PRINT May 2016

Petra Collins

Petra Collins, editorial photograph for “Printed Matter,” Elle, August 2015.

I THINK ADVERTISING is actually a lot more open than it used to be. The artists involved have more creative freedom because the consumer is looking for something new—a new kind of authenticity.

I’m in a good position where I can do commissions that pay my bills; advertorial or fashion jobs allow me to go off and do my “art” photography, but they have also creatively informed my other work, which focuses on portraits of girls and women. And I enjoy doing it; I’m lucky that I’m often able to cast my own people or choose my own lighting for commercial projects. I cast a Calvin Klein and Opening Ceremony shoot for Elle last year, which allowed me to put images of body types and skin colors that aren’t usually represented into the implied public sphere.

The art world is still very archaic, holding on to this notion that you can’t be an artist and do other work “outside.” Most people don’t make it to a gallery or aren’t able to access art books. But they still see images everywhere. You need artists to create ads and to engage this larger media landscape: They can push and change the entire field of images. We live in an increasingly consumption-based and image-heavy world. I don’t think that’s something that we can or should fight, but we should try to integrate different narratives and ideas. Commercials are public art.

In my teens, I was creating a lot of photos, but I never found a place to display them. I decided to make a website as a platform for myself and other female artists to share their work. Then I joined Instagram and Tumblr. The format of social media is very specific because of the cropping and scale, which changes drastically from screen to screen, device to device. An Instagram page is like a gallery. When you scroll through, either the images work together or they don’t.

When I was in art school, we were taught that you have to wait to be accepted into a gallery. You’re always waiting for permission. But sometimes it never comes, depending on who you are. Right now so many people who never had a voice are able to connect and build networks. Especially with Instagram, social-media platforms allow girls, women, and minorities to control the circulation of their work and to create their own pictures of themselves.

—As told to Isabel Flower

Petra Collins is an artist and curator living in New York.