Sage Adams Photography Dafy Hagai

How to (try and) make it as a young, creative woman in 2016

Photographer Dafy Hagai captures five women as they share their no frills advice on how they got to where they are – and where they plan to go next

We’re officially one month into 2016. After drowning the ghosts of last year in a December-long binge of Prosecco, a lot of us have sobered up (literally, if you’re one of those “Dry Jan” types) to the reality that it’s, er, kinda hard to get your goals off the ground – no matter how many 2016-positive memes you shared. Going your own way, speaking out, and standing up for what you believe is hard, but it’s also brave. So you’ll be relieved to know that there’s a community out there – often easily accessible online – who have grafted/are grafting just as hard as you are, and lived to tell the tale (mostly on Dazed). Here, photographer Dafy Hagai shares portraits of five diverse minds whom we asked five questions about how they got to where they are, and where they plan to go from here.

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Grace Miceli, photographed by Dafy Hagai
Grace MiceliPhotography Dafy Hagai

GRACE MICELI

If you’ve been keeping up-to-date with the New York art scene then you’ll know that Grace Miceli needs no introduction. For the uninitiated, the artist (a jack of all, mind you, but she’s currently taking a particular fancy to illustration), model and curator is a fairy godmother of sorts. Using her online – and now IRL – platform Art Baby Gallery as a means of support for any artist creating the most exciting, yet underrepresented, work, often missing from the larger institutions.

Born in Chicago, her family moved between Western Mass, London, Vermont and Boston’s suburbs before, now 27, Miceli settled in New York – “because it felt like the most daunting and challenging place to try and make it as an artist, so here I am”, she tells us.

With studies in Studio Art and Visual Cultures under her belt, Miceli admits, “It took me a while to get here. I’ve tried working in almost every single medium. I finally found the ways in which I’m most fulfilled, creating and also sharing work made by others.”

A born entrepreneur, Miceli’s first taste of running her own space came when in high school she asked her friends to collect all the loose change in their homes in the hopes of raising enough money to build a darkroom in her basement. “I’ve always felt the need to make things and I tried everything until I felt satisfied with my chosen mediums,” she reveals. "When I was at Goldsmiths, and curated my first group show (with my friend artist Hannah Regel), I was so excited to discover another passion, and I’ve been curating shows online and IRL ever since.” Below, she tells us more.

What advice – useless or helpful – have you been given?

Grace Miceli: Not to get any hand or neck tattoos until I had my art career on lock – too late! I had older female artists express to me their frustration of seeing male peers of their generation succeed quicker and more frequently despite creating less interesting work due to their white male privilege and that fact has always driven and guided me.

What kind of difficulties and adversities do you face? Whether daily or every now and again, and how do you overcome them?

Grace Miceli: It’s a daily challenge figuring out how to do what you love while getting paid. As a freelance artist I struggle with being creative on a deadline. Having to think of something clever to draw by 10pm doesn’t always come easy. Also I often feel pressure to constantly be creating and producing, whether it’s art or exhibitions or events and that can be physically exhausting – I’m not good at knowing when to take a break. I deal with it by talking to my super supportive and amazing group of friends – it helps that they’re all creatives themselves and can understand – and I call my mum all the time. Going to the nail salon is really therapeutic for me too.

What are you plans for this year and how are you going about achieving them?

Grace Miceli: Opening up Art Baby Gallery as a physical space in Brooklyn and working with my already existing community and new collaborators to fill the year with the best exhibitions and programming possible.

What is the best thing about what you do?

Grace Miceli: Discovering young artists who are making truly phenomenal work and being able to give them a platform to share it with a wider audience. With my own work, the best thing is making people laugh.

What is your real life, no frills advice to those looking to do the same?

Grace Miceli: If you don’t have anyone supporting you financially you are going to have to hustle and maybe work three jobs at once in order to save up and afford to be creative on the side, but patience, consistent hard work and reaching out to anyone and everyone who you want to collaborate with really does pay off in the end.

Follow Miceli on Instagram

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Sage Adams Photography Dafy Hagai
Sage AdamsPhotography Dafy Hagai

SAGE ADAMS

When 18-year-old Sage Adams isn’t knee-deep in textbooks as a college freshman – she’s steaming towards a political science major with a minor in African American studies – she’s cutting her teeth as a curator for art movement/internet sensation @arthoecollective. In between, she’s also an artist, fashion blogger, writer, advocate for women – basically, she’s busy.

Born in Brooklyn but currently based in Washington DC for her studies, Adams says her journey began when, at 15-years-old, she found her voice by posting ‘radical’ statuses to Facebook, using the platform to discuss her experiences as a black person in a mostly all-white environment.

“It made a lot of people really unhappy and uncomfortable, and I would get comments like ‘why do you even care so much’, the occasional ‘so you hate white people’, and one boy went so far as to accuse me of reverse racism,” she recalls. “I was really young so a lot of those retaliatory comments really saddened me and scared me. These were the people I was around every day and they refused to acknowledge white privilege and the necessity for change.”

