Lust Loves is a Lust Zine interview series with someone doing work that we at Erika Lust Films admire. In this edition I speak to Sara Hini, photographer and creator of The Womanhood Project a project exploring complex issues related to womanhood through intimate portraits & words.
Sara Hini is an Algerian-Canadian photographer and creative director based in Montreal. She co-created multiple projects over the years. The Womanhood Project, a platform about complex issues related to womanhood, is one of them. As an artist and in her personal work, she focuses on exploring diversity, intimacy and vulnerability through raw, powerful and soft images.
In this interview we speak about Sara's photography; what it means to be a woman; diversity; and why with nudity context is important.
Image by Sara Hini for The Womanhood Project
EL: Tell us more about your own work related to how you shoot your subjects. What draws you to nudity and intimacy?
SH: I am trying to redefine my own vision of intimacy, sexuality and nudity. It started as a personal mission, then it transposed into my work. Photography is how I understand the world best and process what’s around me. We are also deeply affected by the constant flow of images we consume everyday and it affects us on the subconscious level. When we only see one type of image, we start to believe that there is only one way to exist in our own body in relation to ourselves and with others.
Intimacy and eroticism exist on such a large spectrum of possibility and it’s what I aim to portray with my personal work and different projects. Diversity is a key work word for me also. I want to see diverse bodies, I want to hear diverse stories, I want to listen to diverse definitions of intimacy. I want us to be challenged in our preconceived ideas of what it is to be a human basically.
EL: Can you tell me about how the Womanhood Project came to fruition? And why you feel it was important to create this project?
SH: With my friend Cassandra Cacheiro, we started this project 6 years ago (this summer we will be shooting our 6th edition!) It truly started out of frustration with the lack of openness we were witnessing in Montreal. So much taboo persisted. We wanted to challenge the male gaze and create something different to fight the constant flow of homogeneous images we kept seeing at the time. Plus, I personally learn better by asking questions, and so I had this strong curiosity to hear different stories from a multitude of women. I wanted to ask them very personal questions and learn from them.
Womanhood is a complex subject, so this project is to explore freely and learn more about the diversity of perceptions and experiences of this ever-changing and complex subject that is womanhood through powerful imagery.
Image by Sara Hini for The Womanhood Project
EL: Is there a common theme running between the women you interview?
SH: If I had to find a common theme, it would probably be their desire to open up and reframe their past. It took me some time to realize it though. Obviously each woman has their own reasons. Sometimes to make a statement, often because it’s part of their personal process and they view this as a challenge to open another chapter of their lives. But I kept wondering what really pushed those women to open up on such a deep level and talk publicly about past trauma. A few years ago, I read A man’s search for meaning and it gave me a bit of the answer I was looking for and a new perspective on the project.
I think a lot of the participants need to give a meaning to their suffering in order to heal and move on. They need to rethink the past in order to regain their power. Here the quote that made me realize this and that also helped me tremendously in my own life: ‘’Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way’’
EL: As a woman yourself, what's something you've learned from all the women you met with the project and in your work?
SH: Within the first years of interviewing all these women, something hit me: I realized that during my whole teenage years, all I wanted was to be tiny, blond with blue eyes. I thought life would be so much easier. For reference, I am 6 feet tall, I have lots of dark curly hair. Quite the opposite haha! But it was so deeply internalized it just felt normal. When this hit me, I felt so sad for my young self. Either with the project or in my personal work, I constantly learn about my own resilience and strength.
EL: What do you hope to achieve with your work, especially in regard to how intimacy and nudity is portrayed in the media?
SH: I truly aspire to show how beautiful, strong and vulnerable the naked body is in any shape and forms. I often say that all bodies, all experiences, all stories are valid and can teach us a lot. Nudity is natural and context matters. A naked body can be sexy, neutral, tender, happy, sad, vibrant and so much more at the same time. To me, a naked body is a landscape that tells a story. I am very aware that not everyone understands the point of nudity, but it is important to show that a naked body isn't automatically a sexual object, but a very powerful and complex force to witness. And I want to portray a multitude of them, in my own way.
Watch Erika Lust's groundbreaking sex documentary Female Pleasure Circle on XConfessions and meet five self-determined women who love their bodies and are breaking the taboo surrounding female masturbation. Hear their stories and watch them take ownership of their pleasure. You can watch it for free by signing up to my newsletter here!