Shooting since the age of 15, Petra Collins is a 29 year old artist, director and photographer whose distinct aesthetic set the tone for much of the 2010’s. I, as many others, stumbled upon her work through “Rookie Mag” , the publication created by actress, writer, and magazine editor Tavi Gevinson. Rookie, the online magazine by teens for teens, featured all forms of art, writing, editorial photoshoot and celebrity interviews. Petra’s friendship with Tavi led to many collaborations of Petra’s photography being featured, helping create the memorable and distinct tone of Rookie with her unique dreamy aesthetic throughout the 7 years of 2010-2018 that the publication ran.
Her work is fueled by self discovery and a contemporary femininity that explores the complex intersection of life as a young woman online and off. Because most of her work focuses on her complex experiences being a woman, she has become one of the leading voices of New-Wave Feminism. Petra has established herself as an artist that weaves through all types of art, fashion, film and music. She’s created campaigns for Gucci, Levi’s, Adidas, shot covers of Vogue, album covers for Olivia Rodrigo and more. In addition to publishing 6 photography books, her own fashion line and currently working on her narrative feature debut.
Her work over the years has had a consistent aesthetic made up of feminine, dream-like pastel lighting with focuses on girlhood, coming of age that has an intimate feel. One of Collins book’s “Babe” features her own work along with over 30 other female artists from various parts of the world who have also been a part of her online collective “The Ardorous”. The book explores female identity, the role of the internet and social media in how it plays into their identity, visually represented with pastel colors. An article written by: Aleksandra Kamińska, titled “Reclaiming Adolescent Sexuality:Images of Girlhood in Petra Collins’s Babe'' analyzes the book from cover to cover stating how “The book can be read as an attempt to challenge the male-dominated art world, and give young women an opportunity to decide about their own image…..The fact that collected images are the pictures women took themselves and decided to present – allowing them to decide what they want to share – adds an important dimension, and gives the
artists control over their artwork.” Aleksandra goes on to discuss how visually the aesthetics of the book focuses on the heavy use of the color pink and “excessive girlishness” that’s represented as a rebellious act. Having these women represent themselves in a way they desire, reclaiming control of their narrative and experience of girlhood through art using pastel colors in lighting, and overly “girly” aesthetics with uses of glitter, stickers and more that’s common in Petra’s work.
An example of one of her works in Babe (Fig. 1) we have a group of young girls gathered in a shared space with pink light filling the space. Two girls are taking a selfie on the right hand side and there’s a sense of community and youth represented here along with the relationship of this generation with documenting the moment and that relationship with the internet. The overall photo is a view into a world of female friendships and community that her book as a whole represents. The aesthetic that is the forefront of New-Wave feminism is Petra’s unapologetically
feminine aesthetics are more than just indulging pretty settings and stylistic choices it’s a feminist act reclaiming girlhood in a new light.
Another example of her distinct aesthetic is the photo series titled “Teenage Gaze” intimate portraits shot from 2010-2015 of teenage life. This series is a raw and youthful view into the life of teenagers, shot on 35mm. These images showcase intimate moments such as (Fig. 2) that shows a young girl looking in the mirror, this shot I interpret as a representation of insecurity in oneself reflecting on beauty standards that ties into the ongoing theme of girlhood. I personally appreciate we are seeing her from the back view so it’s almost like a window into this story. The light source here is the fluorescent light above her that allows the viewer to infer the location may be a locker room of sorts. The usage of film allows for this series to consistently have grain, along with a lower contrast that softens the photos and adds an almost childlike wonder feel.
In (Fig. 3) we see a moment before a kiss, possibly a first kiss in a car with cool blue tones with the only light source we can see in this photo is the light from the car mirror that adds some warmth in the right hand corner that creates some interesting highlights. I particularly appreciate how candid all of these images feel, Petra makes the camera and point of view in this series feel as if it isn’t even there.
The work of multi-talented Petra Collins is a true celebration of youth with glimpses into real life of young women and their identities throughout the teenage years. Accomplishing a true window into people's lives where the camera disappears and a moment is captured. As I previously mentioned, her work in one of her many books “Babe” represent her continuous creative endeavors exploring feminism and creating a sense of community among women artists. With all of her diverse work she’s managed to keep a cohesive but not restricting aesthetic that utilizes pastels, dreamy lighting and 35mm film allowing for a unique softness to be cast over some of the young and new experiences of coming of age. Petra’s art will be forever known for her ability to capture the formative years of a young girl's adolescence in a way that showcases the beauty along with the duality of the struggles we experienced growing up.