Images © Mary Rafferty:
Do You See Me?
First Place – Series
ASMP: What was your inspiration for creating this photo series?
Mary Rafferty: I have always been interested in all women’s stories, their challenges and what gives them strength. I felt as a woman it is important to raise the voices of other women. I have had the privilege of hearing these women’s stories and I feel that so many others should too.
ASMP: What type of setting do you prefer?
MR: For these portraits I prefer my studio. It is a more intimate setting and it allows me to have some pretty personal conversations before we create their portrait. That being said, I really like the idea of traveling to different communities and setting up and documenting those people within that neighborhood. In the past I have set up in art centers and community centers to have individuals come in from the area.
ASMP: Is there anything unique about your style or approach?
MR: I think one of my better skills is to gain trust from my subjects to be vulnerable and share of themselves. For the “Do you see me?” project I looked at it as a collaborative effort between me and the subject so using their statements in their own handwriting gave it another layer of intimacy and personality.
ASMP: What type of lighting did you use for this image or series?
MR: I often use my XL Elinchrome Octa. I also work in the beauty dish for lighting that is more dynamic or an extra small soft box.
ASMP: How long have you been shooting this type of photography?
MR: I have been working on “Do you see me?” for about 2 1/2 years. I took a break in the middle of the project to really dig deep, fine tune my focus and how I wanted to present these women and their stories.
ASMP: What other photographers’ or artists’ work inspires you?
MR: Early on I was inspired by Richard Avedon’s – In the American West portraits and Mary Ellen Mark’s work and process. I continue to be inspired by Dawoud Bey’s insight and ability to make profound yet quite portraits. Kerry James Marshall’s paintings and his exhibit in 2016 at the Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art has inspired my current work and continues to inspire me.
ASMP: When did you join ASMP and what do you find most valuable about your membership?
MR: I joined ASMP in 2013. Working as a photographer can be really isolating so I have made a big effort to create community with my fellow photographers and artist. ASMP allows me to meet up with my peers through out the year and to nurture those relationships.
ASMP: What is the more important relationship you’ve formed through your ASMP membership?
MR: I have a couple of photographers I have partnered with for events for the Chicago Midwest ASMP chapter that I really love working with and have learned so much listening to their process, as well as, collaborating on local ASMP events and professional photo shoots. It is great to have a colleague you can trust and to have a back-up if you ever need it.
ASMP: What kind of gear do you use?
MR: I use the Nikon D850 as my primary body and D810 for backup. I use all Nikon lens. For location work I love the Profoto B1 and the B2 lights. I often use the B1 lights in my studio as well.
ASMP: What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started your career as a photographer?
MR: Persistence is really a valuable skill. You can’t take rejection personally you just need to keep thoughtfully connecting with those you want to work for or have your work in front of. If you don’t get the job or if you submitted work is rejected that doesn’t always speak to the caliber of your work it just may not be the right fit for right now.
ASMP: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your work? Go ahead, surprise us with something unique and unusual.
MR: I owned a Vivatar 110 film camera when I was in junior high. My favorite subject was my dog who I dressed up in different outfits and put in various scenarios. Raisin was a very cooperative subject in my winter coat, hat and mittens and other fashionable outfits.
Do You See Me?
My ongoing photography project Do You See Me? explores the personal histories, strengths, and points of view of African-American women in Chicago. This project and much of my prior work spotlight the challenges of being a woman in America today by combining storytelling with portraiture to explore women’s resilience and strengths and by sharing the challenges they face.
The title Do You See Me? references the lack of representation of black women in mainstream culture throughout history with the responsive action of documenting and exhibiting the stories of these women through their portraits and own words. Do You See Me? captures the personal narratives of black women through portraiture and their responses to the open-ended question, “What does it mean to be a black woman in the United States today?”
Through the intimate process of both collecting and sharing these personal stories, my work captures moments that document women’s experience in contemporary social and political time. Their handwritten responses are digitally overlaid on the portraits, which furthers the intimacy of the project. As a white female photojournalist, I feel compelled to bring greater equity to the images of women in our culture, and I am inspired by the stories of the women I have met through this project. Together, we create the collaborative pieces that ask – Do You See Me?