The Feminine

Susan Copich

2018 - Ongoing

The Feminine is a photographic series defining the feminine, both literally and figuratively. By defining it loosely and poetically, I seek out all its nobility as well as entrapments, keeping the feminine grounded in contradictions rather than fetishizing it to mythical often dangerous delusions. No photograph or title claims to be factual; some are, some are not. It is therefore a project of reality and dream, fact and fiction––a mash from which I distill the emotions, the toil, the beauty of the feminine.

On four separate occasions I have travelled to India with the intention of photographing women, but the effort was mostly thwarted due to the inaccessibility of the interior of homes. Through Photos for Humanity, a travel photo workshop dedicated to women helping women, I gained access into local homes. The concept allotted 20-30 girls from Chandelao, Rajasthan, India and surrounding villages their first year of college paid through our fees for the experience. In return we were matched with several of the recipients and invited into their homes to photograph.

The interior home is where the women live and work for the most part. I spent nine days photographing the girls and women of Chandelao. Resisting the often heightened romance of India in photographs, I capture the reality of the everyday, and illuminate the feminine experience within that place of mundane, earthly living. The photographs represent various roles that women in this community assume: some falling back, some moving ahead, some claiming the opportunities that are newly available to them. By often placing the subjects at the edge of the frames, I portray the marginalization of women in society here and across the globe, in spite of everything that is changing for us.

*I envision this project growing to other countries to see how the feminine is employed in each country, but also how I with my western eyes interpret the feminine within different cultural contexts.

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  • We Alchemize,

    The women of Chandelao proudly shared their kitchens with me and this particular one with the open window and nature light softly falling across the room was an ideal staging. The hanging material and the brick wall background enhanced the scene with beautifully contrasting textures. The cook’s gesture of stirring as the ladle ideally floated above her head was a magic find; I intentionally excluded the cauldron to pull the subject to the lower portion of the frame pushing forward the idea of my subjects falling from frame, as well as, to exclude what the viewer can already imagine.

  • We Stand Amongst Boys,

    Taken in the village of Chandelao, India, I was working in one of the recipients' homes when a handful of neighboring children spilled into the house full of curiosity and interest. They often asked to have a photo taken of them, “one photo please” and instead of a quick snap shot to appease their urgent demands I chose to work with them and compose a shot. Sharing a few common words (English) they were patient, willing and delighted, especially with the use of the mirror. Working with the idea of the feminine, the concept for the shot began to emerge about four images in, and the final shot came when I directed the boys to look at them selves in the mirror and I moved my body to place the girl perfectly between the two boys.

  • We Fall From Frame,

    One of the images I chose to place the subject on the margin with lovely late afternoon light pouring through the bush in front of her casting her in shadow and light. She is living in one of the newer homes that has a well on the property. She is extracting fresh water for cooking purposes. I chose not to include the task instead to focus on her intent and teh light and shadow.

  • We Are Packaged Differently,

    My last days in Chandelao and this young boy was showing me around his friend’s family homes. These homes were well regarded, they were recently upgraded and he was proud to walk me around them even though they were not his. He had a gentle soft nature to him and when I saw the yellow curtains against the brick walls with the light spilling in it reminded me of him. This is one of the images that is not factual, I felt a gentle more feminine quality to him, but that is only my perception.

  • We Are In Motion,
    I went after this image two different days. I visualized it while receiving henna from my recipient in her home during dinner prep time. Her sister-in-law was busy in the kitchen making the family dinner. I wanted to show the activity and constant motion that happens in the kitchen and how I often feel in my house while creating the family dinner. It is what all cooks feel in the kitchen - motion!

  • We Are Resilient,
    An early morning walks on the streets of Chandelao and these two young boys caught my attention. They wanted me to take their picture, but I was deeply imbedded in my feminine pursuit and on first glance they did not fit my obsession. I started to snap them to appease them and magically the image created itself as I slowed down, looked and composed. I love the humor in this image. I try to find humor when I can and appreciate it when it presents itself.

  • We Reflect,

    I split off from the travel group and stayed in Chandelao for 5 more days on my own. I worked with this young woman for a day and she brought me to her home to introduce me to her mother and sister. I set up the girl and her mother and waited for the busy sister to walk into view. I love the reflection of the sunlight through the mother’s veil on the wall.

