This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Socitabank CONTACT Photography Festival, a spring and summer-long festival in Toronto celebrating photography, art and stories within the city, shedding light on new methods of artistic expression and celebrating the photography community.
As part of CONTACT, The Society Of Females In Art (SOFIA), a women’s photography collective that aims to promote and support the work of its members, hosts their inaugural exhibition, with theme, bad behaviour.
The exhibition features never-before seen work by its eight original founding members, Raina Kirn, May Truong, Angela Lewis, Regina Garcia, Brooke Wedlock, Michelle Yee, Kerry Shaw and Anya Chibis.
Each member is presenting unique interpretations of SOFIA’s 2016 exhibition theme, with visual explorations of adolescence, social rebellion, cultural expectations, regret, fears, secrets and emotional catharsis.
SOFIA’s Bad Behaviour exhibition begins May 16 and as the eight founding members begin their three-week long journey of sharing stories of strength and going against the grain, we share the story of SOFIA:
- How did The Society Of Females In Art start?
We all felt a desire to create personal work and to be a part of something that was bigger than our individual selves. The idea of accountability and support within a female centered environment was important to us, and so a few of us began with a brief discussion of what could be. We then followed up with an email that was sent to a selection of female photographers in the Toronto area. The current eight members of SOFIA are the ones that showed up and committed to creating a brand new body of work within the year.
- How did you all meet?
We’ve all known or known of each other for quite some time. Toronto’s photo circles are intimate and have allowed us to follow the growth within the community. When the idea of starting a photo collective was a little spark of an idea, these women involved showed great enthusiasm. At the beginning we were friends and acquaintances on varying levels, but throughout this process of creating new work, we’ve all become supportive of each other in our work and friendship.
- Why are you so passionate about celebrating the community of female artists?
There is a need for diverse voices, interpretations and stories out there. Women tend to have a different process for creating. SOFIA offers the confidence to get through all the hard stuff that comes from making personal work. Sometimes the experience can be scary, and it can leave a person feeling vulnerable, so it’s amazing to have a supportive community you can discuss things with, to get you through those times.
“Because we have all been together from the beginning of this collective, we have seen each other’s projects grow, shift and change,” Brooke said.
“It is so amazing to look back at how we all started our projects a year ago and see how they have developed, changed completely and evolved. We are all so proud of the work we have all done, and I don’t think some of those major shifts would have happened without the support and honesty of one another,” Brooke added.
- What about the female voice do you think is so inspiring and intriguing?
It’s not necessarily the female voice, but rather the female process that is so inspiring. We embrace the connections and relationships that are formed when photographing someone and we’re looking out for each other in a more nurturing way.
- How did your bad behaviour theme come to be?
We wrote ideas on slips of paper, threw them in a hat and voted on the one we liked best. The idea of breaking rules and breaking free from the norm were concepts we were all drawn to.
- The exhibition is going to run from May 16th to June 5th at Artscape Youngplace on Shaw St. What else can guests expect?
We are going to be hosting a panel discussion and Q&A session for aspiring female photographers. We want to support the younger generation of female artists, encourage them to get their stories out there and to have everyone feel equally inspired afterward (us included)!
The panel discussion will be at 7:30pm on Tuesday May 24th at the Flex Studios in Artscape Youngplace, which is the same building as our show.
- Art and storytelling go hand in hand – what’s one of the most inspiring stories team SOFIA has encountered since you started this journey?
There are members at the start of their career, all the way to established artists who are collaboratively building together.
“Inspiration comes from learning and growing at any given point in your artistic travels. There have been some major, emotional shifts and revelations that have come out of conversations about our work in this process,” Kerry, who has been on her own adventures flying between Toronto and LA, said.
Process is also important to Michelle.
“One of the best things about being part of this collective has been the ability to see other people’s process up-close and personally,” Michelle said.
“Take May for example; over the past year-and-a-half, she has tried several different ways of interpreting the show’s theme of bad behaviour. And each time, she showed work (which was all beautiful), it was so illuminating for me to hear her feelings about the shoot, how she had approached it and how she felt about the work afterwards. It was such a privilege to be able to see her voice evolve and emerge as time went on,” Michelle added.
- We love that SOFIA is all about co-working, team-working and coming together. What is the best part about supporting other females in their careers and personal lives?
The process of supporting each other has been very rewarding on a variety of levels. We can see the growth and confidence in each other’s voices with immersing ourselves in the process of creating personal work. We also feel that the stride and determination we get from the collective translates into all aspects of our lives. When we’re able to take pride in our work, it translates into our personal relationships and the way we interact with people. It’s the growth and fostering of this community that has made all of our efforts worth it.
- Starting something new involves taking a lot of risks. What’s a risk you may have taken in making SOFIA come to life that you are grateful for?
The main risk we’ve recognized is time.
“Over the last few months, SOFIA has met every other week to ensure we have all our ducks in a row with planning the opening night for our CONTACT gallery, as well as working with our curator, Clare Vander Meersch [also the Director of Photography of Report on Business magazine and founding board member Magenta Foundation], confirming the details on how each person’s story will be displayed,” Angela said.
“Creating a body of work that is so personal over an extended period of time asks for a lot of attention and energy, but we encourage each other to find balance with our personal projects, our work and our play time. Many of these women have wanted to create a personal series for a long time, and being involved with SOFIA has provided the encouragement (and deadline) that we were all looking for. I think we’ve proven to ourselves we can do it,” Angela added.
- If there is one thing you could encourage young creators to do, what would it be? Why?
Keep shooting and creating – it’s the only way to grow and find your voice. Break all the rules and find what is true to you.
- Do you have anything else to add?
We feel lucky to have found a tribe like SOFIA. It is something that you have to look for. If the community doesn’t exist you should start it. We encourage everyone to find your tribe and discover a community that supports you. Go with your gut, don’t hold back and just start.
SOFIA hopes to challenge, encourage and elevate one another through each member’s creative processes, foster a sense of community, as well as to support emerging female voices in the photographic realm.
SOFIA’s Bad Behaviour exhibition will run from May 16 to June 5 at Artscape Youngplace.