06 April 2020

A Visual Interpretation of Stereotypical Female Hysteria

06 April 2020 - Written by PhMuseum

A performative act for the camera by American photographer Kendra Ward brings us into a fictional world and takes aim at how society views women's emotions.

My current project, A Heavy Veil, is a self portrait photography series that looks at the history of gender and hysterics, and its subsequent representation in art. The series investigates the relationship between psychology and femininity, exploring the two within myself and placed within the context of the history of female hysteria. The pervasive image of female hysteria has had an impact on how I allow myself to navigate and situate my emotions. The images deal with my penchant for dissemblance and avoidance as a coping mechanism, and trace this emotional ambiguity through staged, dramatic tableaux.

In this work, femininity is both a shield from and a shield of subjugation. Constructing vignettes within an ambiguously domestic non-space allows me to explore and perform my emotions within a fantasy world. In this non-real space, I am able to convey these emotional landscapes. By performing for the camera, I selectively reveal emotional states that would otherwise be completely hidden in public. The emotions I portray in my work range from subdued to theatrical displays of behavior. This speaks both to the way women are often conditioned by society to downplay their emotions, and how we collectively see women's emotions as heightened and dramatized when portrayed in film and television. I am heavily influenced by the visual language of film and television, and I use this influence in my photographs to create dramatic, yet somewhat uncannily vacant, scenes with cinematic lighting. The traces of pink, both in light and subject matter, throughout my photographs speaks to a personal anxiety regarding the negative connotations associated with stereotypes of femininity and its historic relationship to mental health.

Using myself as a subject allows me visual clearance to deconstruct my emotional complexities, while simultaneously questioning the validity of my own emotions.

Words and Pictures by Kendra Ward.


Kendra Ward (1992 Dallas,TX) is a photographer based in Syracuse, New York. She holds a BFA from Syracuse University. Her work explores the complex interplay between anxiety, depression, and femininity and was most recently shown at HCP’s 2019 Center Annual Exhibition. She currently works at Light Work. Find her on PHmuseum and Instagram.


This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.

Selected by


Reading time

3 minutes