Full Visibility: The Artistic Duo Making Waves in the Representation of Womanhood
By Brogues - 3 min read
With a mutual drive to rewrite the script for female representation, Cassandra Cacheiro and Sara Hini founded The Womanhood Project to put forward an honest, complex and deeply personal look into the lives of women from all walks of life – with no objectification in sight. They told us how they're reclaiming the gaze and shifting homogenous perspectives, one unique story at a time.
Tell usa bit about your respective backgrounds. How did they lead you to creating The Womanhood Project? Was there an initial intention, message or driving force behind it?
Cassandra: I was already photographing women before the project but there was never an intention attached to my photography. The night I met Sara, she quickly talked to me about an idea she had in mind about a photography project that would talk about women’s taboos. We met the following week and that’s when the project started to develop itself. Since day one, the project has been continuously evolving. At the beginning we wanted to focus each portrait around one taboo in particular but as time went on and we met more and more women, we realized that they all had much more to say than that one specific subject.
“We want to explore freely and learn more about the diversity of perceptions and experience.”
Amélie for The Womanhood Project
Sara: I co-founded aye mag and have a collective exhibition every year where we gather all kinds of film photographers. This is where I met Cassandra. We want to explore freely and learn more about the diversity of perceptions and experiences of this ever-changing and complex subject that is womanhood. One of the driving forces behind the project is that each women is so distinct and we were lucky to have them open up in such an intimate level. It gives a particular energy to the whole project.
“It’s important for us that they feel safe.”
Geneviève for The Womanhood Project
You touch on numerous delicate themes in your work, covering areas such as mental health, body issues, surgery and abuse. How do you create a space where the women you speak to are able to open up – not just emotionally, but in front of your camera too?
Cassandra: If they’ve decided to willingly participate in the project, I think that means there’s a part of them that’s already ready to open up to us. The reason why we always prefer shooting at their home is for them to feel comfortable and in their own environment. Most of the participants have never been photographed before so it’s important for us that they feel safe. When meeting and photographing them, we always go at their own pace. Some are super comfortable with nudity and some aren’t as much so we take everything gradually.
Stéphanie for The Womanhood Project
Sara: With time our skills got so much better. I remember the first girls we met, I was so nervous and I had no idea how to talk to them about such personal stuff without knowing them. Now it’s almost part of us and sometimes I like to get ready a little bit before and have some key questions in mind to lead their reflection. But also, just Cassandra’s energy is so naturally calming that women feel comfortable right away.
What is your approach when it comes to finding and selecting the women you photograph? How do you tend to get in touch with them?
Cassandra: We usually do an open call at the end of the summer on social media advising that we’re looking for the next edition. We’ll then exchange emails with the ones that are chosen and often the day of the shoot is the first time we meet!
Hanna for The Womanhood Project
“Film brings surprise and rawness to it all.”
Are we right in thinking you shoot primarily in film? If so, how does this conscious photography approach impact the process and outcome?
Cassandra: Yes, everything is entirely shot in film. I think the project would have such a different approach if it were on digital. Film brings surprise and rawness to it all and plus we love the fact that the participant isn’t able to see the pictures during the actual shoot, there’s no second chance with film. I then scan the negatives (one roll per participant is used) and do some light editing. And of course, no retouching of the participant’s whatsoever.
Soukayna for The Womanhood Project
“We want women to tell their story without censoring themselves.”
Sara: It was a very natural artistic choice. We want women to come as they are and tell their story without censoring themselves. Film photography is an amazing way to be fully present in the moment and really grasp what is happening while we talk and shoot.
One striking visual thread in your work is the way you play with – and challenge – the heteronormative male gaze; every woman you portray has a unique story to tell, but they are all pictured naked or in their underwear. Could you speak a little more about this focus on the body and your thinking behind the approach?
Sara: Women have always been so objectified by the male gaze, using our bodies in their most simple state can be a way to regain our power in that narrative. We wanted the women participating to completely open up and artistically it made sense to portray the naked body. We wanted them to be in their most vulnerable state and open up to us.
Keniya for The Womanhood Project
“Using our bodies in their most simple state can be a way to regain our power over the male gaze.”
Of the shoots you’ve had so far, is there one experience or story in particular that has stood out or moved you the most? If so, why?
Cassandra: They’ve all moved us in different ways. Each story is very different and unique and we’re continuously learning.
Sara: Not one shoot in particular, but one quality all those woman have in common: their resilience. It’s quite touching to see them talk about their stories and traumas with such courage and openness, it will never cease to inspire me.
Josiane for The Womanhood Project
How has capturing and listening to the complex, intricate lives of different women played a role in your own self-development? Have you learned anything about yourselves in the process?
Cassandra: I’m so much more aware of how I feel within my body since I’ve started this project. It has definitely been tough at times because it makes you think about your own situation too but at the end, it just helps with your own growth. One thing is for sure is that I learned a lot about self-care and how I should try to treat my own body with love, patience and care.
Sara: I remember after our first few shoot, we were emotionally drained by all those stories and I told Cass that we were about to live an amazing human experience and twoyears later it’s still the case. We also face our own insecurities sometimes and we have lots of talks together so we can process and understand everything better.
Camille for The Womanhood Project
Overall, how would you say that the visual representation of women has changed in recent years (or is changing)? What role do you see The Womanhood Project playing in this evolution?
Cassandra: The representation of women has changed in a positive way in the last years but there’s still a lot of work to do, it’s definitely not even close to being perfect. We want our project to have a positive change and to help that representation.
Sara: There’s a huge homogeneity in the visual representation of women, and we basically need lots of projects and photographers showing more diversity. We’re hoping to see the project evolve with the women we meet and with our own perspectives.
Élise for The Womanhood Project
How would you like to see your platform developing in the future? Do you have any upcoming projects or ventures?
Cassandra & Sara: A book and an exhibition is definitely on our minds. And of course, we want to keep meeting amazing women and help them share their stories to inspire others.
This post was created as part of #NotYourCliche, our movement away from antiquated stock stereotypes and towards a more relevant, inclusive, representative view of global culture and society. For more male gaze-defying stories from The Womanhood Project, delve into their beautiful website or follow along on their Instagram feed.