South African-born and New York-bred, Jean Grae is widely regarded as one of the most underrated MCs in the game. Coming up in the mid-’90s in the hip hop group Natural Resource, Grae later struggled as a solo artist to find her footing in a rap landscape that was overpopulated with hyper-sexualized female artists. Refusing to assimilate, Grae has truly epitomized the spirt of an independent artist. At her core, she’s an innovator, with raw and incredibly personal lyrics that touch on the kind of shared female experiences that no other rapper has dared explore, like the complexity of mother/daughter relationships.
Mac McClelland is an intrepid human rights reporter for Mother Jones magazine and the author of For Us Surrender Is Out of the Question, a book about the time she spent living with refugee activists on the Burma-Thailand border. Whether she’s going undercover as an online-shipping warehouse worker in Mississippi, winning numerous awards for her coverage of the BP oil spill (including the 2010 Sidney Award and 1st place in Outstanding Beat Reporting from the Society for Environmental Journalists in 2011), or writing frankly about how violent sex helped ease the PTSD she experienced after working in post-earthquake Haiti, Mac’s badass attitude mixed with her old-school reporting skills always makes for reading that is as provocative as it is enlightening.
Kate Zambreno’s novel Green Girl — a finalist in the Morning News’s 2012 Tournament of Books — has been almost universally praised in thinky literary circles. It’s the story of Ruth, a somewhat infuriating American girl drifting through London, selling perfume, getting drunk, having sex, being beautiful, obsessing over fashion, and struggling to carve out her identity. Ruth is a challenging character and a controversial one — Zambreno calls her an antiheroine, a “hot mess” — but that search for identity is infinitely relatable. And does a girl really have to be palatable? Nice? Of course not. She also writes a fantastic blog about life, literature, and overlooked female contributions to same called Frances Farmer is My Sister.
Friends Mayaan Zilberman and Nikki Dekker founded the Lake & Stars lingerie brand. The designers work in beautiful silk prints and laces to create unique long-line bras, high-waisted briefs, and bodysuits that are simply out of this world. Zilberman and Dekker are often inspired by vintage lingerie, but thankfully without the kitsch (and without the problematic, unexamined reification of bygone generations’ understanding of a woman’s role) that that phrase implies. Their brand imagery explores a more personal and idiosyncratic kind of sexuality, and steers well clear of the woman-as-object tropes of most lingerie modeling (and of the high-def, artificially-colored-and-flavored aesthetic of the brands that dominate the industry, such as Victoria’s Secret). And when it comes to its models, the Lake & Stars has some of the best casting in the business: not only do they always make sure to have a truly multi-ethnic cast, including plus-size models, but I’ve also seen them hire “real women” of various ages who they feel represent the qualities of the brand. I don’t think there’s another lingerie company on earth that would hire a breast cancer survivor as a model. The fact that they don’t make a big deal about any of that — no press releases touting the brand’s body-positivity, no self-congratulatory show notes — suggests that inclusivity comes to them innately.
If you’re not already reading Sheila Heti’s second novel How Should A Person Be? (which had its long-awaited U.S. release this week), you should be. Heti’s rousing, unapologetically messy, beautifully written, insightful and provocative book explores the frustrations and rewards of female friendship, and of trying to make art as a young woman in the 21st century. “I look at all the people who are alive today and think, These are my contemporaries,” writes Heti. “These are my fucking contemporaries!" In making an argument for the importance of female subjectivity, and in doing her part to help throw into question the public/private hierarchy women are taught to adhere to, the one that tells us our feelings and private experiences are not matters of any wider importance, Heti is doing something very exciting within the form of the novel.
On Thursday I shot a group of twenty-five absolutely extraordinary women in honor of 5th anniversary of Jezebel.com — among them Sandra Fluke, Julie Klausner, Mac McClelland, Jennifer Baumgardner, Kate Zambreno, Sheila Heti, Ai-Jen Poo, Jamala Johns, Minya Oh, Jean Grae, Nikki & Mayaan (The Lake & Stars), Peta Lindsay, Julie Zeilinger, Amanda Kludt, Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart, and others.
The portraits will be running on Jezebel and elsewhere unretouched, because, you know, fuck retouching portraits. You can find out more about all of these amazing ladies on Jezebel, and see these portraits in hi-res on my portfolio site.
Nikola Tamindzic, Michael Gira (Swans), 2013
Earlier this year, I was privileged to accompany Sasha Frere-Jones on a trip upstate to visit Swans’ leader Michael Gira, and make some portraits of him for The New Yorker.
The piece is finally out today, just in time for the release of new Swans live album, Not Here/Not Now, and it’s a must-read.
Here’s another portrait of Gira from the same shoot, printed and framed.
Art’s market value, like that of fashion, is derived from name more than any material properties. The Chinese factory workers sewing Chanel handbags can make the same bags, after hours, but they’ll be low-rent knockoffs without the interlocking “C”s. The same goes for an assistant who painted, without the master’s imprimatur, Damien Hirst’s dots. The Brand does transubstantiation. It turns crackers into the flesh of Christ.
Then there are all the fussy collages of cut-up porn, furniture catalogues, ads, Internet screen-grabs, modernist architecture, urban wastelands, endangered species, sixties protests, or (of course) art-historical jpegs. We also see small-scale, colored, neatly framed, or cut-up photographs about photography. All of this Neo-Mannerism is an art of infinite regress. Defensive. Predictable. Safe. Well-defended. Loved by brainy magazines, websites, and curators but so far up its own ass that it can’t breathe.