Behind the lens with the next generation of female photographers


Hailing from Brazil, Ethiopia, France, India, Malaysia and the U.S., six young photographers discuss their work, their advice on breaking into the field and where they find inspiration.

Although there are now more women than men pursuing degrees in photography, female photographers remain mysteriously absent from front pages and awards lists, their presence missing on panels and in staff positions. Determined to help rectify this imbalance, I spoke to six women from five continents to highlight their incredible work. All under the age of 25, these young women are changing the face of photography, one portrait at a time.

Vitória Leona, 19, Brazil (@vitorialeonaph)

19-year-old photographer Vitória Leona was born in Belém, a Brazilian city located at the mouth of the Amazon River. Her photographs capture the indigenous ancestry and natural splendour of her city. “I transmit the world I live in through native people with their own style, through the colors that compose every unique place,” she explains.

Vitória hopes her photographs go beyond aesthetics and illustrate the unique beauty of her subject’s personalities. She wants to provide people with an opportunity to see themselves through a less critical perspective. “I don’t use Photoshop, I don’t modify people’s bodies. I only work on the photography — the colors and effects,” Vitória says of her work.

Most of the older, more acclaimed photographers in her city are men but Vitória considers herself to be part of the “new generation” of young professionals that are portraying the city in a new light. Her advice to young women trying to break into the industry is to work with other women to exchange ideas and gain experience.

Tsion Haileselassie, 25, Ethiopia (@zionhaileselassie)

Tsion Haileselassie became interested in photography after she graduated from college. She started by taking pictures on her iPhone and her hobby blossomed into a full-fledged passion. Through her use of perspective and symmetry, Tsion’s photographs celebrate the people of her city, Addis Ababa. She describes her style as “street” and “minimalistic,” and she takes shots that convey a lot of emotion with orderly composition. “Patterns and symmetry add a unique perspective to my images,” she says.

Her favourite series is called “Colors of Merkato.” The series is inspired by what Tsion views in Merkato, the largest open-air market in all of Africa. Tsion appreciates Merkato and its “gritty yet beautiful aesthetic.”

Tsion believes you can take great photos, no matter the gear. Most of her shots are taken on her smartphone and she thinks they’re just as good as the photographs taken on her camera. Her advice to fledgling photographers is to “seek inspirations wherever you can and learn from the world around you.”

Marie Bouhiron, 20, France (@bhrnphotographie)

Photography is best done spontaneously, according to 20-year-old Marie Bouhiron from Yvelines, France. “When I take shots you would think I’m capturing a night out with friends,” she says. Her style is simple, yet easily recognisable: “Oftentimes, people tell me that when they check their newsfeed they recognize my portraits without even looking at the name.”

Most of the subjects in her portraits are not professional models. “We live in a society where the models are stereotypes, but they come in all categories and it is precisely through my photos that I try to break these stereotypes,” Marie explains. Despite most of her audience being francophone, she hopes to show the world that anyone can model if they choose.

Marie credits social media with allowing her to make a name for herself in the photography world — the young artist boasts over 50,000 followers on Instagram. Others can see her work without knowing her personally, and oftentimes people are shocked to meet her: “When I meet people from my community, some are shocked by my young age, and some assumed I was a man!”

Shubhangi Agrawal, 18, India (@prism_dimension)

“Each shot has a different story and a different mood,” 18-year-old Shubhangi Agrawal says of her photography. She achieves this by keeping her camera handy at all times, remaining adaptable and optimistic. Shubhangi currently lives in Raipur — she finds that photography helps connect her to her country and her roots.  

Shubhangi attempts to “gain the maximum output with minimum input” with her photographs. This means that she avoids cluttering her frame in favour of taking simple yet deeply expressive shots. Along with portraiture, Shubhangi enjoys travel and fashion photography.

Shubhangi says the field of photography in India is dominated by men. However, she sees this as an opportunity to stand out. To upcoming female photographers, the teen says, “I am one of you. If I can do this, then why can’t you?”

Chelsey Law, 19, Malaysia (@chelseylaw_)

Chelsey Law’s favourite photo series “Malaysian Diversity,” depicts three of her closest friends in Kuala Lumpur, all of different ethnicities. The 19-year-old believes that diversity is one of the most beautiful things about her country.

The best thing about photography for Chelsey is seeing the model’s reactions to her pictures. Hearing “I didn’t know I could look like that,” from one of her subjects tells Chelsey that she has done a good job. “It makes me feel great that I’m able to boost their self-confidence and show them that they truly are unique and beautiful in their own ways,” she says.

Chelsey plans to continue with freelance photography while she pursues her college degree in Australia. She believes the biggest challenge facing female photographers is being underestimated by others. Chelsey advises other young female photographers to always keep improving: “You are your own competitor, you just have to be better than you were before, no matter how small the progress.”

Chloe Taddie, 17, U.S. (@paloozoid)

In a small town in northeast Ohio, U.S.A, 17-year-old Chloe Taddie can be found turning cold winters and humid summers into beautiful backdrops for her portraits. Chloe specialises in what she calls “portraits with a twist,” meaning photographs that do more than capture an event but evoke a feeling. She considers her style to be moody, nostalgic and inspirational.

Chloe’s favourite part of photography includes finding locations to shoot in her town. “I love finding little-hidden spots and thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is in Ohio!’ I try to show that there can be beautiful places even where you least expect it,” she says.

The young photographer admits there are times she doubts herself: “It can be kind of intimidating and sometimes I don’t get taken as seriously, but I just remind myself that no matter what, this is what I love to do and that gives me the motivation I need.” However, she credits other female photographers in her life with helping her navigate the sphere of photography and she always remembers that “a brave face can go a long way.”

This article is available in ArabicFrench and Spanish.

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About the author

Omolara Uthman is a Malala Fund editorial intern and student at Johns Hopkins University. She loves reading, writing and food photography.