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Courtesy of Maya Fuhr
Courtesy of Maya Fuhr
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Photographer Maya Fuhr On Messes, Feminism And Israel

Picture of Julia Purcell
Updated: 3 November 2016
Three years ago, photographer Maya Fuhr created the series Garbage Girls for VICE Canada, which featured young women in their messy rooms. Fuhr’s candid portraits of women immediately landed her in the contentious debate over female representation, challenging the conventional association between femininity and a clean house. Fuhr sat down with Culture Trip to discuss evolving portrayals of women and her feelings about showing her work in Israel.

As a Canadian Jew, do you feel connected to Israel? How do you feel showing your work in Tel Aviv?

I first came here on Birthright about a month ago, and honestly, at first I didn’t know what to expect at all. It was a surreal experience seeing everything through the eyes of a charismatic tour guide showing us every single inch of the country. I don’t know if I would have seen everything I did if I had just come just on my own. Bedouin tents, Jerusalem, The Dead Sea – things like that. In general, that tour really gave me a sense of Jewish Community, which translated into loving this beautiful place. I can identify with everyone I’ve met because they’re so warm, but religion is just a common connection. I’m incredibly honored to be showing my work in Tel Aviv because there’s such a thriving art scene here, and I’m excited to share my views with everyone I’ve met along the way!

You’ve worked with Israeli photographer Dafy Hagai before. Can you speak about what that was like? Has she influenced your style in a significant way?

I met Dafy on the internet because she invited me to join her table at the New York Book Fair a couple of years ago. We bonded right away in not only our appeal in film photography but also on a person level. We’re still friends and meet up in LA and New York pretty often actually. I don’t think our photography style is necessarily similar, but I admire her work a lot. She shows Israeli girls in such a raw, natural light that it made me excited to come here and see the cultural beauty for myself. I’ve shot some incredible girls here so far! Also, Dafy and I visited the desert last month and worked on a self-portrait series. We collaborate well together so look out for that.

Courtesy of Maya Fuhr
Courtesy of Maya Fuhr

How do you approach working on a zine vs. working on a larger publication, like VICE? Which one do you like better and why?

They both have their perks because working with a larger publication gives me the vast audience which is essential for an artist, and VICE has done that for me. However, working with publications involves an authoritative figure that I need to communicate with regularly, which sometimes distracts me from my intentions in the first place. On the other hand, making zines with friends gives me a genuine and fun interaction where I have complete curatorial control.

Courtesy of Maya Fuhr

With respect to Garbage Girls, the 2013 series that began showing at Artemesia on March 19th – what is the significance of these girls living in a mess? Have we moved past the need for protesting the so-called ‘Housewife mentality’ with the popularity of female characters in pop culture like Ilana Glazer? Do you think we’ve gotten closer since you took these photos in 2013?

I love Broad City, so thank you for putting me in the same sentence as Ilana. I think Garbage Girls provokes the same questions as it did in 2013, considering that young girls in messy rooms is shocking the audience. Although, the series initially wasn’t meant to be a ‘feminist’ series, and I was documenting my age group of friends at the time. People’s perspectives are forming it in a different way, which is really interesting. That’s why I make work in the first place. Each photo does feature all beautiful, skinny young girls, so we have to ask ourselves if it would be as popular if they were any other minority. Generationally, we are in a different time. It’s not as important for woman to be presented in a ‘perfect’ way in 2016. The audiences perspectives are actually more interesting than the actual theme itself. In fact, it gives me pleasure to see young girls interacting with it – I’ve already seen my girlfriends here in Tel Aviv talk about it with conviction. I hope it inspires girls to be themselves and to understand that living in filth is not negatively a disgusting characteristic.

You interviewed your subjects for Garbage Girls. When/why do you choose to interview your subjects for a series? And what do you hope to get out of interviewing that isn’t captured in your photography?

I need my subjects to speak for themselves because I try not to impose my opinions on them and let them represent themselves how they want to be seen. Sometimes my interviews are a genuine interaction that stems from my own selfish curiosity about my subject. For example, with Garbage Girls, the fact that they’re so shameless and honest about their clutter, confirms their independence, which is really important for me. Growing up with a father as a psychologist, I was always taught to speak my mind and be present in my own emotional state, so I think I do a pretty good job at executing that and I like it when my models are human too.

Courtesy of Maya Fuhr

Garbage Girls opened at Artemesia on March 19th. Follow Maya Fuhr on Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram.