Petra Collins has been at the forefront of a growing new wave of female photographers reviving conversations about the female gaze. At only 24 years old, the CR-favorite has directed music videos for the likes of Selena Gomez, repeatedly collaborated with Gucci, and crafted multiple books, including her newest release, Petra Collins: Coming of Age.
The Canadian artist first made a name for herself shooting the lives of teenage girls on an analogue camera, creating an unflinchingly feminine aesthetic with a vaguely retro twist, and tapping into “Lolita culture”—that of the hyper-sexualization of youth. Over the past few years her images have become brighter and more colorful, but the intense femininity and rawness remain. “My work evolves with me,” Collins tells CR. “Because it is personal it will always reflect what I am feeling or how I am growing.”
True to its title, Coming of Age features images of young women in transitional stages in their lives and teenagedom. Including both personal family photos and portraits of celebrities like Gomez and Kim Kardashian, who Collins lensed for CR Fashion Book Issue 11, the tome also illustrates her path from emerging artist to the top of the fashion world—as well as her growth as a photographer.
“I was surprised to see my feelings so clearly reflected in each photograph,” she says. “I can see what I was going through and feeling. Some images seem darker now looking back and reflecting on why I took certain images.”
The darkness is explained in an interview with the artist Marylin Minter, and a revealing personal essay penned by Collins herself, outlining her struggles with school and an eating disorder. What results is a new lens to view the images through. She isn’t just capturing her subjects—she’s there with them, experiencing what they feel, but somewhat removed, with her camera acting as a barrier.
“I have always felt very alone,” she explains. “Alone with my feelings, alone with my experiences, and ultimately alone as a young girl. I hope that this book creates some solace for anyone who reads it—because maybe they too felt or feel those ways.”
Like many coming of age stories, the central character achieves some form of maturation. For Collins, it’s seeing how far she has come for someone so young and self trained. Letters from the likes of Gucci’s Alessandero Michele, artist Laurie Simmons, and the writer Karley Sciortino, among others, give readers a sense of how her oeuvre has touched individuals of all ages and walks of life. Of course, now that Collins is of age, the tome also feels like the closing of a chapter in her life defined by youth.
“I’m interested in capturing older subjects now,” she offers. “To see how they fit into my narrative.”
Petra Collins: Coming of Age is available now from Rizzoli.END
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