The title of an exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography’s Skylight Studios, “#GirlGaze: A Frame of Mind,” leaves no room for ambiguity. The show is unabashedly female, though not in the narrow definition of the word. Rather, the breadth of possibilities open to young women is explored in the more than 150 images.
The exhibit was organized by Girlgaze, a collective founded by British television host, women’s advocate and photographer Amanda de Cadenet, to give visibility, opportunity and support to the next generation of female photographers and artists.
The interactive, digitally driven collection of work from young, emerging photographers deals with topics such as sexuality, objectification, body image, mental illness and addiction, among other things.
Girlgaze began as a movement on social media where aspiring photographers posted more than 450,000 images on Instagram with the hashtag #girlgaze. This is the first time the work of most of the young photographers is being shown at a major art institution.
De Cadenet said she was stunned by the number of submissions. Choosing about 150 images from the cache of photographs “was a really tough task,” she said. “It’s also so overwhelmingly exciting and tells us how many creative girls are out there and want to express themselves and are desperate to be heard.”
“We wanted to make sure we represented the LGBQT community,” de Cadenet said, adding that entries from China, South Africa, Japan, Brazil, the U.K. and Spain. “There’s a photographer from Yemen. Many women are in burkas.”
The exhibit, which was designed by Commonwealth Projects, also includes a section featuring the work of trailblazing women photographers such as Imogen Cunningham and Dorothea Lange.
The project has garnered support from top talents in photography, fashion and media such as Inez van Lamsweerde, Amber Valletta, Lynsey Addario, Sam Taylor-Johnson and Collier Schorr, all of whom are members of Girlgaze’s curating committee.
“Like any movement, you have no idea how it’s going to move and grow,” de Cadenet said. “I came up with the idea and Inez, Sam and Amber were saying, “What about the huge issue of gender equality in this country. We’re fighting for equal pay and equal space to express our points of view. It just snowballed and turned into this incredible movement.”
De Cadenet, shortly after Donald J. Trump won the presidential election, said she was disappointed and concerned. “We have to create these safe places for females to express themselves,” she added. “We’re not going to have this huge platform we thought we’d have with Hillary [Clinton].
“We all have this huge fear that Roe vs. Wade is going to go away and Planned Parenthood is going to get defunded,” de Cadenet added. “I think we’ll see over next three months a real galvanizing of everyone who feels the same way and wants to financially support and ensure that these policies remain in tact.”
De Cadenet is determined to learn more about the 53 percent of women who voted for Trump. “We have to reach out to the 53 percent and figure out what happened there,” she said, adding that she plans to make a documentary about the “women who voted for Trump.”
“There’s a lot of activity between Senator Kirsten Gillibrand [D., N.Y.] and Representatives Pamela Reaves-Harris [D., Ill.] and Tammy Duckworth [D., Ill.],” de Cadenet said. “I was lucky enough to work closely with them in various ways. They’re extremely focused on protecting women’s rights.”
De Cadenet, who was an actress and talk show host in the U.K., knows how to monetize creative work. “We’re about to launch a new initiative with a huge magazine partner that will be continuing our search for talented girls,” she said, declining to name the publication. “We’re building an app where you’ll be able to purchase the girls’ work if you see an image on our Instagram. With the app, you can purchase a photo directly from our Instagram in different sizes, framed or unframed. People can advertise for jobs on our app.” Since 80 percent of the girls are photographers or want to pursue it as a profession, “the best thing we can do is provide opportunities for their work to be purchased or for them to be hired.
“It was so hard for them to commit to a creative life when there was so little funding,” de Cadenet said. “This revenue stream will allow them to continue.”