From the Archives: Photographing Tavi Gevinson
*From the Archives is a series of blog posts taken from my old blog, Young Limbs, and reposted here. This post was originally written on August 26, 2013.
In 2011, I worked on a folio piece titled, Portraits of Power. It was inspired by a series of portraits by the same name photographed by Platon, in which world leaders at the 2009 UN Summit posed for the photographer in a tiny booth amongst the hustle and bustle of the conference. Although I couldn't exactly get my hands on world leaders to take photographs of, I decided to apply it to my own circumstances and photograph my school teachers - the people of power in my own life. The main reason why I decided to appropriate Platon's work was because his original series was about getting these famous, world leaders out of their comfort zones. He set up a studio and would start yelling at them, playing loud music and trying to break down the wall that politicians would deliberately put up. Similarly, teachers are very different outside of the school environment, and I wanted to capture this by talking to them, not as a student, but an equal.
I'm a firm believer that photographing someone's portrait is the most intimate way to get to know them, thus, I have a list of people I one day want to take photographs of. Most of the people on the list are people who inspire and motivate me in some way. They have influenced my life in and I feel that they would be interesting people to very briefly get to know. Tavi Gevinson and Bill Murray are tied at the top of my list.
Recently I was lucky enough to hear Tavi Gevinson speak at the Melbourne Writer's Festival. I'm a really big advocate for young people doing amazing things, and I have always been more inspired by young people around my age doing extraordinary things, rather than the masters of their craft who are decades older than me. Although Tavi Gevinson isn't the only person doing amazing things, her achievements influence me greatly because she is honest, witty and genuine. I started following her blog, Style Rookie, when I was fourteen. I was never really been into fashion, and I still don't have a great interest in it, but her bold and courageous experiments with clothes inspired me to feel a bit more comfortable in my own skin.
When Tavi started Rookie at the end of 2011, I ironically felt sad, rather than happy. I was sad because something like this wasn't around for my thirteen-year-old self. I spent years pouring over trashy teen magazines believing that I had to have a boyfriend to feel any self-worth, believing that I had to wear makeup to be considered to be pretty, believing that you had to be below a size 6 in order to be universally liked. Although I was almost seventeen when Rookie Mag came alive, it still influenced my life, my thinking styles and most importantly my confidence in who I am. Even though the high school related stories, photographs and art are no longer applicable to my life, they fill me with a good sense of nostalgia and I find myself grinning to myself thinking, 'I know exactly what they're talking about'. It's nice to feel connected, even if you can't really see the person on the other side of the computer screen.
After leaving VCA it was very clear to me that working in journalism and writing were very important to me. I had always loved writing stories, blogging and studying English, but I never really considered studying it. When I first decided to leave uni, I revisited Tavi's blog for her wisdom. I guess she kind of became the poster girl for my aspirations in life and reminding me that anyone can achieve anything if they work hard for it. I struggle a lot with the whole being an artistic girl who also loves sport and exercise because I sometimes feel that the two don't mix together, but Tavi's Ted Talk about how teenagers are multi-faceted really helped me in embracing all of my interests and not feeling like I have to fit a mould or stereotype.
When I met Tavi on Friday night, I gingerly asked her if I could take her photograph, explaining my list of people I one day want to take photographs of incredibly fast so that I didn't take up too much of her time. To be honest, I was incredibly shocked that she said yes. Her trip to Australia kind of seemed like a whirlwind and I wasn't sure if she would have a spare five minutes to let a complete stranger take photographs of her. We quickly snuck away to one of my favourite spots in Melbourne to do a shoot that probably wasn't even five minutes long.
I feel that it's incredibly important to describe to you how I photographed her. I did not pose her, I did not tell her what to do. In fact, the only thing I really chose was the background, and I asked her to put on her jumper because it's obviously awesome. I photographed her in the same way that I photographed my teachers. I just talked to her and snapped as we chatted. I spoke to her about depression, something she mentioned in her talk. I didn't edit any of the photographs. I did this for two reasons:
One, because I felt that the photographs were perfect as they were and that I didn't need to alter the brightness or colours.
Two, because in a lot of magazine features (especially in the recent Yen Magazine article) professional lighting, makeup artists, and retouchers alter her appearance.
I really wanted my images to reflect my experience with Tavi. Although she was filled with wisdom, she was really just like and I loved that. I feel that in these photographs, despite her achievements, she looks and seems like a regular person who is filled with fascinating thoughts and good advice.
I read an interview a while ago on Hello Giggles, and when Tavi was asked about what she defines as success she said this:
'Satisfaction with both process and product, satisfaction regardless of public attention, appreciating positive attention without depending on it, ignoring negative attention that can’t help you, understanding that you are not entitled to an audience and your audience is not entitled to you.'
I strongly feel that I am slowly working towards not relying on others to validate my work and I've never felt more proud of something I've created than I do with these photographs. I think it is due to a combination of feeling completely satisfied with the unedited photographs, and realising what I can achieve in a literal five minute period.
I hope you love these photographs as much as I do and that they give you a little insight in the inspiring, and intelligent person Tavi is. I cannot thank Tavi enough for trusting me to take her portrait.