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The Teenage Gaze
"Untitled"Photography Petra Collins

Sex and the suburbs

Petra Collins on bloody vaginas and road tripping with Ryan McGinley

Toronto-born Petra Collins is a 20 year old photographer and the mind behind a collective of young female artists, The Ardorous. Collins captures young girls and dreamy suburbs, but with a strong purpose – struggling for freedom to express their sexuality and the end of censorship for female body. Exploring the teenage world from the age of 15, when she started taking pictures of her high school friends, Collins shoots girls who want to have fun on their own terms.

Having cast for Richard Kern and shot for a handful of magazines including Tavi Gevinson’s teen magazine Rookie, Collins has been on the radar for a while. Her recent mainstream fame however came courtesy of a menstruating vagina. Designing a t-shirt with a bleeding vagina print for American Apparel and soon after, having Instagram deleted because of a trace of pubic hair in a bikini picture. 

Dazed talked to Collins about sexuality and photography, going on a road trip with Ryan McGinley and her various scandals.

Dazed Digital: You recently had your Instagram deleted because of a trace of pubic hair in the image. Did you get any official response after it happened?

Petra Collins: No, I think if they were to respond then I would be right. It really, really sucks because I lost my audience, all these girls I was connecting with. The fact that people could just take it away because they didn't like how I looked was really hurtful. But it made me more proactive writing and talking about it so good things came out of it.

DD: What was the original idea behind your American Apparel t-shirt?

Petra Collins: The drawing by artist and friend, Alice Lancaster was actually for a neon that I was making for an art show which American Apparel was sponsoring. Then I thought it would be great to make a piece which people could take away from the show. The t-shirt was me appropriating those gross t-shirts with women's bodies on them, and I kind of wanted my own feminist version which was true to the female body and wasn't a product of the male gaze and the feminine ideal.

DD: Did you expect the negative reaction?

Petra Collins: I didn't expect that crazy reaction. It was insane how upset people got. It really says a lot about what kind of world we live in. I got some much hate mail!

DD: Kim Gordon once said that there's not much you can do about men being terrified of female sexuality. Do you agree?

Petra Collins: I love Kim Gordon but that's a little bit negative. I think it can be changed. It's so engraved in men and us now thought, that it might take a while to change. 

Whoever it is, what's behind the camera is as important as what's in front of it.

DD: You modeled for Ryan McGinley this summer? What was that like?

Petra Collins: It was the best thing ever! I went on his Road trip in May and it was honestly the best trip of my life. We travelled from NYC to Dallas along the Appalachian mountains. Ryan is one of the photographers I always looked up to. Back in high school I made a book where I printed out a lot of his oldest photos and wrote about them. It was just really amazing seeing him work and also being in his photos. He's having a show in Paris in a week or so, at Paris Photo, and it's from my trip so I'm in it too.

DD: Your photos sometimes look like they’re from another era. Are you inspired by the imagery of the past?

Petra Collins: Maybe more in the beginning I was, I really love the 70s, and I'm always inspired by '70s Playboy and exploration films.

DD: Do you think the photographer’s gender matters?

Petra Collins: Yeah, definitely, not even just gender, whoever it is, what's behind the camera is as important as what's in front of it. I think male photographers can understand women's sexuality, and it’s not that women can't exploit women. But I think there is a lot to say about how women photographers shoot women versus male photographers.

DD: What are your future ambitions?

Petra Collins: Hopefully I'm doing a book, I have a book deal coming for my art community The Ardorous. Also I really want to start getting into film.