At 19, Petra Collins is casting director for iconic photographer Richard Kern, staff photographer for Rookie and curates her own online collective for female creatives, The Ardorous. So, basically, at the age many of us were entering into uni courses we were ill-matched to or getting sunburned in Bali or making bad life decisions care of binge drinking (or all of the above), this Toronto-born photographer is being published in magazines from Vice to i-D to Jacques and lauded by the art world for her beautiful, no-holds-barred photos of teenage girls confronting their sexuality.
We caught up with Petra to chat about Tavi Gevinson, feminine sexuality, nostalgia for the past and Wim Wenders. Check it out below, along with photos that take us back to the sun-drenched, carefree days of first kisses, school dances and inappropriately short school skirts.
Tara Rivkin: You started taking photos in your mid-teens after doing a class at school. You’re only 19 now – how did everything progress so quickly from there?
Petra Collins: Photography is my passion so naturally I worked hard at it. I guess I just pushed myself to do more and more.
Do you think people are confronted by the sexuality and nudity displayed in your photos because you, like your subjects, are a teenager, and therefore your photos represent a reality that people would rather ignore?
Yes, completely. I think teen sexuality is a taboo topic, specifically female sexuality, which I find is put down rather then celebrated like male sexuality. It is a topic that tends to be ignored or looked down on. I think people aren’t comfortable with feminine sexuality. I find people are uncomfortable when a woman is expressing her sexuality instead of repressing it. In our society, nude or sexually suggestive images of women are automatically seen as negative and objectifying and is often seen through a male perspective rather than from a female’s. We need to make room for the female view of sex and accept it. Until then, people are going to be uncomfortable with photos like mine.
What other subjects do you see yourself photographing as you get older? Or do you intend to continue documenting your peers?
I think I’ll be sticking to females for a while. I’m still finding myself as a feminist and feminism plays a big part in my work so I think the female is a subject I’ll be studying for a long time. I hope to use my peers rather then models – I like to use people I can identify with.
How did you develop your intimate, dreamy aesthetic? Do you refer to movies, books, places, or past eras for inspiration?
I think my dreamy aesthetic comes from my longing for the past and this weird nostalgia I have for it. I refer to everything – places, movies, books, paintings, anything that evokes any kind of emotion in me. Recently I’ve been referring to places, places I feel like I have been to, places I have nostalgia for. I’ve never really had a real sense of ‘home’ so looking at these places is my way of finding it.
Which photographers do you admire?
I admire photographers like Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman but I tend to look at film more then photographs. Wim Wenders is one of my favorite directors because of his ability to create images that speak so loudly. His film Paris, Texas, my favorite movie, is the perfect example of that – the movie contains little dialogue yet says so much.
How is it working as staff photographer for Rookie? There was a DIY video tutorial on the website of you and Tavi making crowns which looked like fun? Have you become friends?
It’s amazing. I love Rookie and I’m so happy to be part of the team. [Laughs]. Yes, we have… We work really well together and I think we both inspire each other.
How did you begin working as casting director for Richard Kern?
I met Richard at a retrospective of his work at my boyfriend’s gallery and we hit it off right away. I started modelling for him, then assisting him on shoots, then that transitioned into doing castings for him. We have similar taste in girls so I know what to look for. He’s been a great help to me and is my mentor.
Tell us about the thought process behind the online collective you founded, The Ardorous. What kind of photographers do you look for to feature?
I started the site about a year ago. I wanted to create a platform for talented female artists. In my early days of photography I was always looking for places to showcase my work but could never find any. Then a year ago I decided to start my own collective that supported young female artists like myself. I look for artists of every medium, not just photography. I look for artists with work that is not only beautiful but is inspiring, someone who is doing something new, something that catches my eye.
Would you like to continue with documentary photography or transition more into fashion photography and styling?
I would like to continue doing both and mixing the two. If and when I do more fashion photography it will still have a story or meaning to it and I will make sure I stay true to my original aesthetic.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Hopefully taking photos for a living.