Amanda de Cadenet pulls very few punches. “If I have zero interest in the question,” she tells us, “I won’t answer it.” It’s a refreshing frankness from the founder and CEO of The Conversation and now, #GirlGaze, a multimedia photo project designed to support girls behind the camera. The project's first exhibition, #girlgaze: a frame of mind, opened at the Annenberg Space of Photography in October 2016 and runs until February 2017. It features work from up-and-coming female and gender non-conforming photographers.
As the tale of implicit career bias goes, only one-third of professional news photographers are women. Which begs the question: whose eye is capturing what's important? The goal for de Cadenet is to get more perspectives seen, and begin championing that potential early. “It’s so important for girls to understand that they have the power,” the photographer slash founder says.
It’s a message she has conveyed to all her children. Her eldest daughter, Atlanta, took the streets in protest after Trump was elected president, joining over 100,000 people in the streets of DTLA. Her twins, Ella and Silvan, phone banked for Hillary. “It was so wonderful to watch them on the phone,” she recalls, reciting their script with that proud mommy smile. "‘Hi, my name is Ella and I’m a ten-year-old volunteer for the Hillary Clinton campaign.’"
“A life of service is everything; it's crucial,” the activist says. "I'm hardcore about my kids being active in service.” She’s also adamant about raising feminist children and for de Cadenet there's no such thing as too early. "It’s so cool for them to know that they can affect change, that their actions matter, and that starts on the playground.” It is the exact sentiment supported by her work with #girlgaze. She's taking it out of her home and into the streets.
Modeling this behavior for her children is clearly important to the mom of three. We bring up the saying, 'If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.’
“A lot of people say that,” says the CEO, “but you’re either someone who follows or someone who innovates. Who did Hillary see when she decided to run for President? I don’t buy it. You can dream of something and see what’s missing. I made #girlgaze because it didn’t exist.”
The feminist thinks that the concept of female empowerment is often used out of context. “Empowerment,” she shares, “is anything that facilitates a person feeling better about themselves, or good about themselves. Building self-esteem is empowering. For me that means hiring more women across the board in various sectors, because careers build self-esteem.”
Careers like those in photography.
Where The Conversation addressed the fears and realities of women-- bringing the conversations taking place in Amanda’s kitchen about postpartum depression, sex, and gender stereotypes to light, #girlgaze has intentionally focused on the younger generation. "My audience was getting younger and younger-- that doesn’t happen," she says. The multitasking mama had to ask herself, why it was happening. What content was missing? She saw the gap, realizing that young girls’ exposure to the media, subtle racism and sexism and misogyny, was deeply affecting their self-esteem. “Something does well when it’s needed,” de Cadenet explains. And there was a need.
“They were getting impacted,” she says. “They wanted guidance younger, so I consciously made a choice to create something for them. Creativity is the vehicle for change for a lot of young girls that I know.” A generation she thinks highly of, citing young feminists like Rowan Blanchard. ‘It is our job and my commitment, now more than ever," she says, "to not abandon these issues and to support the next generation of girls tenfold.”
When we talked in November 2016 #girlgaze had received over 750,000 submissions. Photographs from young women all over the world who bring their unique perspective to the digital table, including protest photos documenting the global response to Trump’s election. Issues that strike close to her heart. “Women and people of color have been saying for a long time that we’re living with systematic, clear, undebatable racism and sexism in this country. You have to take stock on a situation before you can change it and then you can create realistic tools.”
For the lifelong activist and journalist who has interviewed everyone from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton #girlgaze is one tool. A strong, female voice making media that matters is another. Community, yet one more integral piece of the revolution. “We must not become desensitized to our passion and commitment to female only safe spaces,” de Cadenet champions.
Now is the time to gaze hard at the present, to be heard, to rise up.