For the second installment of Women In Photography, meet Rachel Wisniewski, a talented photographer who's about to graduate Drexel University. Today she's sharing some of her inspiration, her thoughts on feminism's role in photography, and most importantly, her amazing portraits. If you missed Women In Photography's inaugural post read it now. Without further ado, give a virtual round of applause to Rachel!
Let me start off by saying how thrilled I am to have the opportunity to discuss how my perspective as a woman influences my artwork. As I’m sure you could have guessed, my female perspective affects my approach to photography on a daily basis, especially (and not surprisingly) when I am photographing female subjects.
The male gaze is a problem that I struggle against as a female visual artist, and something that I specifically wanted to address in my “Natural Habitats” series. The series, which I shot almost exactly a year ago, originally started off as a period-centered project (inspired by Rupi Kaur’s viral Instagram), but blossomed into a body of work celebrating all that is natural in womanhood. Besides photographing my subjects in their unique, self-curated spaces (or habitats), I also hoped to highlight something natural about each subject. Gabby, for example, wore their gorgeous hair in an un-styled afro, while Farrah did not wear any makeup, and Kate rocked their natural leg and armpit hair. Each model that I met with contributed her/their own definition of womanhood to the project, helping me to show a small slice of what it means to be a young woman.
My feminist views have also carried over into my senior thesis project—a series of environmental portraits of people living with HIV. I have been working on this thesis for six months so far, and will continue to work on it until Drexel’s senior show in June. The project has taught me a lot about what it means to have HIV in America today, including the fact that women are often overlooked in the global conversation about HIV/AIDS. When the CDC first recognized HIV in 1981, the virus was unofficially referred to as “gay cancer” due to the large number of homosexual men that were contracting, and dying from, AIDS. That being said, HIV was largely considered to affect only white, gay men, though this was and still is largely incorrect. In America alone, over 70% of new HIV infections occur among people whom are not white, gay men, and almost 20% of new infections occur among women. I wanted to make this body of work to create a more relevant and realistic picture of what it is currently like to live with HIV, so a large part of that goal involves depicting an accurate and diverse demographic (i.e. heterosexual men and men of color, as well as women).
As far as being a woman in the photography industry, I am so lucky to attend a school at which I am able to work alongside so many amazing female photographers. Being constantly surrounded by so many talented, creative women is a ready source of inspiration for me, and being in such a small program has given me a great system of support.
ABOUT RACHEL WISNIEWSKI
Rachel Wisniewski is a photography major in her last year at Drexel University. When she’s not taking photographs, she’s usually either volunteering, eating nachos, or cuddling with her bearded dragon. Check out her i n c r e d i b l e work on her website and make sure you follow her on Instagram!