Capturing the ‘silent voices’

Alisha Shinde
Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Netherlands-based Marinka Massus, an award-winning photographer, portrays gender equality in creative ways

Marinka Masséus feels strongly about raising gender equality awareness and that’s what her photography revolves around. It is a constant reflection of her passion and fascination for human nature and the way we lead our lives. Topics concerning injustice and inequality are a driving force behind her work. She shares her experience of capturing moments that make people realise the significance of gender equality. After finishing her MBA, she studied Buddhist Psychology which guided her philosophical journey.

Speaking of the inspiration behind her award-winning series, ‘My Stealthy Freedom’ and ‘Silent Voices’, she says that her process begins with connecting with the topic. “It all starts intrinsically and the issue has to touch me profoundly”. The foundation for each of her series is her feelings for gender equality and justice. This is followed by doing extensive research. She says that because she completely dissolves herself in the project mentally, she is almost living and breathing it for a period of time. An important part of the process is to visualise the project in her mind, especially the feel and concept of the eventual series.

‘My Stealthy Freedom’ reflects forced hijab in Iran, a literal and metaphorical boundary imposed upon Iranian women, she explains, while pointing out that many Iranian women hate compulsory hijab and they see it as a symbol of oppression forced upon them by an oppressive regime. “It has come to represent the inequality and discrimination Iranian women face because of their gender,” she adds.

Masséus says, “Photography gives me the opportunity to express my feelings about topics that I deeply care about.” At the age of nine, Masséus’s father gave her, his old black and white camera to experiment with, and that marked the birth of the photographer in her. “I was called the girl with the camera in college,” adds Masséus who believes that photography has always been a part of her.

She says that her passion for the art grew during her time abroad. “When I held my camera, I felt truly happy and complete. A feeling that is inescapable,” she explains her decision to join Photo Academy in Amsterdam, where she learnt working conceptually.

Women’s rights is the common thread that binds all her work. “I saw women being treated as inferior beings and could not understand why.”
She believes misogyny is in all cultures and across ages but believes that it is difficult to recognise it in one’s own culture. “But it has always been there. Be it gender pay gap, domestic violence, rape culture, honour killings, forced genital mutilation or restriction of freedom, there is still a lot of work to be done, everywhere,” she insists.

Having felt so strongly about the topic, she says that it is inevitable that her feelings about this translate into her photography work. “It fuels my motivation and determination,” she adds. For Masséus, being a feminist means identifying with the rights of all women worldwide and not just in her own immediate surroundings. She believes women should stick together and support each other.

Since the beginning of #MeToo movement, women she feels are less afraid to speak up. “As if some lid has been removed,” Masséus believes that men feeling threatened in their privilege in some places could mean that female rights are backsliding. “To really affect progress the most important thing to accomplish is solidarity among women, especially across cultures,” she urges.

Talking about how she captured the photographs in the series, she says, “I covered the windows of my Tehran apartment with tinfoil to ensure that the flash would not be visible from outside so we were safe to create and let creativity flow.” She recalls capturing the act of defiance as the women threw their brightly-coloured headscarves in the air and the scarves inescapably floated back to them.

For Masséus, a great photograph either touches you on an emotional level or it surprises you. The intensity of the photographer’s connection to the project and the people determines the essence of a photograph, she says. The greatest subject to capture for her has always been people, “especially women”.

Masséus has been a recipient of several awards including Kuala Lumpur Portrait Awards 2017, Gold MIFA Moscow Foto Awards 2017, LensCulture Portrait Awards 2017 and IPA Photographer of the Year 2016 to name a few. Currently she is working on several new ideas, each revolving around gender equality.

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