In today’s world of endless photographing, tagging, and posting images online, when millions of photographs are taken and shared on a daily basis, what is a preteen girl’s relationship to a camera? As smartphone cameras and selfie-sticks transform photography and self-representation, the girls in these poignant portraits encounter the world of analog photography for the first time when photographed by Rania Matar.
Matar uses a medium format 6 x 7 film camera, and her young subjects cannot instantly see the photographs she has taken of them on the back of her camera. Accustomed to the instant gratification of viewing themselves through digital photography, the girls experience the suspense of not knowing immediately how they will be represented. She asked each subject not to smile, a request that forces them to pause and reflect. It also goes against what most photographers tell them and against the playful “selfie” culture, leaving them exposed to the camera in a new way.
The introduction to film photography combined with being asked not to smile contributes to Matar’s success in capturing the authentic emotions, stances, and gazes of her subjects. L’Enfant-Femme portrays how young women between the ages of eight and thirteen interact with the camera, and it reveals their identities in deeply personal and poetic ways. The series is about representation, about looking, about being looked at, and about being in transition.
Excerpt from the essay Personal, Intimate, and Universal Exposures, by Kristen Gresh, for L’Enfant-Femme
Kristen Gresh is the Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Curator of Photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA).
(c) Rania Matar / INSTITUTE