My inspiration for the series ‘Women Rise’ came about during the pandemic and getting locked down on an off grid island – Aotea. Embracing the time and space the lockdowns created from a usual busy commercial shooting schedule, I experienced a more confronting time alone in nature. Friends around the world would say , wow you are so lucky, stuck in paradise, living the off grid dream we all want.
There are no distractions here, it’s just you and the land and a small community with everyone living quite isolated and very busy with daily basic tasks such as making sure you have enough water in your tanks, firewood and organising your food. It’s amazing how much time all these simple things take that city life provides at a different pace.
With many borders still closed and still being stuck in Aotearoa, the island slowly became our home and over time I met the most incredible strong beautiful women and formed special friendships.
I was in awe of the way they handled living this raw life. The reality of this dream off grid life that city folks post memes about and dream of living is that it’s hard work and not always easy. Of course there is all the magic and beauty as well and that is why people live here.
I was involved in the winter raranga and te reo classes with the aunties and luckily could join the kapa haka group. I spent time with the young women who worked on environmental protection projects on the motu and spent time with mom’s and their tamariki.
Over these two years immersed in the community and having spent all this beautiful quality time with the women and the challenges we are all faced with living here, I felt inspired to gift a session to them all and create a photoshoot that would give the wahine a moment to step away from all the daily tasks, such as chopping the fire wood, pulling weeds and growing food, rat trapping, getting the tamariki to the school by boat in the cold winter storms etc.
I wanted them to feel as beautiful as they are but often don’t have time to even think about or be in touch with that part of themselves. I wanted to create a moment of embracing our bodies and feeling free with no responsibilities and connecting the female spirit in a group photo. I intently chose to do group photos of the wāhine as this would amplify the experience of women empowerment.
I asked the women after the sessions how they felt and all of them had feelings of joy and upliftment along with deeper feelings of connection to themselves and each other.
This series is not limited to only this environment as I feel women experience the same in busy cities, trying to balance careers, motherhood and other demands of living in and breaking down the patriarchy. We who identify as women still struggle with equal rights, equal pay and misogyny. The time I had on the island over the pandemic gave me the space to create this series which is just as healing for me as it is for the women in the photos.
Exploring the female perspective and how different the results are from a female photographer is something I focus on a lot. What camera angle do I use compared to men and how do women interact with a female photographer are points I consider when producing my work. I like to create opportunity for women to take up space, feel confident and take power over their bodies.
In my industry, commercial photographers are still 70% male dominated and I strive to change that one shot at a time by empowering women in my images and other female artists.
Artist Statement by Saskia Koerner:
I endeavour to create an environment for the women I photograph to express themselves in a safe space and get in touch with their own power and beauty. I ask myself “What does it mean to be a woman?” and “How does being part of a group of women uplift the individual and each other?”
In my ongoing series Women Rise, I discover something quite liberating when a group of women get together in a space where they can express themselves freely. In my work I hope to break down societal expectations and create an experience for the women in my images, and myself, that allows healing and empowerment to take place.
As a female photographer I feel I can encourage a totally different response from my female subjects compared to the male gaze because I foster a level of comfort and ease that exists for women, by women.
Originally from Cape Town, Saskia Koerner has lived and worked across the globe exploring her love of all things photographic. This includes graduating from the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography and assisting industry legends Mary Ellen Mark, Nan Goldin & Kenneth Willard in New York.
Saskia Koerner produces work which is warm and emotive by forging a tangible trust and connection with her subjects. She enjoys exploring different light ambiances and the words beautiful, spirited and honest come to mind when immersing oneself in her photographic world.
Now calling New Zealand home, she’s a passionate adventurer and surfer with a zeal for female empowerment and sustainability. Coupled with her technical acumen and experience behind the camera, she is an ideal choice for the fashion, lifestyle and socially conscious markets.
Instagram handle: @saskiakoerner