Taking her crusade to Tumblr she met Mars – teen founder of Arthoe and also genius behind @sensitiveblackperson – who asked Adams to turn her “rants” into essays. She says: “At the beginning, I don’t think I intended on being an activist, I just knew that my personal experiences with racism and misogyny meant that more people were suffering and I couldn't stand it – I still can’t stand it.” Below, she tells us more.

What advice – useless or helpful – have you been given?

Sage Adams: I can’t count how many times people told me to shut up, or that I was – this is my favourite – ‘just a Facebook/internet activist’. But I had one teacher named Tom who told me (as I was protesting a school organised, whitewashed, fake ass protest that nearly my entire school attended) that the way I am willing to stick to my guns is admirable. That wasn’t even advice but no one had ever called me stubborn in a positive way before.

“Don’t shut up. If they tell you to shut up, you are onto something!” – Sage Adams

What kind of difficulties and adversities do you face? Whether daily or every now and again, and how do you overcome them?

Sage Adams: My dad passed away about two-and-a-half years ago so I’m getting to know my mum again as a single parent, which is obviously difficult. Also I’m like a baby trying to do serious work about serious things and sometimes it gets to a point where I have to take a break and cry to my friends (thank you Adam and Quinn). So everyday adversities to me are mysignior, money, PTSD, and balancing school with work. I  honestly have it so good compared to so many people out there though. So in terms of overcoming these things, I’ve just learned to live with them, except mysognoir, I’m totally not down for that, I fight that every day by getting my education and furthering the Arthoe platform.

What are you plans for this year and how are you going about achieving them?

Sage Adams: This year, two documentary projects I participated in are scheduled to be released, so from that I hope to share my personal experience as a political one as well. I think it’s time we dig deeper into feminism and take a look at the intersections, let’s hear a Desi girl's opinion on body hair, or about the feminisation of the Asian male, or the politics of rape culture in the black community all the while heeding research and writing done by incredible feminists who came before. Let’s dig deeper. I hope to achieve this by partnering with more artists through the collective and maybe doing some profiles and interviews. In terms of fashion, I want to blog more consistently and show the ties between social justice/current events and how we consume and create clothing. Also maybe interview some dope figures in fashion for the collective (I’m obsessed with @harinef and @thatadult).

What is the best thing about what you do?

Sage Adams: The best thing about working and creating in my discipline is that the sky's the limit and I can collaborate with people around the world.

I found that a lot of my peers were artistically inclined and already pursuing their own art, so I actually got to do a bit of styling and got comfortable with cameras after school and stuff because Lula (@lulahyers66) was always shooting in her house when we were hanging out, and a lot of my friends had point-and-shoots.

I think it was really amazing to have friends independently exploring their craft. Again, not direct advice but my friends definitely supported my art by feeling like they could share theirs with me. That type of stuff means a lot.

What is your real life, no frills advice to those looking to do the same?

Sage Adams: Don’t shut up. If they tell you to shut up, you are onto something!

Follow Adams and Arthoe on Instagram

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Kiera McNally Photography Dafy Hagai
Kiera McNallyPhotography Dafy Hagai

KIERA MCNALLY

Kiera McNally is what you might call an all-rounder. At 25-years-old she’s admittedly still figuring it out, yet is content enough to know that all good things take time. Refusing to pigeonhole herself into any particular title – “I guess illustrator, painter, florist, actress, comedian, chef, lifestyle coach…” she tells me as I probe – noting that she comes from a family of creative people, she offers, “I create for myself and the people I love (not so much for money). Everything I do seems to be a natural extension of life.”

Growing up in Edmonton, Canada, McNally moved to Montreal at 19 where she says she had her “coming-of-age and made friends for life”. At 23, she moved to New York and “had a coming-of-grown-up”. Describing herself as “naturally lazy”, McNally says that she’s most inspired by the people “who have gotten over that and are creating”. Below, she tells us more.

What advice – useless or helpful – have you been given?

Kiera McNally: I don't remember who told me, but they said everything you do, no matter how dumb, is teaching and doing something to you. Whether it's washing dishes for eight hours a day or staring at a white wall all afternoon. I use to think it couldn't be true. But the older I get the more true it becomes. I only want to wash my own dishes from now on! That white wall should be a canvas instead.

What kind of difficulties and adversities do you face? Whether daily or every now and again, and how do you overcome them?

Kiera McNally: My biggest difficulty and hater is probably myself and my own self doubt. Not thinking anyone is going to care about what I do – so what's the point? But the point is to do what you do for yourself. And maybe someone will relate and maybe someone will hate. As long as you can make yourself happy. Corny but true.

What are you plans for this year and how are you going about achieving them?

Kiera McNally: My plans are to become Kiera 2.0. A lot braver and a lot more productive. Out of my comfort zone in the laziest way possible.

What is the best thing about working in the area/discipline you work in?

Kiera McNally: The best thing is, I don't have to choose a title or specific discipline. I've got a finger in every pie, because no one has told me I can't. Maybe I'll become a master of one thing in the next life?

