As part of a new series—Q&A Sessions—the Femme Project is profiling exceptional women artists, advocates and resisters who are making their voices heard. Because we are stronger together, and women empowering women is an unstoppable force and wave of change.
a conversation with foto femme united
This week, I sat down with founder April Wiser and Irene Stylianou of Foto Femme United and talked photography, feminism and what it means to be part of the resistance.
How and when did the idea for Foto Femme United develop?
AW: This was an idea I had about 5 or 7 years ago, at this time I tried starting with a couple of close friends but it never amounted to anything. It came up again from my own personal and frustrating experiences being a woman photographer and not getting work and flat out being told because I was a woman sometimes. To make matters worse, we aren't paid the same as men. There are two choices in that situation: to be passive or to react. I chose to react!
Tell me about the journey so far since you launched Foto Femme United.
AW: FFU was established at the beginning of 2018. At this time it was very different, there were 3 of us (I found these contributors on a LinkedIn group) and it was only Instagram. The idea was to have a space to challenge ourselves as photographers by each member choosing a theme, it could be on any sort of subject. We continued like this for quite some time, adding a couple of other features which are Feminist Friday (a three question interview and photographic response) and also Focus: series (a four day feature of one woman photographer's series) . Summer came around and we realized it was much better to have our OWN platform where we could create whatever we wanted without the constraints of Facebook and Instagram, which are getting ridiculously out of control. Today, we're preparing our launch! It's coming very soon!
I love that you are empowering women beyond just supporting the art of photography. You seem to be making a very clear statement that women photographers, who care about the issues that impact women, are at the core of your mission. Did I get that right? If so, tell me about what motivated you to go in this direction?
AW: You're absolutely right, it's the art of photography and much more. We're taking an educational approach with our content in that we are confronting head on these issues and stigmas that exist about feminism, the current state of the photography industry and also female sexuality! I'm a huge women's rights activist and so for me there was really no other way to go about it. I hope that we can inspire women everywhere (not only female photographers) to keep up the good fight.
Let's talk about sex! a recurrent theme in your social media posts. You are not afraid to go there at a time when tech companies censoring the expression of sex and sexuality, particularly as it relates to photography of the female body and perspective. Are you worried about the challenges you might face with social media and online censorship? What is FFU's perspective about censorship and how it might affect the types of work you curate?
AW: This is one of the biggest inspirations for having our own platform! We're tired of Facebook and Instagram banning us and removing our posts just because a female figure is nude. We believe in artistic expression and the censorship of the female body on social media in particular is getting exhausting. One of the biggest challenges no doubt is going to be the female sexuality aspect because this issue runs very deep in societies. Yes, we do realize the complications that may arise, but we also realize that this is an opportunity to educate! It's too important to just turn a blind eye.
Keeping with the topic of sex, why do you think it is important for women to be talking about this and what can your effort do to contribute to the conversation?
AW: I think it's important because society treats female sexuality in a way that I find unhealthy. One of our contributors, Mary Morgan, said it well: "Throughout history, women have tended to be categorized into being the Madonna or the whore. It wasn't until the 70s during the female revolution that women even began talking about being sexual creatures of our own, not just for the pleasure of men."
This topic is multifaceted and we as a society must allow women to be free to make the sexual choices we want , without judgement for it as a result, as well as allowing women to be free to be sexual for their own interest and not seen as objects to appease the sexual desires of men.
We're trying to spread this message through our features and recently we had a monthly theme dedicated to the topic, and featuring wonderful projects like yours! :)
The photography on your Instagram profile has featured portraits, fashion, editorial, conceptual and experimental images, among others. Tell me a little about your process in curating themes and artists for FFU.
AW: Our Instagram account is focused on all of these genres of photography because these are the areas where there are the largest gender gaps. First and foremost, we ask our viewers to submit their work for a chance to be featured. I do some browsing as well to try and find some amazing women photographers that I haven't seen on other photography accounts. I try to incorporate as many styles as possible in the areas where women photographers are lacking, because it's a shame to only focus on one genre specifically when there are talented women photographers working in ALL areas of photography. As for themes, we have four on Instagram. The first is our monthly theme, we have 7 women permanent contributors on our team that each bring their own ideas. We keep this theme very wide and open as a way to practice and challenge ourselves. Viewers can participate as well and it's encouraged! Next, we have Feminist Friday, a three question interview throughout the day. Saturdays it's Weekend Warriors, which specifically tackles feminist issues and then there's Focus: series. This is a four day Instagram takeover of one female photographer's body of work/series.
So much of the female form throughout history has been presented artistically by men, sometimes described as "the Male Gaze." Will the Foto Femme United effort challenge these established norms? If so, how?
AW: We've touched on this very subject a bit already, one of our themes was female gaze and I found that to be a very educational way of showing how women shoot women which is sometimes different from the way men do.
How does feminism influence and inspire the core mission of FFU?
AW: Intersectional feminism is the objective we are going for. In the art world, around 80 percent of the women artists are white women. We want to change that statistic and show that there are powerful women photographers all over the world.
Is film dead?
AW: This one I don't feel qualified to speak about cos I'm vegan and no longer use film! Irene, what do you think?
IS: Film was never dead, it just went into hibernation for a while. The film community is very much alive and there are a lot of photographers out there (including yours truly) that shoot exclusively on film. As the proud owner of Lomography Cyprus, I can attest to how people – and I don’t necessarily mean photographers – like the film aesthetic more and prefer using it as a creative outlet. We first noticed a worldwide sales increase back in 2015 and since then, analog has been doing better, year by year. And I’m talking all formats, 35mm, 120, 110, instant... even large format. Film is very much alive, peeps!
You are getting ready to launch a new website soon ... what can we expect in the next three to six months for Foto Femme United?
AW: I can't say a lot because it will ruin the surprise...but it's going to be good and we have a lot planned!
Is there anything you would want to share with people who might be interested in your effort?
AW: Foto Femme United is an international women identifying photographer's community with our home base in Paris. We are comprised of members all around the world (France, Cyprus, UK, Spain, Mexico, Italy, Brazil, USA with 9 nationalities represented currently and we're always looking to expand)!
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