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Petra Collins’s Intimate Photos of Friends and Family

“Anna and Anya (Hungary)” (2016)

“Anna and Kathleen (Rainbow)” (2016)

The meteoric rise of Toronto-born Petra Collins skyrocketed her from suburban teenager to international fashion photographer, artist, and feminist provocateur. Growing up in the suburbs of Toronto in the 2000s, Collins discovered photography at age 15, was introduced to VICE magazine while working at American Apparel, and sought mentorship by Richard Kern and Ryan McGinley. At 17, she founded The Ardorous, a female art collective providing a platform for emerging female artists. Now 24, Collins regularly shoots for high-end clients like Gucci Eyewear, Nordstrom, Stella McCartney, Calvin Klein, Levi, to name only a few, and has shot editorial for magazines such as Vogue, Purple Magazine, I-D Magazine, and Dazed and Confused. A prolific Instagrammer, Collins invites her over half-million followers on a seemingly personal journey. Her loose and natural photographic style grants viewers a voyeuristic look into a private world of youth, vulnerability, and explorations of female sexuality.

Collins broke into public consciousness most explicitly when her Instagram account was deleted because she posted a photograph of herself waist-down in a bikini, with visible pubic hair. The online outrage that ensued justly argued that had her hairline been pruned, like the millions of other #bikini posts on Instagram, she would not have been censored. The bikini photo, like her t-shirt collaboration with American Apparel depicting a menstruating woman masturbating, are Collins masterful way of shocking her audience. She does this while simultaneously decreeing that natural female representations ought to be normalized in our society, and we ought not be shocked. Collins expertly creates images that turn female vulnerability on its head, and unapologetically depict women through a female lens.

Pacifier is Collins’ first solo show in Canada and is a feature exhibition of the CONTACT photography festival that takes place annually throughout the month of May. Collins describes the show as her most intimate body of work yet, in that it is a kind of family album, focusing on her family members in the suburbs of Toronto and in Hungary. In it, Trustfall is a grainy black and white photo of sister Anna and her best friend Jacqueline and looks like a 3200 ISO surveillance photo shot by a private investigator. Little Prince is Collins’ cousin in Hungary staring wistfully into camera while the sunset flares streaked orange rays on his dewy face. It’s reminiscent of the vulnerable yet resistant adolescents in Reneke Dijkstra’s beach portraits.

Her title Pacifier references the crutch-like device that both comforts a child yet at the same time anchors them in infancy, something they must outgrow to be part of adult society. In an October 2016 interview in The New Yorker, Collins refers to her process as she worked on Pacifier. “I have to be really personal, and get everything out. Then, maybe I can move on.” Not present in Pacifier are the subversive jabs at female sexuality, in its place is a thoughtful and provocative look at sisterhood, youth, aging and nostalgia. It is a wave hello and wave goodbye to her roots in family and adoring adolescent fanbase in her native city. It is a departure from her earlier quests in adolescence and sexual self-discovery, and we are left curious as to where Collins’ visual journey will take her and us next.

Pacifier by Petra Collins is on view through June 24 at CONTACT Gallery.

“Anna Tear” (2015)

“Bundle” (2016)

“Daddy and Me” (2016)

“Little Prince (Palko)” (2016)

“Nagymama and Lace” (2016)

“Trustfall” (2016)

All images © Petra Collins

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