"American woman." Close your eyes, imagine her, and consider what you see.
The range of images that phrase likely brings to mind is far too narrow.
Sarah Huny Young's documentary project American Woman
aims to bring images of black women to the foreground through multimedia portraits and short docs, "a recasting of the mold that’s been lazily accepted," she says.
She's traveling the U.S. to capture their stories, which will culminate in an exhibition in Pittsburgh, PA.
In your artist statement, you mention that one archetype dominates Google search results for "American woman": white, thin, privileged. Does the project explicitly seek to affect web crawlers by flooding the internet with alternative images of the American woman? Or is the Google problem simply a conceptual inspiration?
It's just an example out of many. Google Image search results are basically determined by what people are naming the images they upload, how they're captioning them, and what content they're partnering those images with. If articles about America and American women are paired with images of blonde white women holding rifles and apple pies, that's what the image search results for "American woman" will be populated with. There's no conspiracy there; it's a reflection of the users. On top of that, content creators search Google to find images to use with their content, too. What they're inundated with acts as confirmation bias and that's what they will most likely choose. It's cyclical as hell. Curated image resources like Getty are way more intentional. This is also why projects like Colorstock and WoC in Tech Stock exist--so we can have racially and culturally diverse alternatives to the "default." Representation is major key.
I'm challenging what nationality "looks" like through intentional representation, too. AMERICAN WOMAN is driven by how dope Black women are and how complex and triumphant Black American culture is. No matter how traumatic our relationship with this country is, that culture is one of the best things about it. I've heard too many times that if you "dress" and "act" American — which is just code for "adopt small town, middle American" (read: white) values and aesthetic — you'll be safe and respected. It's silly and ahistorical. Respectability politics gotta go. People who like to police who is and isn't American, what Americans should look like, and who belongs don't have the range to invalidate us. I'm all about the reframe. Even a Black American Olympian has been harassed for "not being American enough" because of her hijab. The best this country has to offer attacked by the worst of it. I'm here to say NAH. Disruption is not my goal, but it's my method. I wish we as marginalized people didn't have to constantly signal boost our stories and experiences just to be humanized and validated, but as long as it's required I'll do what I can to amplify.
You've already done shoots for the project in New York and Chicago. Tell me one of the stories that you captured that you feel is s strong reflection of the essence or spirit of the project.
My friend Patrice Yursik a.k.a. Afrobella comes immediately to mind. She moved to America from Trinidad and Tobago for college in 1998, fell in love with this country, fell in love with her now-husband, but just became a citizen in 2011. Hearing from someone first-hand who's been through that process is an educational experience. Those of us who were born US citizens may not ever have to think about how much it costs financially and mentally--it's expensive, taxing, and stressful. They have to study American history. They literally have to renounce their birthplace.
The vast majority of people who go through all of it--there's no way they don't truly love it here. Which is why it's so ridiculous when people question the patriotism of our immigrant population. They went through a hell of a lot more to be American than I ever have, that's for damn sure. I respect it and I don't take it for granted. So including Patrice's narrative as an immigrant, especially given the political upheaval we're currently undergoing under 45's clown show of an administration, was important. Stories like hers are why AMERICAN WOMAN exists.
What's the best advice or guidance you've gotten as you've started raising money and delved into the entrepreneurial aspects of the project?
Not to wait for other people's validation, or hinge how I feel about what I'm doing on who chooses to support it financially and who doesn't/can't. Primarily.
My initial grant proposal asked for double the amount I ended up getting and I budgeted it meticulously. So I knew that I'd either have to raise the other half elsewhere or scale back. I wasn't willing to do the latter so I really had no choice but to finally start the Patreon account. When you're trying to gain patrons or push any kind of crowdfunding effort you can't just throw that link out once and call it a day, either. A lot of people, myself included, have to see something a few times over before finally whipping out the credit card. So the best advice I can offer, based on what I've been through this far (not necessarily what I've been told), is to be your own biggest fan and PR person. Your Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or Patreon link needs to be on all of your social media, you have to individually email it to your friends and family, you have to do the podcasts and pitch the stories to get it in front of as many people as possible. You have to find new ways everyday to spread it. I'd love to tell people that if the work is good, the funding will come--I wish my work could speak for itself and I could just concentrate on being a creator--but that's not often the case.
Also: be as transparent and exact as possible about how much you need and what you're going to use it for. You can't be shy about talking money. Don't short change yourself; it's not really the time to be humble or play it small.
Tell me about a product or object that brings you peace or pleasure.
I feel like I should say something really deep or meditative here but honestly: my JBL Charge 3 portable speaker. I love this thing. I'm a huge music head (I even have a Soul Train Award) and I find it hard to concentrate on work when I'm not listening to something. It blocks out every piece of the world that I find overwhelming for a bit. And as a freelancer I'm often working alone, so I'll listen to podcasts to feel less isolated and fill the room. I also take it with me when I'm shooting portraits to set the mood and loosen folk up. Music is a universal language and a gateway to endless inspiration.