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Visual Identity of our times with Jekaterina Saveljeva

Interview by Soham Joshi

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Jekaterina Saveljeva is the founder and workshop facilitator at femLENS. Jekaterina is a photographer and photo editor, with a BA in media and communication who started her professional career as a freelancer in Dublin, Ireland working with both small and large publications, including The New York Times, Metro Eireann and others, having her works later used by AP, REUTERS and the Irish Times. Having worked and traveled on three continents, she became aware of the lack of diversity of voices and visions in documentary photography. In 2015 Jekaterina organized the first series of femLENS workshops, which provided photography training to women, with the guidance of members of various civil organizations. 

What is femLENS? How did the organization come into being?

 

femLENS is a volunteer-based non-profit association that provides documentary photography training to women and girls from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds. Our goal is to make documentary photography training more accessible, while contributing to the visual archive of our time. Besides our workshops, we publish zines, annual photo magazine (and a book), organise photo exhibitions, run campaigns for women’s rights, among other community activities.

 

The idea of femLENS originated from personal experiences as a photographer, and from interactions with inspiring communities and individuals. I felt that photography had so much more to offer at community level and for women in their personal lives than what I was accessing (the big names in photography and the monumental institutions). When I started femLENS in 2015, I had already been working in the photo industry for a few years and had been doing photography as a passion since early 2005. 

 

Nonetheless, it took a few years to figure out the direction I wanted to take it in. In 2013, I wrote a project idea for a women’s photo agency for one of my university classes, but I knew it wasn’t what I was looking for. In 2015, following a reporting trip, I had been reflecting on my photographic work (not the quality of the images but their purpose) and felt like I had missed something – once I left the place I was photographing, there was no one left to continue documenting the changes and efforts taking place in that community. Soon after, I reached out to another community that I’d done photographic work on to see if they would be interested in learning to do photography themselves. The findings from those workshops were very encouraging, revealing the gap between how communities experience their lives and how they are perceived from the outside. That motivated me to continue with this work.

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With reference to the name femLENS, what do you think seeing the world with a female lens is for you?

 

At femLENS, our name isn't just a label—it's a reflection of our purpose and a metaphor for the change we aim to bring. "fem" stands for female, and "LENS" is more than just a photographic tool; it's a means of documenting and interpreting the world. Together, they symbolize the unique and invaluable perspective women can offer in the world of documentary photography. In a field where male narratives often dominate, we envision a space where the female lens acts as a catalyst for change, challenging stereotypes and providing a nuanced understanding of the human experience.

 

Our deliberate choice of "LENS" not only emphasizes the technical side of photography but also implies a broader sense of perception and insight. It signifies a conscious focus on women's stories, experiences, and viewpoints, amplifying their voices through the medium of documentary photography. This intentional framing serves as a reminder that how we see the world is profoundly influenced by the lens through which we view it.

While going through your Instagram we came across a quote- ‘Personal is political. Private is Public’ and it really spoke to me as someone who explores place and identity. How do you explore the same through your practice and with femLENS at large? 


The quote "Personal is political. Private is Public" resonates deeply with our approach to exploring place and identity at femLENS as well as in my personal practice. At femLENS, we recognise and confront the institutionalized dimensions of photography. We acknowledge that photography, when wielded without ethical considerations, has the potential to reinforce power imbalances and perpetuate the marginalization of specific voices.

 

In our pursuit, we actively seek out and share stories that illuminate the diverse experiences of women. This deliberate effort serves as a counterbalance to the unilateral authority ingrained in traditional photographic practices. Through femLENS, we strive to bridge the gap between the personal and the public, transforming the private narratives of women into a potent force for societal change. By engaging with photography as a tool for storytelling, we aim to amplify the voices that are often overlooked or muted. We believe that shedding light on the personal stories of women not only enriches our collective understanding of identity but also challenges existing power structures. 

In doing so, we contribute to a more inclusive and equitable representation within the realm of visual documentation, acknowledging the profound impact that personal narratives can have on reshaping the broader societal narrative.

The concept of ‘We See’ magazine is really inspiring. What was the story behind the idea and what are the future plans for this magazine?


We decided to make the first issue of “We See” magazine after carrying out a number of workshops and exhibitions. We have a growing archive and were looking for other ways to make the work of women visible and accessible. Our team has experience in photography, writing, editing and design and we thought that a magazine would be a good, lasting format to showcase the work we accomplish each year. There’s a romantic notion behind a printed magazine, book or zine - because they last a long time, longer than a human lifetime, and we hope that our publications are in libraries and homes around the world, and will be passed on to the next generations, as we get to experience the 20th century through the magazines and books of that era.

 

Currently, all of our publications are self-published. In the future, we would love to find a better solution that would offer distribution and storage

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Who do you think are some of the notable women artists you would like to share with the readers who inspired you in your practice? 

 

Photographers who inspired my thinking were Dorothea Lange, who did important work during the Great Depression, documenting life in the “Dust Bowl,'' which was later used to inform economic policies, and Tina Madotti, whose work is openly political while visually striking (her series of workers’ hands is a statement that doesn’t require any text). I love LaToya Ruby Frazier’s work, who photographed her community in a very intimate and loving way. There are many other women (photographers, writers, philosophers) whose work guides and inspires me in my personal practice as well as our work at femLENS.

In this issue of Uncommon Images, we look at how photography has pushed limits over time in the form of conceptual art and has proved to be a tool to reflect on one’s living environment, interpersonal dynamics, and socio-political issues. 

As an artist how have you experienced these ‘Changing Times’ and what do you think lies ahead through the years?
 

This is a great theme, and I think it captures the essential experience of our time well. As a photographer, navigating these 'Changing Times' has led me to reflect critically on the nature of change itself. While it is evident that photography has been instrumental in documenting shifts in our society, I find myself questioning whether all aspects of what we are experiencing can genuinely be labeled as positive change. In contemplating this, I consider instances where societal progress seems to be taking steps backward, challenging the conventional narrative of unidirectional progress. This perspective prompts me to reconsider the definition of change and its implications.

 

The questions of whether regression in social progress can be deemed change, and whether all change is inherently positive, have become important in guiding my artistic explorations. These inquiries guide both my personal work and contributions to femLENS. They lead me to investigate and illuminate areas where social dynamics are shifting, prompting a critical examination of the broader implications of these changes. Looking forward, I believe that grappling with these complex questions will continue to shape my work.

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Image copyrights © Jekaterina Saveljeva © FemLens 

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