#WHM Petra Collins
We’ll be tapping our incredible archives in support of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day and posting interviews from our Women issue throughout the month of March.
Petra Collins me, myself and iphone
You have several collectives, one of which you recently curated a book for. What is the difference between “The Arduous,” “Me and You,” and your “Girls and Guns” blog?
It’s all totally different. “Me and You” is actually a clothing company that is named by my two best friends Mayan Toledano and Julia Baylis. I don’t design any clothes, I just shoot their lookbooks. As for my Tumblr, I use that more as a tool to save photos that I love. “The Arduous” was something I started in high school. I was just starting out as a photographer, and I didn’t really see any platforms that I could put my work on, so I just decided to create one and to invite other female artists to do the same.
How do the photography and art scenes differ between the US and Canada?
I went to an art high school and I went to a university for art. I feel like in Canada, you’re really taught to create art for a cause. I took Criticism and Curatorial Practice at my university and the whole practice is about curating change. We would learn about injustices in the art system. In Canada, it's a little more about the art. Coming here, there is a full commercial world for art
You’ve gotten to travel a lot in the U.S. for your video series and have spent time in L.A. and New York among other places. Which location provides the creative prime for you?
I love traveling across America and meeting girls from different states and suburbs. But I live in New York, and all my friends are here, so for me, it’s a creative hub. All of my friends are in the same field as me, and when we’re hanging out we’re actually working.
It just happens naturally here?
What conflicts have you encountered that you deal with in your work?
I’ve been an artist my whole life. I started the practice of photography when I was really young. Most of the conflicts came from inside, from growing up, and from learning about myself and about the world. It was hard to be taken seriously for a long time, as a young girl. It’s interesting to see how my images have changed since I’ve grown up.
How do you feel your work has changed?
It’s definitely become stronger aesthetically. I’ve been able to harness what my aesthetic is. Mentally, my view has changed toward my subject. I started when I was 15, so I was shooting girls my own age. Then shooting younger girls at my age, I had a different perspective and a wider knowledge of what it means to be a teenage girl.
How do you set up shoots to be more comfortable for them?
It’s almost about being invisible. I usually shoot people in their homes or at parties. I don’t tell people what to do, ever. I let things unfold. I try to remain a spectator.
Do you feel that your work is comforting for young girls to see among the photoshopped images they see in magazines?
I hope so. It’s hard growing up in a world where you don’t feel represented, and you don’t see your image anywhere. That’s what I try to do: create images for people who don’t see themselves in the world.
How do you determine which companies you work for, considering the negativity toward women the fashion world can breed?
It’s a very fine line. I don’t think I would ever do anything for Victoria’s Secret, but there’s always something to gain when a company that has been, or could have been, problematic hires someone who is trying to better the world. For me, it’s always a little bit of a win every time I get to work with a company that hasn’t done anything like I do before. It’s like slowly inserting that message into those companies, and the mainstream in general, who wouldn’t normally promote it.
You preach a lot about women being empowered and owning their bodies. How do you feel about Richard Kern’s near-pornographic work, especially having posed for him and worked as his casting director?
To put it bluntly, what he does is pornography. I really like him as a person, so I guess I’m biased. The one thing I’ve always liked about his work is that he casts literally any girl with any body type, which I find really cool. That’s something you don’t really see in male-heavy sexual photography. I’ve always loved that about him. He’s definitely not Terry Richardson.
You’ve worn many hats in your career: photographer, artist, casting director, and now, filmmaker. How did you adapt into each of those roles?
Film is something that I’ve always really wanted to do. It’s sort of my first love. That’s why I picked up photography, because it was an easier, less expensive way to tell a story. I’m still learning about film. It’s a totally different world. It takes so much longer. I definitely have to learn patience. In my ideal world, I would make a movie in a week and have it out right away, but it takes, like, a year. I’ve always been a multi-medium artist. I think it’s really important, if you’re focusing on one medium, to experience others, because it always strengthens your main focus. It wasn’t even about adapting, it was just something I naturally liked doing because it’s all part of creating images.
On “Girls and Guns,” there’s a couple photographs of you in bralettes on your blog crying. Are these part of a larger series? Or are they just something that happened?
They’re literally just things that happened. I like being open about my life, and I don’t like to censor it. I think it’s important to see that someone is multifaceted, and has emotions and does look like shit, it’s just another selfie that I post. I think they’re cool to see.
There is a focus in your work, especially in Discharge, on selfies and self portraiture in this generation. Where do you see the boundary between selfie and self-portrait? What do they mean to you?
I think selfies are a whole new, exciting way, especially for women, of becoming the creator and the subject of imagery. It’s such a cool medium, that we’re able to create our own stories and capture our own images. There’s always a weird negativity about selfies when it’s just a normal thing, and I think it’s a good thing to be able to mold your own image instead of having someone do it for you.
If aliens landed on the moon and wanted to understand teenage girlhood, what movies would you recommend?
The first one’s “Carrie.” I just saw “It Follows” and I really loved it. Not that it would explain anything, but I think it was a very awesome portrayal of teenage girlhood, where the main character was taken seriously. Did you see that movie?
No, I haven’t. It’s on my “to watch” list.
It’s really, really good. Everything was perfect. And the main character was treated as a proper protagonist. So, maybe I would say those two movies. They’re kind of weird choices.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Hopefully, making a movie. I would really love to do that. It might take a bit longer, but that’s something that I’m really working towards, a feature length film.
Would you film it, or direct it, or would you write as well?
I’d like to direct it, but I’d also like to have a hand in the writing. I don’t really write, but I’d like to have a hand in the thought of it.
Do you feel a certain responsibility to women as a female artist? Do you even consider yourself a female artist? Because that tends to be a little bit of a taboo with women.
It is definitely a taboo. I was just talking about this yesterday. I always feel that responsibility when people force me to feel it. When people are like, “You’re not doing enough." It’s a crazy standard that we put on each other. I mean, I don’t put that on anyone but when you’re representing a cause, there are always people who tell you that you need to do more. Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not doing enough, then I have to sit and say, “OK, you’re one person.” A lot of my work takes place in the realm of pop culture. I’m not a savior. I’m just me, and I’m just doing my thing. A lot of people feel very entitled to other people’s lives. I always have this back-and-forth, where people are angry that I don’t do what they want. But I’m not a teacher. I’m just me.