Armed with a camera and a grapefruit, she channels racial injustice into art

What does a grapefruit have to do with medical trauma and racial discrimination? For Brooklyn-based photographer Eva Woolridge — and many women like her — everything. The citrus fruit is the sole prop in her fine art series exploring the emotional stages of discrimination in the midst of a medical emergency.

“Blinding Pain” Eva Woolridge

Woolridge, a Black and Chinese American photographer regularly uses her lens to explore femininity and break what she calls “the surface level labels of people of color,” won one of three inaugural Leica Women Foto Project grants for the series. Named The Size of a Grapefruit, the series explores the emotions of Woolridge’s own experience before, during, and after surgery to remove a large ovarian cyst. Using a model, a grapefruit, along with posing and lighting, each image in the series represents an emotion during her experience.

A white doctor came in, glanced at me, shrugged her shoulders, and said it was probably food poisoning.

Creating a physical representation of her intangible emotions was the goal of the project. “Each photograph that was used represents a specific emotional stage,” Woolridge explained. “When I was experiencing the intense physical pain, I went to an EMD. A white doctor came in, glanced at me, shrugged her shoulders, and said it was probably food poisoning. Visually, I created the image Thorn to represent that with the grapefruit pressing into the model’s body to literally show a thorn in her side.”

“Thorn” Eva Woolridge

Besides earning Woolridge the Leica grant and a Q2 camera, the series gave hundreds of more women a platform to express their own experiences. Woolridge says that even more than a year later, women are still reaching out to her and sharing similar experiences. The aim of the series, she says, was to open a larger discussion on the experience of black women in medical emergencies and the low priority placed on reproductive health. Black women, for example, are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth complications.

As she captured Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year… she was told by a white photographer to “get out of my shot.”

Woolridge’s work, however, isn’t always figurative. The photographer found herself going back to her social activist background as she captured Black Lives Matter protests earlier this year. Even there, photographing a movement entwined in her own identity, she was told by a white photographer to “get out of my shot.”

The experience — and the Leica grant — gave Woolridge the impetus to start teaching workshops, including a Leica workshop on social responsibility, identity, and photographing identities outside your own.

Photographers capturing another culture, she says, need to realize that they are a tourist to the experience and that some images can further a movement, while others can harm them. For example, photographers should choose images that don’t reveal the identity of protestors, she says.

Photographers capturing another culture need to realize that they are a tourist to the experience.

The best images, Woolridge continued, are created by photographing your own truth, rather than someone else’s trauma. “When I choose to photograph other people, I’m sourcing from past experiences and memories, topics that I care about, which inspires me to photograph these people. When I am creating my own series, I’m coming from my own experience.,” Woolridge said. “Shoot from your own truth — that’s what makes it authentic and relatable, even from people who are not necessarily in that community.”

“Denial” Eva Woolridge

The gear, funds, and mentorship provided by the Leica Women Foto Project helped Woolridge move into full-time photography, as well as expanding into workshops and financially surviving the pandemic — she was able to purchase a professional printer to sell her own prints. Half of the BLM print proceeds are donated to an organization providing emergency bailout funds for LBGTQ+ protestors who have been arrested. 

The Leica Women Foto Project is now open for applicants for its second year, awarding $10,000 and a Q2 camera to three photographers for a personal project that focuses on the female perspective. Applications are open online until October 8 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

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