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Molly SodaPhotography Rachel Hodgson

The photographer taking digi-artists offline

Exploring nostalgia, community, and growing up in the online age

While the rest of the world debates the ethical ins and outs of Photoshop and retouching, Rachel Hodgson works with a different type of post production in mind. The recent LCF graduate and Rookie contributor's work is reminiscent of a child-like colouring book or your teenage journal, messy, spontaneous and ultimately endearing. But despite working with a range of hands on materials including paint, pound shop eyeshadow and nail varnish, the photographer/illustrator isn't completely anti-tech. Instead, she marries the best of both worlds.

Using social media to her advantage by building communities and photographing members of her online girl gang, (including Molly Soda, embroidery artist Hanecdote, and photographers Maisie Cousins, Joanna Kiely and Francesca Jane Allen), Hodgson's work touches on themes of the feminine body in all it's imperfect glory, friendship, and online identity. Below we caught up with the photographer to discuss growing up, social media, and the importance of keeping things DIY.  

How did you first get involved in photography?

I borrowed my dads digital camera a lot as a kid – which was before everyone had a camera on their phone – so photography still seemed special. I was quite bossy as a child so enjoyed directing people, and taking pictures seemed like like a fun game and an excuse to dress up with friends.

Why did you start incorporating illustration and drawing techniques into your photography work?

I’ve never been very precious about my photography, I know a lot of photographers that hate to get any marks or smudges on their prints, but I enjoy all the imperfections that occur during darkroom processing. You can’t always predict what the chemicals will do, and sometimes they’ll fuck up an image but I usually like the screwed up image more than the ones that came out as intended. I've always been drawing and painting as well as doing photography, so it seemed natural to combine all three practises. To me it feels more human to be able to see the mistakes in photography, especially when people are viewing my work on the internet or through a computer screen. Something that initially was a mistake can actually end up enhancing the picture, it becomes what makes an image unique.

How does a sense of nostalgia inspire what you do? 

The style in which i colour my photographs is kind of crude and childish and created using low quality materials such as crayons, nail varnish, and eyeshadow from the pound shop. I guess i’m nostalgic for a playful kind of creativity. I don’t take my art too seriously, people are often searching for perfection –especially in photography and fashion. When i was studying I guess I wanted to rebel against the glossy, clean, digital photography that teachers praised. The male tutors hated it when I used glitter and sequins on my work–  the female tutors were definitely more in to it, though.

You've labelled your work a reaction against “sterile” and “inhuman” post internet photography, what initially motivated you to create a body of work swimming against these themes?

I find Photoshop and working on a computer in post production boring. I like to use my hands to physically make stuff, I'm a messy person so I choose to embrace that in my imagery rather than trying to pretend to be something im not to fit in. 

“Girls can now represent themselves however they want and share their experiences. Everyone feels these pressures, but finding communities online helps females not to feel so alone and weird about being who they are”– Rachel Hodgson

You work mainly in portraiture, and often shoot your photographic peers or online friends. How do you choose your models?

For this series, I've chosen girls that I've worked with before on pictures or personal projects. There is a sense of community between young creative women that have formed alliances through the internet, but these friendships also extend to real life. I've followed all these girls through the internet and have seen a positive development and wider recognition for their individual works as time has gone by, which is a nice feeling. During my undergraduate degree and more generally in the last few years I found myself shooting a lot of fashion editorial. I'd always been encouraged to source models exclusively through agencies and told that was the key to becoming a successful photographer. I've realised increasingly that i prefer to shoot people not based on their image but for their character. I don't need an agency's approval to tell me if someone is ‘pretty’ enough to photograph.

With so many young women creating art that acts against beauty norms and patriarchal institutions, do you feel like the tide is changing and things are getting any better in terms of female representation?

Every time a girl posts a selfie with her hairy pits or something considered ‘gross’ it makes me feel a little more comfortable with my own hairy human body. Girls expressing themselves in that way are normalising these things and it shouldn’t be considered as just a ‘freaky feminist statement’, because it’s just a female body that happens to be hairy and spotty and lumpy and that’s all beautiful. So I feel like that aspect of things is improving, especially for young teen girls seeing all these female artists on the internet sharing images of their unedited bodies.

No ‘feminist’ work existed when i was a teenage girl growing up, all we saw was highly photoshopped and airbrushed pictures of skinny pretty models in magazines, we weren’t shown an alternative. I just felt like a freak because i didn’t look as smooth and perfect as those girls in magazines, but when you’re a teenager it’s hard to realise that every teen girl is also feeling like this because there was no way for us to express that. Whereas these feelings and frustrations are something that the internet has been able to facilitate through new forms of media. Girls can now represent themselves however they want, connect, and share their experiences. Everyone feels these pressures, but finding communities online helps females not to feel so alone and weird about being who they are.

In light of Instagram personalities such as Essena Oneill calling BS on the ‘fakeness’ of social media fame, more millennials seem to be taking themselves offline. As someone whose work considers elements of both online culture and ‘real life ’,  what do you make of social media and all that surrounds it?

I've met a lot of great mates through social media and got most of my work through these platforms. I think it can be a great way to connect with people, especially people that you couldn't otherwise, people in different countries etc. I agree that people shouldn't get too involved with being online, you still need to go outside, breath in fresh air and look around at real faces. But i think it's a shame to totally reject social media because it can be used for so much good. It's also a massive privilege to be so connected to so much information this easily, and one not to be taken for granted.

Check our more of Rachel Hodgson's work here