5 Female Photographers Redefining Violence, Sexuality and the Female Experience

These brave women are spotlighting the socio-politics of identity in a captivating way.

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According to photographer Mathilde Grafström – one of our featured five photographers – she documents women to encourage self-acceptance. As she says:

“I do this to invite all women to become real and to also encourage others to become real. To strive after the good things in life, and let go of all the less important things… It’s also about honesty. Especially to one self. To realize your own true beauty and shimmer it from within demands some serious, hard work. And to even begin that work, we need to wake up and start to be real. I would like to change many women’s negative attitudes towards our own bodies and lives.”

Although Grafström’s comments exist in the context of her subject matter – the female nude – her purpose is one that rings through the work of each photographer below. With biting perspective and intimate lenses, these five female photographers are documenting the complexity and reality of women’s lives today—and all of them are unafraid to showcase both the ugly and the empowering parts of women’s lives. Through this pursuit of honest experience – whether it has to do with violence, gender, identity, sexuality or politics – these photographers are calling bullshit on the rules regulating the female experience. Instead, they’re documenting what it’s really like for women—and impacting us in the process.

Sara Naomi Lewkowicz

"Are you listening to me?!" Shane screamed. "Grow the f*ck up, Maggie! Grow the f*ck up!"

Brooklyn photographer Sara Naomi Lewkowicz rose to fame with her domestic abuse series “Shane and Maggie”, which documents a violent relationship. The images capture the claustrophobic tension that eventually leads to the actual assault and also depicts how Maggie ends up leaving Shane as a consequence. In another series, “Closer to heaven”, she shows the dark side of a young woman’s heroin addiction. Her work won her the 1st prize in Contemporary Issues at the 2013 World Press Photos Awards while still in college. At the moment, Lewkowicz is working on two new projects about issues of justice related to women.

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One month into their courtship, Shane had Maggie's name tattooed on his neck in large black letters.

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Mathilde Grafström

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It caused international headlines when the Danish photographer’s planned exhibition of nude women at Nytorv was shot down because Copenhagen’s police deemed the exhibition, “Female Beauty”, too offensive for the public to see. Mathilde Grafström documents female nudes in an attempt to redefine beauty and change the negative self-image many of today’s women suffer from—and according to Grafström, it’s bizarre that realistic nudes of regular women are banned while commercials for plastic boobs and photoshopped images are allowed. Apart from experiencing censorship, some of her exhibitions were also heavily vandalized, which raises the question: What happened to Scandinavian liberalism?

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Zanele Muholi

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Muholi’s self-proclaimed mission is “to re-write a black, queer and trans visual history of South Africa.”Her intense pictures capture the experiences of black lesbians in Africa and shows the resistance of the LGBT community in a society where hate crimes are everyday occurrences. Muholi is also the founder of Inkanyiso, a forum for queer and visual (activist) media.

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Stephanie Sinclair

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Over nearly a decade, photographer Stephanie Sinclair has documented the issue of child marriage in Yemen, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Nepal and Ethiopia in her “Too Young to Wed” project. This photo series came about when Sinclair encountered young, Afghan women who set fire to themselves as a desperate escape from forced child marriage. Over the years, Sinclair has seen a positive change in that some of the girls start to defy their parents and walk away from their arranged marriages. According to Sinclair, she’s also encountered activists in every community (mothers, fathers, village elders and children) who oppose the practice of child marriage. This is ultimately the reason she’s been able to continue the “Too Young to Wed” project and her work for change.

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Child Brides around the world

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Hiromix

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After winning the 11th New Cosmos of Photography in her teens, this photographer became an instant Japanese pop icon and media sensation. Tokyo-born Hiromix (her real name is Toshikawa Hiromi) is most famous for the photo diary “Seventeen Girl Days”, depicting a teenage girl’s everyday life made of pets, records, friends and selfies. With her point-and-shoot style she is capturing life in the act-of-being. Her intimate snapshots of random moments in “Seventeen Girl Days” is like an unedited Instagram experience (this is in 1995 before Instagram even existed.) In her own words, “Youth reflects transparence and beauty. We smile carefree smiles. It is perhaps because I wanted to keep a record of this that I take photos of myself.” Hiromix has inspired a wave of young Japanese women to look through the camera lens rather than pose in front of it and made the teenage lifestyle an object for photography.

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