The empowerment of females is no longer pinned within a certain box. We reject the notion that women's strength is exhibited through a traditional strong vs weak, loud vs quiet, feminine vs masculine dichotomy. Instead, we embrace the concoction of facets that embody the female identity: vulnerability, bravery, fragility, garishness, sexuality, to name only a few, all of which play their part in forming a unique being with their own interpretation of what it means to be a powerful woman.
Exploring this idea through her photo series 'Women and Power' is Sydney based photographer Olympia Newman-Andrews who spoke with Twenty Something Humans about what piqued her interest in this subject, what she's learnt along the way and her personal relationship between power and her work.
Image: Fury by Olympia. See all Fury's photos here.
Describe your Women and Power photo series using three words.
Adversity, strength, vulnerability.
What inspired you to take on this project?
I studied Gender Studies and majored in Sociology at university. That has really changed me and the way I see the world. Everything I believed in kind of flipped upside down during that time – I realised not everything I’d learned to be true was true, and that looking at society through a critical lens is extremely vital. One of the main things that completely changed for me during this time of discovery was society’s interpretation of gender – and society’s power to restrict and control people through it. I wanted this series to highlight that there is not one type of woman. At all.
Image: Nikki by Olympia. See all Nikki's photos here.
How long have you been in the photography game?
Around two years! This is the first proper film series I’ve ever really done, so the fact that people care about it is pretty incredible.
"I’d learned to be true was true, and that looking at society through a critical lens is extremely vital."
Tell us about your decision to present these photos in their natural form (no editing).
I get so stressed out when I’m trying make decisions about creative projects – editing photos would just be an absolute nightmare if I did it. I’d have two slightly different edited versions of a picture and would just freak out, for sure. I love film photography so much because all of the editing is in the moment – the film stock you use, the ISO, the shutter speed, the aperture; everything. It’s such an exciting process; choosing which shutter speed you’re going to shoot at for the intensity of the photo and the film for the mood you’re seeking. It’s a really special medium. Keeping it authentic is super important to me because it’s exactly how it was shot in the moment.
Image: Annie, Ruby and Ella by Olympia.
Accompanying the photo series is a small blurb from each participant, stating what ‘Power’ means to them. If you had to turn the camera lens onto yourself, what would your accompanying message be?
I’ve spent my whole life feeling really oppressed by certain people (not to make this a sob story about the privileged white, cis-gendered girl), but I did feel extremely stuck in familial and cultural traditions. And also stuck in societal expectations and norms. I tried to conform to them, but they made me so upset. When I started challenging that, and analysing that, I found power there. So, I kept doing that, and now I challenge everything around me. Challenging and analysing is how I find my power. I question everything, and I’ll continue to, and will always fight to be an individual.
Image: Moni by Olympia. See all of Moni's photos here.
The people that you’ve chosen to profile all exhibit very contrasting portrayals of ‘femininity and womanhood.’ Was this a conscious decision or did your selection of participants just happen to represent a cross-section of various women in society?
Honestly, a bit of both. I picked a few incredible people in my life because I knew they had such varying experiences of the world, and such different ‘essences’. And then when others joined in, it was so pleasant to continue to learn from these really incredible people. I guess it really highlights the complexity of people. It’s so funny how we try and box genders in. This is a pretty clear example that we’re all super different, and gender and identity are expansive and non-definable.
"Challenging and analysing is how I find my power. I question everything, and I’ll continue to, and will always fight to be an individual."
Your work has been selected to be featured in Create or Die’s upcoming, ‘Honey’ exhibition in Marrickville, as part of an all-female line up. How does it feel to have your work recognised at an event such as this?
Honestly, it's so amazing. I love women so much. I feel so blessed and special to have my work next to the other women in this exhibition. I feel so privileged to be a part of such an incredible exhibition.
What did you learn from this project?
I’ve learned I must continue to listen to other’s experiences; to be a part of critical, vulnerable conversations, as it really develops perspective and insight. I want to take that stuff I learn and challenge society. And I definitely want to continue to use photography as a medium to do so.
Image: Nikki by Olympia
Do you think you will add to this particular series?
I’m definitely finished with this series now! With the exhibition coming up, I thought it would be a perfect time to conclude it all. I’m so happy with it and think it’s definitely complete.
What’s the next project that you’re looking to sink your teeth into?
I’ve started working on a new, more experimental, series titled ‘POP!’ I’m super excited to challenge myself with this one. I just want to keep creating!
Click here to view Olympia's full 'Women and Power 'series and follow her on IG @olympia35mm.
Image: Patrick Vongmany / @patvongmany