A Brooklyn Artist Tackles Femininity (NSFW)

By

Inspired by discussions of a more gender-fluid society, photographer Jessica Yatrofsky turned her camera to the women around her, taking portraits of dozens of female friends who in turn suggested more and more women for Yatrofsky to shoot. That “hard-core referral system” resulted in over 100 portraits of women, each of whom seems to have one degree of separation from the rest, and, more important to Yatrofsky, breaks with established notions of femininity. Following on the heels of I Heart Boy, which she published in 2010, the photos are compiled in a book called I Heart Girl, which powerHouse Books will release officially in October. The Cut spoke with Yatrofsky about challenging ideas of femininity, masculinity, and the way we think of gender.

Why did you start with I Heart Boy?
I started with male nudity to start a discussion about female nudity, because the more we see male nudity, the better it gets for women, and for both genders. Because we don’t have enough experience seeing the male body, we have really strong reactions to it. Look at the way they marketed my first book — it was "homoerotic." I get different attention with I Heart Girl than [I did] with I Heart Boy, because people think of the female nude as art. And with the work that I’m doing now, I’m showing you what this group of women looks like. So if somebody picks up a book that says I Heart Girl and they see a very female woman juxtaposed with a very masculine-looking woman, how will they react? Some people won’t like it, and I embrace that. I’m ready to talk about these things.

Do you think it’s productive still to think of gender in terms of a binary, though? Aren’t we starting to move past those ideas of masculinity and femininity?
I offer two different bodies of work, but I see them as going together. To me, I Heart Boy and I Heart Girl are the same book in a lot of ways, because they represent people of a certain age who are pretty androgynous. Both celebrate masculinity and femininity, but in that in-between place you can’t quite place.

How did the portraits end up a mix of nude and clothed?
I gave everybody the option. You can take a picture of somebody and [have] it be very charged but they can have all their clothes on — it’s all in the body language and the facial expression. I think if you look through any of my work, whether the people are naked or have clothes on, it all feels the same because it's the same process — I don't suddenly treat the person differently once they're naked. I love that people forget the fact that not everybody’s naked when they look through the book, because it’s a matter of vulnerability, which you can achieve with or without clothes on. But I’m not trying to make these images erotic, and I’m not trying to arouse. I’m photographing these subjects from the point of view of looking and observing – not putting a sexual spin on it.

A lot of the women are pretty conventionally thin. What are your thoughts on body image in relation to this project?
These are the women who came to me during the time while I was making this project. The idea was, let’s talk about gender by looking at some images, not every image of every body type of every skin color of every background or nationality. This is a meditation, and I see it as ongoing. You could call I Heart Girl and I Heart Boy meditations on a certain point of my career as an artist, making the same types of photographs but of all different people. As I continue to make art books, I want to see them all together as a complete body of work. I want future projects to be more fluid. Boy came out at a very specific time and Girl is coming out at this very pivotal moment that we see happening. The next move for me is to allow room for them to combine, as if they were never separate — they were just presented that way. 

Watch the exclusive video below for more of Yatrofsky's process, and click through the slideshow for a sneak peek at the photos inside I Heart Girl.

BEGIN SLIDESHOW