How a Hashtag Turned Into a Museum Exhibit for Young, Female Photographers

How a Hashtag Turned Into a Museum Exhibit for Young, Female Photographers
Joanna Miriam

Our mobile phones contain endless entertainment: apps, games, YouTube videos, social media channels, the list goes on. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to get sucked into a black hole of clicking and scrolling — especially when it comes to Instagram. It’s a visual field begging to be explored, and this proves especially important — and beneficial — to artists and photographers.

Girlgaze offers emerging photographers a simple way to get more eyes on their work. Operating mainly as an Instagram account, Girlgaze focuses specifically on helping emerging photographers gain more exposure and ultimately find jobs in their field. No need for applications or fees — photographers just need to take their images with #girlgaze. So far, photographer and founder of the project Amanda de Cadenet estimates the project has received more than 450,000 submissions. The project now is bringing more attention to its photographers with an exhibition at the Annenberg Space for Photography called “#girlgaze: a frame of mind.” The show features more than 150 photographs from female-identifying artists.

De Cadenet sees Girlgaze as a way to continue the conversation about the lack of attention on female creators.

“Just as it's important to have females telling our stories in television and film, it is equally important that images that depict women are taken by women,” de Cadenet says. “And currently that is not the case. The majority of billboards, magazine covers, movie posters, marketing campaigns, ad campaigns that you see are often depicting women but [are] taken by men. There are some amazing male photographers but it’s just that there’s no balance.”

In browsing through submissions, the team looks for specific criteria within the work besides aesthetic skill. For starters, the photographer must identify as female and as a girl. De Cadenet clarifies that it’s “not up to [them] to decide” the label of girl, but that the girls can submit photos based on their “personal choice to define that.” For the most part, the photographers featured range in age from 18 to 24. This makes sense considering that much of the younger generation uses Instagram not only for entertainment but as a means to showcase their work.

Platforms like Instagram allow emerging photographers to gain a wide audience for their work — no matter their location. The Girlgaze Instagram account currently has upward of 36,000 followers.

“A lot of people have complained about social media saying, ‘Well, everyone’s a photographer now, everyone has a camera on their iPhone,’” says de Cadenet. “I think that’s a great thing because when there’s so much of something, the good stuff rises to the top. That’s what we’ve been able to do with Girlgaze.”

For the show, de Cadenet and her team chose artists from their Instagram feed but also reached out to collectives such as Welcome to Junior High to ask for their suggestions.

The team makes sure to keep a global perspective on the page instead of just focusing on one country. For “#girlgaze: a frame of mind,” photographers flew to L.A. from Portugal, London, Brazil and more.

Kiele Twarowski, an artist participating in the show, remembers loving photography from a young age. Once she took her first film photography class in high school, she found her perfect medium. But she also got in trouble for photographing a female friend in a bra. After that incident, her work has “dealt with pushing boundaries of society’s standards for women.” Girlgaze gives her a space to do just that, especially after galleries and contests have rejected her work because of its controversial nature.

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“I have photos in this exhibition of my gender nonconforming friend and their partner in bed together making out,” Twarowski writes via email. “I was so surprised when it was accepted to the gallery, since you don't see much documentation of queer relationships in mainstream media. I think it's important to take photos of subjects that aren't normally seen, but even more important to have a means of sharing those images. With more exposure, these subjects can become more acceptable.”

The team behind Girlgaze also makes it clear that they want girls to explore any avenue of photography: fashion photography, photojournalism, fine-art photography and more. The important thing is giving girls a space to showcase their work and feel like themselves. The focus stays on the girls’ work alone, an important distinction when often women (especially young women) are expected to fit a certain mold and are judged even before their work is seen.

How a Hashtag Turned Into a Museum Exhibit for Young, Female Photographers
Joanna Miriam

“It doesn’t matter how many followers you have or likes you have or if you have, you know, the latest lip plumper, we’re not interested,” said de Cadenet. “We don’t care. We know the rest of the world operates on this currency. It’s not of interest to us.”

“#girlgaze: a frame of mind” is on view through Feb. 26. Annenberg Space for Photography, 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Century City. Admission is free. annenbergphotospace.org/exhibits/girlgaze.


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