By Laura Latzko.
Photos help to share people’s truths; especially those of underrepresented people.
Through photography, four local artists have been able to tell not only their own stories but share those of others like them.
Started in Oct. 2015, Femme Fotale is a photography project geared towards women and gender-conforming individuals.
The project is run by Brianna Noonan, Charissa Lucille, Kit Abate, and Sirrena Griego, four friends who met while working in a camera shop in Tempe.
Noonan, Abate, and Griego all have photography backgrounds while Lucille is from a journalism background.
Before they started the group, Lucille already had experience with creating zines — she is the owner of Wasted Ink Zine Distro. Abate is a member of the Eye Lounge gallery and collective.
As part of the Femme Fotale project, these four creators combine talents to create photography books and art exhibitions.
While this collaborative endeavor has allowed the four photographers to share their work with others, Femme Fotale was designed to help others to express themselves artistically and to start conversations.
“I think it was more about creating a platform for other voices. It has, of course, created a platform for us as well, especially with meeting people and expanding our community in the photography world both locally and nationally,” Lucille said.
Each book focuses on a different topic. The next volume will be dedicated to health.
In that next book, the 29 featured photographers tackle mental and physical health topics, including reproductive health.
Sometimes, Femme Fotale creators will have a personal connection to one of the topics. Health, for example, has great meaning to Noonan and Lucille because they have been dealing with chronic illness for the last few years.
“Every zine we’ve made has been very personal to all of us, but I think this one, in particular, was important for us to make,” Lucille said.
The books share information on the photographs as well as the artists behind them.
Past volumes have explored the themes of “Resistance, Resilience and Hope;” “The Human Form;” “Relationships;” “Analog;” and “Inspiration.”
Together, the group brainstorms and decides on topics. Each person has had a chance to take on different roles, including designing the books.
Abate said that each volume has a slightly different look based on the subject matter and designer.
“Since we each take a different role in each volume, the design concept is continually evolving based on thematic things present in the issue and also our personal aesthetics at the time,” Abate said.
Photographers from around the country and from abroad submit work for each project. The first volume only featured Phoenix photographers, and the group expanded from there.
Leading up to each book, they reach out to photographers through different arts and community organizations and social media platforms. Abate said that over the years they have worked to bring new voices into the fold.
“We hope with every volume that we became more diverse than the previous one, that we reach a greater audience and that our contributors are from a wider range every time,” Abate said.
The group collectively decides on which photos to use. Since the beginning, they have tried to feature photographers working at different levels and from varied educational backgrounds.
Contributors are allowed to submit photos taken on different types of equipment, including cell phone cameras.
“We want everyone to be able to submit and be included, regardless of their training or their equipment,” Lucille said.
When choosing, the creators look for images that stand out to them and fit with their topics.
“I think when we are initially looking at work, we are looking for things that we see as inspirational, that we really connect with or that connect with the topic that we’re trying to discuss,” Abate said.
Although the creators decide on the topics, other photographers often surprise them with the work that they submit.
“That’s part of what is interesting and fun about Femme Fotale — we get to see all of this work from all of these artists that even show us ways of viewing and seeing topics that we may not have thought of ourselves,” Abate said.
Over the last few years, a community has built around the project.
Many photographers have had work in multiple books, and dedicated supporters await each new volume of work.
When they started, the four creatives had to put their own money towards the project. They are now able to use funds from pre-sale orders to finance operating costs for each volume.
Noonan said the project took off quickly because of a need and demand for it. Building an audience and a talent base happened very quickly.
“When we first started, we had a lot of community already waiting to support our project. We already had a self-publishing community. We already had communities of photographers, specifically women, and gender non-conforming people, who wanted to have their work represented at this level,” Noonan said.
From the beginning, building community was a significant component of the project. Noonan said with this comes a responsibility to make sure the artists’ work is being represented and sequenced in the best way possible.
“It’s a really big privilege that these people are trusting us with their art and that they want to work with us, that they are giving us this privilege. At the end of the day, the people that you work with, who help to make these beautiful things, are the most important,” Noonan said.