Photography: Simone Steenberg
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the strongest, and Simone Steenberg’s ongoing photographic series, “Tales of Girls,” is testament to this.
Armed with an analog camera, Steenberg captures inspiring women she meets along her professional journey, redirecting the traditional male gaze and forcing viewers to address the patriarchy through her photos’ raw, sometimes hyper-sexualized nature. There’s a mutual understanding between the subjects and the artist, here, establishing a level of comfort that’s oft-absent when a male shoots a female and imposes his self-perceived power over her.
We caught up with Steenberg to learn more the origins of this project, her preferred subjects and exaggerating femininity.
What sparked the idea to create this project?
Photographing my friends, which was always very fun and meditative for me. My friends gave me a lot of confidence to become the photographer I am today. I never really saw my previous images as a body of work, but last year when reviewing it I suddenly felt a momentum, and this idea of photographing the women I meet on my personal and professional journey began. I love it because I get to know so many different girls in a different way through my camera and I want to tell their stories through the photographic medium. I’m watching many films with heroines telling the stories of their love, life and struggle such as the film Buffalo 66 with the character Layla, or Jane from the film Paris Texas. Those films and characters are a huge inspiration for my work.
How do you decide which women to photograph?
It’s hard to say, there are so many beautiful and interesting women around, but at the moment I like to photograph people who have attitude and a unique style about them. It doesn’t have to scream ‘fashion,’ but I like people who’re aware of themselves and what they look like—I think that in itself can be quite powerful and political. When I say ‘style,’ I also mean in terms of personality, not only clothing.
Why not? It felt most natural to me, at least for the moment. Also as a female artist, I find it important to investigate and debate feminism and femininity.
Why is it important to remove the male gaze from femme portraiture?
Maybe it’s not important to remove the male gaze, but rather to alter it. It is probably not possible to completely remove it, but make it [your] own. Even being in complete control of [your] own sexuality is hard. It’s a difficult question, but I think it’s super important to be aware of this intention of the gaze.
How does your perspective combat this male-dominated norm in art?
It is not something I directly challenge, but I think with the subjects I choose and the way I photograph them the male gaze is getting more eliminated [and] redirected, and perhaps it is more about the subjects’ gaze back at the viewer or the intention of the empowered character and their story. I hope the work goes beyond that and it becomes more interesting to know the subjects. I want it to be a form of documentation of the women I meet on my journey, but I definitely currently concentrate on a certain group: young women creating themselves and their life.
There’s something stylized, but also very candid about your work. How do you describe your aesthetic?
All my works have some things in common, as well as being a total new universe. The idea is to find balance between [the] stylized and the candid.
What are your opinions on contemporary feminist art?
I think there are many great contemporary feminist artists out there at the moment, [like] Petra Collins, Avida Bystrøm and Amalia Ulman. The Internet has helped give a platform to women to express and showcase themselves and to be an exhibitionist. I see myself as a feminist artist, but also a photographer who likes to capture micro-momentums of life and the beauty I see in them. So my work for sure isn’t meant as literally as being ‘feminist art,’ [but] more to tell stories of different women with photography. I don’t want to over-contextualize it and say it’s ‘feminist art.’
Tell me about your choice of using analogue photography. How does this help your narrative?
The moment I choose to take the picture, the subject is very much aware of the moment, and therefore it becomes more intense, intimate and powerful. I also like [that] neither me or the subject can review right after. We believe in the moment and let the magic happen.
You’ve described your imagery as “hyper-sexualized.” What makes a photo sexual and what’s the effect?
Not all my images are hyper-sexualized, but I do like to explore that within my work. Sometimes I find it interesting to use it in a subverting and empowering way—not hiding the sexual side of a female, but embracing it [and] maybe exaggerating it.