smart phones have become the sacred cow of today’s youth. Social media perpetuates the feeling of wanting to be accepted. This false sense of validation creates an environment where disordered thoughts thrive. The girls become barraged by sexualized commercials dictating what they should buy and who they should like. These images and messages become a catalyst for insecurity, eating disorders, depression and suicide.
Observing this dynamic, I began asking myself … if we as adults care about the “story” we are passing on to the next generation, shouldn’t we take the responsibility of steering our youth in a direction of claiming their own self-worth within the cultural waters we have stirred up? Or better yet, shouldn’t we help them craft a boat that is worthy of navigating the seas of their own hero’s journey?
The girl empowerment photographic series “Power Up The Girl” is my personal response to the questions posed. This series uses the visual narrative to honor and celebrate the innate beauty, resourcefulness, intelligence and creativity of young girls. All the girls represented in the photos are between the ages of twelve and thirteen, and are thereby on the cusp of leaving childhood and entering their teens, and in the larger sense, on their way to womanhood. This liminal age is one of simultaneously wanting to hold on to and let go of childhood, an age full of innocence, yet colored by the dawning self-awareness of puberty. It is my hope that “Power Up the Girl” can provide alternative images to our world that are playful, archetypal, beautiful and empowering for young girls.
The process of crafting each of the photos was a rich part of the artistic journey. The attire for the pre-teens photographed was purposely selected to represent an archetypal girl’s perspective. The outfits chosen are certainly not ones that would be sported by today’s media role models. Rather, they hearken to a time of myth and fairy tale, a reclaiming of the essence of girl in her own right. In these evocative character’s clothes, the girls have an opportunity to be at their own archetypal age, rather than visually catapulted into womanhood for allurement’s sake. Removing the present day trappings of externalized culture allows each girl to become a created character, and in so doing to tap into the deep resonance of the story of her own life unfolding.
Another significant part of the conceptual stage of this project was selecting geographically neutral environments that would create visual backdrops for each character. Color, composition, content and placement were then crafted to “set the scene” for a momentary glimpse into the tale of each character depicted. And finally, each photo was given a title in the form of an imperative, not merely to describe, but rather to encourage, compel and invite the viewer into a sense of possibility, agency and dynamic possibility for the unfolding story of not only the character being viewed, but indeed their own lives. The result suggests not only the irrepressible state of the human spirit, but the components inclusive of the modern day fairytale.