An image from Gina Vasquez’s photo essay for 500px Studio (in collaboration with the United Nations) was honored as a winner in the Advertising/Corporate category of PDN’s Photo Annual 2018. Her series of images was part of a project to raise awareness about gender-based violence. The campaign, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, was sponsored by the UN’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign. Vasquez says that she felt a personal responsibility to make her images as powerful as possible in order to convey the seriousness (and the prevalence) of this issue.
PDN’s Photo Annual is now open for entries for 2019. Visit www.pdnphotoannual.com to learn more and enter.
PDN: How did you get involved with the UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign?
Gina Vasquez: I had worked with 500px Studio previously, and they reached out to me to be a part of this campaign.
PDN: Can you walk us through the shoot?
GV: The shoot for “Reclaiming Your Voice” began with brainstorming and location testing. A large part of the UNiTE campaign was to bring awareness, and I felt that portraying the act of being silenced by an abuser and the difficulty of speaking up was important to address in my series, because it is extremely common, but not often understood, by others outside of the situation. Once I decided to use multiple hands to portray this, I did two test shoots. The first two were outside – one in a wooded area, and the second underneath an overpass. I liked the concept but something was missing. Ultimately, I decided to do the final photoshoot in water. I mixed cornstarch in to give the water a cloudy look, and positioned the tripod directly above my head. After getting the shots I needed, I finished off the image by editing in Photoshop, making the many hands come together and making color adjustments.
PDN: What are some of the challenges of creating self-portraits versus portraits of other subjects?
GV: One thing I always have to check myself on when creating self-portraits are the camera angles. When you shoot other subjects, you have the ability to position yourself and the camera in any way, at any angle that you want. For self-portraits, it’s very easy to get stuck in a “stand in front of the tripod and shoot” funk. It definitely takes more effort to get creative camera angles!
PDN: What was the most challenging part of the shoot?
GV: The most challenging part was deciding how to translate ideas into images – violence against women is such an important topic, and I felt a heavy responsibility to really portray the issues and emotions surrounding abuse in an effective and moving way.
PDN: What do you like most about these images?
I like most that I was able to bring across the raw emotion I was aiming for. I got a lot of responses from this series, especially from the PDN Photo Annual image, “Reclaiming Your Voice.” There were a number of reactions – some [people] were really moved, others were able to relate, and there were people who were uncomfortable just looking at it. Some said they could almost feel the pain of being kept down while looking at the photograph, and felt like they could understand people in this situation more. This is exactly what I wanted to happen.
PDN: What gear did you use?
GV: I used a Nikon D610, a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G lens, a Nikon 35mm f/2 D lens, an Ambico V-5592 tripod, and natural outdoor/existing indoor lighting.