'I’m from Toronto; I’m an artist. My main medium is photography, and I also love curating which I’ve been doing since I was 15—I’m 21 now. I started out taking photos of my friends on, like, disposable cameras and I documented my younger sister and her friends all through high school. I went to their prom and then their graduation party. The photos are so emotional, I didn’t even realize until I got the film developed how many feelings I had about that time. So I have this archive of them since they were, like, 12 or 13. The show that I just had called Discharge was basically a retrospective of my work from that period to now.
I shoot girls and women more than anything else because when I started taking photos I was at the age of puberty. So I was kind of torn between myself and my body and that’s what I was focusing on. Photography was a way for me to work out all those feelings. I continued with that theme because I find it so interesting to document young girls transitioning and that age. That’s why I started this selfie series, because it’s so fascinating to see how girls behave in front of the camera and how they change their face and posture their bodies when they take photos of themselves. I want the real-world version of what they look like, I wish that they wouldn’t feel the need to change themselves. So I find it interesting to photograph that process, because it reveals that real-world version of the girl. The ‘mirror face,’ too is really interesting. Like yesterday, I was getting dressed and I noticed I was doing something really weird with my nose in the mirror. It’s so subconscious; I don’t even normally realize that I’m doing it. I can't hate on that kind of duck face thing, because I probably do it!
It’s really complicated and not complicated at the same time to understand why some people don’t want to call themselves feminists. I think it’s because of its history of not being so inclusive. Feminism is really scary to people, and a lot of people have the wrong idea about it. I remember in my first year of university, my teacher was like, ‘Who in this class would call themselves a feminist?’ and people were scared to put their hands up. I, too, hesitated, then I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ I don’t think it’s necessary for someone to call herself or himself a feminist… I do think there are so many negative things inserted into the concept when it’s really just about equality. It’s almost taboo because there’s so much confusion. The word still exists because men and women are not equally balanced, but it will only disappear once that happens—which won’t be for a while! [Laughs]
I don’t feel like I necessarily represent what it’s like to be 21 today, or 15 or 16 for that matter. It’s hard to be confident in everything, to say that you can do whatever you want. Especially breaking into a workforce or a certain type of art, I think women always feel the need to ask for permission. I never asked for permission, I just started taking photos. I was really driven; I worked so I could buy my own film—I didn't come from a wealthy background. I mean, I do have my privileges, being a white woman, and I was lucky enough to have a great support system and great teachers. Though I never had an outlet for my work, so I had to make one for myself, like Tavi with Rookie. I started a website called The Ardorous, which is my all-female art collective, a platform where woman can post their work. I would hope that I’m a good enough person to be a role model—that would be awesome! I hope what I’m doing is inspiring girls to do the same, to do what they want and not be scared. I think it’s a great way to teach people to be.
I approach beauty the same way I approach clothing—I think people should do whatever to themselves to make them feel more comfortable in their skin. I’m really low-maintenance and don’t like spending a lot of time on things, so my beauty routine has to be quick and something I can do wherever. Like, sometimes I’m in the woods, literally! I also don’t like to spend a lot of time washing my face, or washing things off my face. I just got this Mineral Fusion Ultimate Moisture Facial cleanser from Whole Foods. I spend a lot of time at Whole Foods reading the back of the bottles, but usually I’ll just pick up the prettiest. I’ll be like, ‘Oh, this looks good, as a whole… Oh that looks like something my dermatologist would give me!’ I do the same thing with creams, I accidentally bought this Avène Cicalfate Restorative Skin Cream thinking it was face cream, but apparently it’s for scars. It looks pretty and it has no scent, which I love. My skin is dry and super sensitive, so I try to use the most baby product I can find. I need something that won’t bug my skin at all. I have crazy allergies, so I don’t wear perfume. I like natural scent, I like body odor. Well, obviously if you love someone their body odor smells good, but I don’t want to tell everyone to not put deodorant on because that’s not good. [Laughs]
I’m not really a makeup girl. My essentials are my phone, lip balm, and keys. I don’t like the responsibility of keeping up with a bag, so I have small stuff I can keep in my pocket or I’ll put things in the top part of my overalls. The cash register line at Sephora is where I buy most of my beauty products, because they have all the small travel-sized stuff in the bins there. I like the look of a natural flush and a natural lip, so all of my makeup is basically lip and cheek balms. I like something I can put on and will stay on me all day, which is why I use stains. I use a combo of three— Tarte True Love Cheek Stain is good, but it doesn’t really stay on. I can take it with me though, and I can’t take the Posietint or the Benetint along. I like the Posietint because it really actually stains, you put a dot on and it stays. Benetint I use all the time, but it’ll spill. The applicator should be bigger, or it should be a sponge. I can’t apply it on the go; it’s such a process. I use three fingers and swipe it on really quickly, or I’ll use my own sponge. Dr Hauschka Lip Care Stick is my favorite balm. I love Smith’s balm because of the scent, but if my lips are dry I use the Dr. Hauschka. I use Tarte Amazonian Clay Waterproof Concealer if I have blemishes, but the really good one is the Mineral Fusion Concealer, it never broke my skin out—that’s my favorite.
I don’t do anything to my hair. It dries really quickly, I just washed it. It’s very fine, but I have a lot of it. I like when my hair is big, so I brush out my curls. There's no specific shampoo or conditioner I use because I've tried so many and feel like they all do the same thing—though, I find that I can’t use natural shampoo, it just doesn’t really work for me. It won't foam like I want it to. I love Dr. Bronner’s, but for everything but my hair. People say you can use it for everything, but it didn’t work. I never color my hair, and I don’t think I ever will. Not that I have anything against it, it’s just so fine so I’m scared to put color on it.
It’s been about five years since I’ve shaved. I started growing out my body hair the first year in university after reading The Last Taboo: Women and Body Hair. I was just really fascinated about what happens when we go through puberty, and why once we do we try to go back to pre-pubescence. It wasn’t anything that I ever really thought of, but it just clicked in my head—like we suddenly try to conceal our shape and we don’t talk about our periods at all. It’s this weird thing when we pretend we’re still 12, not a woman or an adult, which is kind of twisted. It’s such an industry, too, so it’s strange that there’s almost nothing written about this natural thing that’s happening that we’re trying to change. With guys it’s more of an aesthetic choice, but for women it’s something else. Like in shaving ads they don’t even show hair when they’re shaving it off! It’s just a bare leg. Isn’t that crazy? I guess it’s just so disgusting. I never really shaved often anyway because my skin is so sensitive and my hair is so white, but I did shave my legs and trim my pubes until I decided to experiment on my body and choose not to do that. Slowly I became more comfortable with it and I’m really happy that I’ve been able to deprogram my mind in that way.
I wish I could deprogram my mind in other ways, like with body image. I wish I didn’t think about what my body looks like. It can be done, it’s just a long process. It took me until I was 18 or 19 to really get boobs and now I’m still in the phase where I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I have boobs!’ My favorite feature is my butt because my boobs are so small. I have this really big obsession with Levi’s jeans—I have like 10 pairs of the same 501s because I think those look the best on me. People look the best when they feel the most comfortable, so I buy 10 of the same thing if I really like it. Another thing that I found interesting about growing my hair on my body is that it almost desexualized me in some ways. So I have hairy armpits, but will wear short dresses—I like daring people to think differently. I want to be able to be like, ‘I’m hot and I’m in control of my body.’'
—as told to ITG
Petra Collins photographed by Emily Weiss on May 28, 2014 in New York.