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Interview: Petra Collins

Petra Collins, the nineteen-year-old Toronto-based photographer, takes beautiful snapshots of girlhood. Her work has appeared in magazines like Oyster, Garage, Vice, and, of course, Rookie Mag. Her photos of teenage girls, whether they're of a group of witches or a couple of riot grrrl skateboarders, have helped define Rookie's aesthetic month after month. She also runs The Ardorous, an all-female art collective that features photographers, painters, and illustrators from around the world. 

Her art installation "Strange Magic," a collaborative work with The Ardorous and Tavi Gevinson of Rookie Mag, opens tonight at Space 15 Twenty! I talked to Petra about her work, Strange Magic, and the awesome lookbooks she created for UO during the Rookie Road Trip. 

Your pictures of teenagers and female youth are such honest depictions. Have you always gravitated towards female subjects and girl culture with your photography? 
Yes I have. It just came naturally because I was documenting my life at the time. 

How does feminism effect your work? 
I think it just changes the way I approach things; it gives me a female gaze.  

Some people might find your photography controversial due to the sexual subject matter. Why do you think people are still so threatened by young female sexuality? 
I find that western culture idealizes pre-pubescence and views the feminine identity as something that can only exist in the realm of adolescence. Women are expected to be sexually submissive. I think our society isn't ready to accept the grown woman (a girl after puberty) and thus can't deal with the thought of a women having dominant control over her sexuality.


I know you paint, but are their any other mediums that you want to work with besides photography? 
Yes! I love to work with every medium. I just did a sculptural piece for the strange magic show. I'm also starting some film projects with my boyfriend Avery Hunsberger. 

What prompted you to start The Ardorous
I wanted to give female artists a stronger voice and a platform to display their work. At the time I was having trouble getting my photography noticed, so I just decided to create my own space where I and other female artists could collaborate and get our work seen! 

Tell me a little about the lookbooks you created for UO. What's the inspiration behind each shoot? 
Each shoot was strongly influenced by the city it was shot in and how I felt about it aesthetically. 

Who were the models that you used for each shoot?  
I used friends, my sister Anna, and some Rookie readers from each town.


Tell me about the inspiration for Strange Magic. What was your vision for the space? 
I wanted to create a surreal depiction of a teenage bedroom, like the alternate universe that co-exists with your bedroom, the way you view it. 

When I was a teenager I never really saw my room as "messy," it always seemed magical. The papers, dirty underwear, and wrappers on the floor sort of looked like a botanical oasis to me and that is what I wanted to turn literal. I also wanted to make sure it gave an accurate depicition of teen life/bedrooms. I find that in most images or movies that show a teenager's room the gritty, sad, or weird things get left out. I made sure to keep those in through the photos and parts of the installation, like the dirty underwear, the gross wrappers, or the weird and embarrassing diary entries. 

What has been your favorite part of the Rookie Road Trip? 
It's hard to say! I think my favorite parts were the "off moments" like stopping at gas stations, exploring weird towns, eating at diners, places that to me felt like film stills from a road movie. 

See Petra's latest Loobook