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Petra Collins 24 Hour Psycho
Untitled (24 Hour Psycho), 2016Photography Petra Collins

Petra Collins takes on mental health in new show

The photographer celebrates female vulnerability in her latest portrait series, 24 Hour Psycho

Petra Collins’ pastel-tinged photographs have always focused heavily on the female experience. Whether she’s calling out body-based cliches or capturing the world’s most famous women, the Toronto-born artist offers a fresh perspective on contemporary womanhood. 

It’s a skill she rolls out in her new series, 24 Hour Psycho. Scrapping the fourth wave’s fixation with nip slips and body hair, Collins instead turns her lens to mental health: celebrating the complexities of the female psyche through close-up portraiture. “Women's emotions are constantly labeled,” she explains. “Any slight deviation from ‘pleasantness’, and we are labeled as hysterical. When we are angry, sad, depressed, or manic, we are immediately seen as unfeminine, or ugly, or weak.” 

The exhibition, which is currently on show in San Francisco, sees the photographer capture ten acquaintances in moments of emotional distress. Using a 35mm SLR camera, the subjects are then adorned with Collins’ trademark hues and blown-up to large scale. The aim, the show spec says, is to encourage women to “take control” of their vulnerability and their emotions.

“Women's emotions are constantly labeled. Any slight deviation from ‘pleasantness’, and we are labeled as hysterical” 

According to Collins, the project came from personal experience. “My mother struggled immensely with mental illness and so did I,” the photographer reveals. “She grew up bipolar, but it was never diagnosed nor recognized. It was shrugged off like a ‘symptom’ of being female – of her being weak. I also experienced this growing up: I felt that the great pain I experienced was a dramatisation.”

Does she believe that men suffer this same problem? “I think the gender norms of emotion are horrendous,” she says. “Being masculine means showing zero emotions, but having the choice to be angry or depressed. Being female means you are one dimensional – if you show more than that you are a psycho, hysterical, or historically, a witch.”

“These aren’t negative emotions,” she adds. “They are just part of the scope of emotions we should be allowed to feel.”

24 Hour Psycho is on show at Ever Gold [Projects] gallery until April 30