20.06.2016 | TWIN
Mayan Toledano is a photographer and co-founder of Me and You, an online platform that celebrates friendship, feminism and girlhood, run with her BFF Julia Baylis. As a photographer she creates images that are playful and poignant. They invite viewers to enter into private spaces with her subjects – bedrooms, bathrooms – not as voyeurs but as allies. Toledano is part of a new generation of female photographers that have transformed notions of the gaze, and it is not surprise that she often works with kindred sprit Petra Collins. Throughout Toledano’s portfolio we see that her images reflect truths about the female body, investigating what is essential in women without fetishising the flesh.
Having recently released a striking series which focusses on Israeli soldiers during their military service, we caught up with her to discuss process, pink and the power of underwear.
Can you talk a little about how you got started as a photographer?
I got my first camera in high school, it was a terrible digital camera with an adjustable screen like the first “selfie” camera and I remember being obsessed with it. I started documenting everything around me, not in a very artful way but it was when I realised how important it is to record. I grew up dancing and was surrounded with all this beauty, resilience and passion that inspired me to create photos in a similar way- part of the reason why my work is female centric. A couple years after I got a real film camera from my uncle, he found it at a flea market and thought I’d be into it.
What are you looking for when taking a picture?
Emotions. I’m strongly followed by my subjects, it’s usually a certain mood or feeling that I get from them and I’m there to create the most relaxed atmosphere for it to just happen. I try not to direct much and focus on getting to know the people I shoot. It can be very conversational and casual on set, the more time you spend with someone the better it gets and that’s why I like working with muses that repeat in my photos over and over again. Same for locations, less obvious photos are taken in places I’m more familiar with.
Who / what are your influences?
Film, I think it’s the highest form of art. I really like coming of age stories because of the awkwardness of being misunderstood. My mom is a main force in my life that always inspires me and so are my friends and collaborators. The internet too ❤ (:
What is it about colour, and particularly about the candy – palette you work with, that you are drawn to? Is colour vital to your photographs?
Photos can be treated like paintings, especially with film because it’s a physical format. adding colour through light or objects is just one way to play with it. Pink was always my favourite colour, i just see it everywhere almost in a magnetic way. I’m a very spacey person and i get distracted easily, objects that are in that soft colour palette are the first thing I notice in a new space and I find it comforting.
Do you prefer working with natural light and in a spontaneous way, or are your photographs carefully crafted?
Mostly spontaneous and in daylight, I have some light tricks that are probably not professional at all but work for me. I do love set design so that is something that is always planned and considered.
You own and subvert the idea of the gaze, why is it important to photograph women in this way?
The female body is either capitalised for looking a certain way or shamed for not looking that certain way. Female intimacy has a lot more to tell and when I take photos I try to look at the body for what it does, not mediated by the male perspective but with full awareness of this gaze and its history. It is more interesting to see women feeling comfortable and celebrated in all shapes and sizes, still without being fetishised.
I found your series of photographs on Israeli soldiers particularly striking and powerful. How did this project come about?
Growing up in Israel it was very normal to see soldiers everywhere: in the mall, in restaurants, on public transportation. I served for two years between the ages of 18-20, that’s when it’s mandatory for girls. Looking back I mostly remember the frustration and my personal refusal to adapt during that time. I barely took any photos during my service and I regret it, I felt so uncomfortable in the uniforms that I couldn’t imagine it as a subject at all. After moving to NYC and having enough time away from my personal experience in the army I realised it is worth revisiting and documenting. Because in my case I felt completely unseen, having to put aside my political views and goals I wanted to find a way to voice other stories beyond the visual conformity of the uniforms. It was refreshing to find alluring singularity with each of the girls I shot. Photographing female soldiers wasn’t about taking sides or supporting the army in any way. I think the reality of teenagers going into mandatory service, regardless to their views and opinions, is worth documenting considering the extreme political context.
You and Julia Baylis have made an exciting impact with Me and You. How important is collaboration to your work?
Collaboration is so significant to what we do because female friendship and support is where it all started, it is a beautiful exchange that we have with our friends, followers and collaborators. Julia is my best friend and an amazing artist on her own, growing together is a powerful thing that I’m so grateful for. Me and You came together as a reflection of our friendship and grew into a community of like minded girls who inspire us to keep going. It is our baby project and our home.
What is it about underwear that’s so alluring?
It’s intimate and personal, the first thing we put on the last thing to take off. It is something we wear for ourselves so it has to be a fun choice.
What are you working on at the moment, and what’s in store for the rest of 2016?
I’m going to continue the Girl Soldiers project, hopefully into a book! Next up is a music video for my friends at ‘Garden City Movement’ which I’m really excited about, can’t say much but we are going to focus on gender fluidity because it’s a beautiful thing. I’m always working on Me and You with Julia to keep expanding our message and other creative collaboration projects as well.