What is your real life, no frills advice to those looking to do the same?

Kiera McNally: My real life is probably very boring and I'm alone alone a lot of the time. It took along time to be happy with my own company but that's when I work the most and learn to appreciate those I love and life in general.

Follow McNally on Instagram

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Samia Hampstead Photography Dafy Hagai
Samia HampsteadPhotography Dafy Hagai

SAMIA HAMPSTEAD

Self-described “down to Mars bad bitch” Samia Hampstead is a 20-year-old hailing from Edison, New Jersey, yet her dreams will soon see her take up residency in New York. “I’m way excited! I feel like NYC is the place I need to be to reach all aspects of my full potential and do my thing”, she beams.

Hampstead’s ‘official discipline’ stems from growing up legally blind in her right eye, so she’s currently undertaking biology as a major with the aims of becoming an optometrist. Aside from being a student and a self-dubbed “part-time Instagram heaux”, Hampstead is also a model – something she previously didn’t have the confidence to pursue after being told she “didn’t have the face for fashion”. “I had the realisation that I was always living for other people”, she confides, “ I want to spend my life learning, growing, and existing as an empowered individual. Modeling isn’t just a surface level profession, it’s an art form. Models have the power to bring someone’s vision to life. They perpetuate originality and representation for all kinds of people.”

By reaching out to people that she was initially intimidated by and forming strong relationships and friendships, she soon found her way into New York’s scene – “My friends became my artistic collaborators and my biggest supporters.” Below, she tells us more.

What advice – useless or helpful – have you been given?

Samia Hampstead: My important AF friend Amandla Stenberg told me that when I am the most myself, I am the most powerful.

“Amandla Stenberg told me that when I am the most myself, I am the most powerful” – Samia Hampstead

What kind of difficulties and adversities do you face? Whether daily or every now and again, and how do you overcome them?

Samia Hampstead: I remember once someone told me that I have a “black nose” and that it would be a problem for me. A lot of black models get nose jobs to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards. I don’t believe in that – I’m not changing myself. I just blast “3500” by Travi$ Scott from my car and remind myself that my natural features are the best possible features for me. If someone doesn’t like them, fuck it.

What are you plans for this year and how are you going about achieving them?

Samia Hampstead: When I was a little girl I wished there were models that looked like me. My intention is to change the game by becoming a successful high fashion one. Of course, first I’m gonna get my education on-point and finish my associates in biology, then I’m gonna go to work. I'm hitting up casting calls, sending out pictures, building a strong portfolio, working on my walk, and switching up my look – so watch out.

What is the best thing about what you do?

Samia Hampstead: In the fashion industry you meet so many diverse artists and become introduced to so many art forms. You can only experience so much inside of a classroom. Get yo ass out there – there’s so much to learn.

What is your real life, no frills advice to those looking to do the same?

Samia Hampstead: Keep yourself mentally fit and don’t lose yourself. It’s cliché, but learn how to not put so much importance in what others think, even if it’s positive. When you are the most grounded and true to yourself, you have the largest impact.

Follow Hampstead on Instagram

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Gal Amit, photographed by Dafy Hagai
Photography Dafy Hagai

GAL AMIT

Not content with the “old Kibbutz life”, 18-year-old occasional model and stylist Gal Amit moved from her native north Israel for a quick stint in London before settling in New York, where she’s currently based. “I felt like couldn't really express myself properly or get anywhere, mainly because the fashion industry in Tel Aviv as it is today has a major lack of creativity – it's extremely basic and closed-minded,” she tells us.

Finding herself in front of the camera with her first photo shoot when she was in 9th grade, the blonde beauty went on to star in Hagai’s book Israeli Girls, and is now perhaps best documented on her Instagram feed, where she flits between mirror selfies and, well, selfies. After studying art direction and styling at London’s Central Saint Martins, Amit also keeps busy as an artist – lending her hand to anything that allows her to develop her creativity as much as possible, particuarly collaging. Below, she tells us more.

What advice – useless or helpful – have you been given?

Gal Amit: I got some whack advice at this one meeting with an agency in Israel where this dude was basically telling me to change my whole look and approach.

What kind of difficulties and adversities do you face? Whether daily or every now and again, and how do you overcome them?

Gal Amit: I find that practicing meditation and mindfulness is key, at least for me. It helps me with self acceptance and connects me to my immediate environment/to the present. I translate the disciplines of meditation into almost every daily step I take or any conflict I come across.

What are you plans for this year and how are you going about achieving them?

Gal Amit: I plan to get a bigger space so I can do my print artwork at home, and develop my pics myself. I want to use a wider variety of materials and hopefully work on new exciting projects.

What is the best thing about working in the area/discipline you work in?

Gal Amit: Getting to learn about different people and their patterns. I find it mad interesting. The more people you meet, the more careful and observant you become.

What is your real life, no frills advice to those looking to do the same?

Gal Amit: I guess I'd say stick to your ways; anyone can tell when something's not completely authentic.

Follow Amit on Instagram and Twitter

Flick through Hagai’s portraits below and follow her on Instagram: