Photographers on Photographers: Zarita Zevallos in Conversation With Eva Woolridge
I found Eva Woolridge through a series of experiences and conversations I was having in my head about how Black women photographers are underrepresented in the photography world, and the historic failure of the medical field towards us (black women). She is a phenomenal Black-American/Chinese-American photographer who’s won The Leica Women in Foto Award for her series, The Size of a Grapefruit.
Eva Woolridge’s Size of a Grapefruit series intertwines the harsh reality of our medical system towards Black bodies, and the emotions we go through, step by step. There are still so many inappropriate beliefs in the medical system where white medical students and residents think Black people are less likely to feel pain in comparison to whites. Hence, the misdiagnosis and unethical practices that contributes to the early mortality of our people.
Those unique characteristics of blending the ruthless reality and trauma Black folks go through on a daily basis, while capturing the attention of all gazes towards a narrative far too long ignored, are the reasons why I chose to feature Eva. Her visual composition is simplistic but powerful and elegant, all while using a model presenting a physique long rejected by Western social standards of beauty. I believe that her work, subject and concepts are elegant and so timelessly impactful.
Zarita Zevallos is Haitian Architect and Photographer based in New York. Through her unique style of capturing darker figures and superimposing materials such as thread, barbwire, glass and dirt, she reflects the experience of those oppressed. She believes that art is the essence and remedy to Humanity. Her goal is not only to denounce, educate, and create awareness but to incite a movement/change. She emphasizes on tumultuous feelings all the while allowing the story to conserve its beauty and strength in spite of the challenges we encounter daily.
She believes that photography helps tell stories of the past; inform or question what is going on in the world and she intends on showing the world itself through her hyper-realistic portraiture.
Eva Woolridge (she/her) is a Black-American/Chinese-American photographer residing in Brooklyn, New York. Her photo series’ explore the sexual, spiritual, and emotional nature of femininity. In her work she transcends surface-level labels of people of color by conveying strength, perseverance, vulnerability and vitality using strong lighting and composition.
Upon graduating from University of Maryland, College Park, Woolridge completed her second social-consciousness narrative called Embrace Your Essence. Produced in 2015, the series focused on young women’ journeys toward self-love—defining what they find beautiful about themselves. Many of the narratives included illnesses, challenges to meet Western standards of beauty, and quirks that once negatively affected their self-esteem.
In 2019 Woolridge became a recipient of The Leica Women in Foto Award for her series, “The Size of a Grapefruit,” a visual narrative based on Eva’s traumatic medical event which highlights the emotional stages from before, during and after her ovarian cyst surgery. Her objective is to address the accounts of her surgery, microaggressions and medical negligence Black women experience during medical emergencies, and the outdated information available in women’s reproductive health.
Woolridge continues to use visual narratives to convey a tone of a new, inclusive wave of feminine energy through her gaze as a queer, women of color, while commenting on the social & cultural conditions of her communities.
The Size of a Grapefruit
“The Size of a Grapefruit” is a visual narrative based on Eva’s traumatic medical event which highlights the emotional stages from before, during and after her surgery. Her objective is to address the lack of information and medical attentiveness available for Black women regarding their reproductive health. Eva’s story addresses symptoms of ovarian cysts and the micro aggressions Black women face during times of crisis with the goal of as well as helping other Black women from undergoing the same pain as her.
Each image is titled based on my emotional response during this two-month healing period: Denial, Blinding Pain, a Thorn of Micro-aggression, Shock, Surrender, The Weight of Trauma, Inspection, Reflection, Acceptance and Empowerment, in that order.
Zarita: How do you feel that your work is disrupting the archetypal pictures we usually see in Photography?
Eva: I feel charged and motivated to continue to put the pressure on. Black photographers have always created pieces from our own narratives, but opportunities are primarily given to white privileged photographers who try to communicate our experience through a white gaze. If Black photographers are given a spotlight, their pieces often focus primarily on Black trauma. Most of the time the pieces that receive accolades are a visual representation of grief, pain, and violence on Black bodies or our communities. That’s not to say that there isn’t work by Black artists that challenges these archetypal pictures, but not many are given the platform they deserve to speak on the complexities of our experiences.
So to create a series that discusses the racial disparity and discrimination within a system like medicine through symbolic representation without showing direct violence is significant. I am happy that my work of Black women and people are viewed as sensual, vulnerable, vibrant, impactful, and often delicate without suggesting weakness. I am showing the layers that make up my own experiences, and as a result the photographs are relatable.
Z: How do you intend on pushing the envelope of blackness and black women, in the industry (of photography?)
E: I intend to push the envelope simply by continuing to tell our stories truthfully with all of our layers & complexities. I refuse to step aside and let someone else try to explain the racial disparities that affect us, our family traditions, the culture we experience and how it connects us. To truly be an authentic photographer you have to be willing to source from your own experiences, the good and the bad. To be transparent and vulnerable in order to make relatable pieces.
Z: After the success you found with your series ‘The Size Of A Grapefruit’, how do purpose and photography feel for you?
E: I love this question. Thank you for asking this. I have photographed professionally since 2014 with full momentum. I truly hustled, and still do to some extent. But after creating Size of a Grapefruit, a deeply personal representation of my experience, and then becoming a recipient of the Leica Women in Foto Award…I finally felt affirmed that I’ve reached the next level in my career. And my God, the impact that it made! The most fulfilling thing I got from this project was hearing the stories of hundreds of women who experienced either the same surgery, or the similar medical negligence. My story and series affirmed their experience and it started a public conversation, just as art should.
In the beginning of my career I was exploring the different genres of photography trying to find what fit. I tried fashion because it’s what young photographers are often told to lean into for a commercialized idea of “success.” I tried headshots, still-life, product, food, travel, film, music festivals photography, all of it. But, what fulfilled me the most was photographing portraits of people with an artistic intention. Creating work that goes beyond the beauty of the image, but also says something. I am a speaker and activist in addition to a photographer. My purpose is to create pure, human connection. I just use the camera to be the vessel to communicate what I find important.
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