  • We Are Sunkissed,

    Just a lucky find walking through the morning streets late in my stay in Chandelao. This home was right down the dirt street from my residence.

  • We Are Fierce,

    Historically, the bracelets on the arm are worn by certain women of this community in the laboring class to inhibit men on horses from grabbing them in the fields to snatch them as wives or rape them. They are more ornamental and traditional today.

  • We Are Rooms,

    Roaming around the village of Chandelao, India I was taken by the sheer aesthetic beauty of the rooms and objects. I especially was attracted to the kitchens, as this is the room I spend most of my time in in my home as it symbolizes nourishment and the ultimate feminine duty. The kitchens in Chandelao are both inside and outside and mostly open flames. I was attracted to the repetitive round objects and the rich neutral colors. The accents of red put the finishing touches of an attractive still life for finding the feminine in India.

  • We Are Objects,

    Working in the village of Chandelao, India on my first day with both of my recipients in exchange for one year of college tuition, I was invited into their homes to photograph. This is image was composed quickly using one of the neighboring children and began the visual concept of the marginalization of women globally. I was immediately attracted to the shape of vases and her head, then the colored rag and her shirt made a second visual connection.

  • We Light Fire,

    I spent about 10 minutes photographing this woman. She was busy cooking chapati for her family and welcomed the attention. Again she posed for the camera for a few frames, but lost interest rather quickly and got back to her task at hand. I watched her for awhile and caught on to her rhythm and waited for the decisive moment. I was waiting for the relighting of the fire, the diagonal line created by her body and continued by the stick. The fire under her head scarf and the repetition of blue and red throughout made for an ideal image.

  • We Labor,

    This image is important in the roll out of this project. I struggled in taking this picture as this is the lowest class in the cast system and I in no way wanted to disrespect them in a photo. But I also wanted to honor their work and toil and represent them by creating a beautifully composed and thought out image. If I didn’t happen upon it myself I would say the image was contrived with the perfect color composition, but I know otherwise.

  • We Cast Shadow,

    One of my final days shooting in Chandelao, India, my charge was introducing me to neighboring families. The women and children always welcomed me and willingly showed me around their homes with pride. This particular room was a bedroom/sewing room and the light was beaming in, I quickly asked one of the young girls to stand in silhouette––reminding me of a silhouette cut-out my third grade teacher did of each student, that my mom still has hanging in her bedroom. I choose to frame her in the bottom of the frame and include the artifacts in the room to give the image place and the silhouette a feeling of quiet displacement.

  • We Connect,

    I spent about an hour photographing a Bishnoi family outside of Chandelao. The Bishnoi are the traditional protectors of nature. This image was taken toward the end of the hour and it captured the mother in-law communicating with her daughter in-law. The entire time I was shooting the daughter in-law was making tea in the kitchen or cleaning up in the main room while the mother in-law and her daughters conversed in the main room. This image was taken right as the daughter in-law was readying herself to join the family. I loved the afternoon light with the soft pink colors and the daughter in-law emerging from the shadows as the mother in-law looks up to her youth, strength and beauty––the bitter-sweet natural progression of life and foreshadowing the changing of the guard.

  • We Comfort,

  • We Sabotage,

  • We Shield Our Mothers,

    This image created itself by the boundaries called forth by the subjects. The family invited me into their compound for tea and it was the largest family I happened upon. They proudly gathered their seven, mostly daughters’ 5 of 7 and invited me to photograph. The mother immediately declared herself off limits hence creating the immediate shield of her beautiful daughter and the camera ––I complied and again repeated my idea of marginalized women two-fold. I often revisited this family during my 9 day stay as they were warm and welcoming and I felt calmed by the family’s closeness and love, it was palpable.

  • We Fulfill Obligation,

    My first young woman I worked with was telling me about a child cook in the village. Her mother had passed away and the responsibility fell into her hands to prepare the family dinner. When I arrived she was busy working up chapati for the meal. It was an obligation given to her by life circumstances.

  • We Think,

    This image was composed on the first day of meeting my student. She was warm and curious about my work. After I started working she picked up on my eye and asked if she could put on her formal attire for an image. What a delightful surprise. This was taken in her bedroom.