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 Liza Kanaeva-Hunsicker NYC girls
Photography Liza Kanaeva-Hunsicker

Photos of New York girls embodying their unconventional femininity

Mined from an archive of photographs taken over eight years, Liza Kanaeva-Hunsicker’s NYC Girls is a diaristic ‘ode to non-conformist femininity’

“New York City is unforgiving, very poetic, dark, humid, lonely, magical and mad,” says Moscow-born photographer Liza Kanaeva-Hunsicker, when I ask if there was a particular aspect of the city she wanted to focus on when putting together NYC Girls, her first monograph. It’s a description that strikes me as one that also encapsulates what it feels like to be a girl.

Mined from an archive of photographs taken over eight years, NYC Girls is a diaristic “ode to non-conformist femininity”, as well as Kanaeva-Hunsicker’s own artistic practice and personal journey. NYC Girls, published by SelfSelf this July, is a natural extension of Kanaeva-Hunsicker’s previous work; she has explored sexuality and identity as a fashion photographer for Vogue Italia and in series such as Napoli Beach and California Cowgirls. In the former, Kanaeva-Hunsicker photographed women on the public beaches of Napoli, and in the latter, an all-women horse riding group based in California’s Santa Ynez Valley. No matter her subject, Kanaeva-Hunsicker’s gaze is shamelessly raw and reverent.

“I met my subjects throughout the years under different circumstances,” says Kanaeva-Hunsicker. “Agency models, IG, friends, street casting, family, strangers. Each of them intrigued me.” Although Kanaeva-Hunsicker doesn’t point the camera towards herself, the images she takes of other women and the city’s streets have the intimacy of self-portraits. “I aim to establish an honest connection with my subjects without an agenda and everything else falls into place. My main objective is that images are true and compassionate so the experience isn’t cheapened to banalities.” 

NYC Girls features contributions from Alessia Glavianio of VogueItalia – who assisted in the editing process – as well as renowned photographers Linda Troeller and Pamela Hanson. Troeller’s playful analysis of gender and sexuality and Hanson’s 2000 monograph Girls are clear influences, to which Kanaeva-Hunsicker beautifully pays homage. 

NYC Girls is also an ode to the skater girl. “I started skateboarding with my little brother Nikolai in Moscow in the early 2000s,” says Kanaeva-Hunsicker. “I was about 14 when I did my first ollie at our dacha. It got in my blood. I never experienced that kind of freedom ever since. It’s pure. Skateboarding is like a Dostoevsky work; it transforms and unfolds as your life transforms and your personality unfolds. Your skating style and your vision shifts and compliments you as you go through life. It builds character, it gives you a community. Being a skater girl is its own thing fueled by vision and audacity. It’s scary to walk into a skatepark full of guys and hold your own. I’m always so proud to see other girls going for it. It’s truly badass.”

The idea of the “female gaze” can be a weighty one. For Kanaeva-Hunsicker, it’s about “balance and curiosity, coming from a place of respect for human individuality”. Her vision of femininity is ultimately expansive: “I think what’s powerful here is a suggestion that one’s gaze can be changed, a gentle nudge to an alternate point of view,” offers Kanaeva-Hunsicker. “We have collectively, even as women, internalised a popularised male view on sexuality. But sexuality is such a central aspect of human life and to reduce it to eroticism, pleasure and reproduction, is to miss the point. The female gaze gives us emotion, value, belief, fantasy, goes past physiology and opens a universe. I think we all benefit from it.” 

Imagine, freedom in being a girl. “Femininity is unbound, fragmented,” Kanaeva-Hunsicker adds. “So powerful. Infinitely enigmatic. It unfolds, recoils, has fangs, tails, wears silk, does [a] blunt to fakie, never sleeps.” What a relief. 

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