How many songs you have to sing to be a singer? How many people need to love you in order to be lovable? How much can you weigh and be beautiful? Who decides? And if there is no external validation of your profession, value or beauty, can you claim your own identity?
Eliane, a thirty-six native of São Paulo with a degree in microelectronics, says yes. In recent years, she has explored her identity in various aspects, particularly her professional passion. “I assumed the identity of a photographer seven years ago when I was turning thirty. I began to introduce myself as a photographer, to shoot more, and wander (with a camera). I realized that I have always done this, but had never given it a name, never given it importance. It was at this age milestone that I assumed my identity as a woman and as a photographer. ”
To look at the world and capture an image basically has no cost: most of the population has access to a cell phone camera, it is no longer necessary to develop pictures, and the internet is an inexhaustible source for those who want to learn and share their images. The art of photography has never been so accessible. However, proclaiming herself a photographer was not easy for Elaine. “It is very difficult (to assume an identity) because you think that a photographer is someone who is photographing amazing models or amazing scenes, so you never think you are that. I always thought I needed a certificate from someone saying that I was a photographer. (For various reasons) I ran away from photography, except there came a time when I had to embrace photography, so I decided take courses, study more—to dedicate myself more. ”
Elaine describes the difficulty of not only assuming that she is a photographer, but also who she is in terms of race and gender. She identifies as mestizo, even though her family denies these traits and identifies as white. Now she understands that her identity is influenced by indigenous roots (on her mother’s side) and Romani heritage (on her father’s side), not only in appearance, in which she points out several characteristics, but also in how she sees the world. The insecurity she relates that she has experienced in the search for her identity is not apparent in our conversation. She sits with an erect posture, makes direct eye contact and expresses herself without hesitation, in a sonorous voice.
Assuming multiple identities without external affirmation takes courage, and this courage serves her well at work. Her formal employment is in programming and is where she deals most with the question of gender. She is the coordinator of a team that was formerly made up of a majority of men. Over time, the men left their positions, and their places women were hired. As coordinator, Elaine takes her role as spokesman for the others seriously, especially on the issue of gender. When she says she works on a team composed mostly of women she hears various stereotypes about women: they like soap operas, gossip with the other, fight too much. Elaine has the opposite experience: “The team is much better, producing more than they’ve ever produced before, and yet, the boss says, ‘Oh, now we only have woman here, right?’ I answer, ‘now at least everyone works, right?’”
Speaking boldly, without apology, it is something new for Elaine. “Before, I didn’t say anything; I kept quiet because I demonstrated I was upset it would get worse, except I realized that nothing changes if you don’t make noise. The person stays the same, doing the same things, talking the same nonsense, and they think that since you didn’t complain that you approve. That’s what got me, the fact that me feeling upset was less important than insetting someone who was saying rude things to me. ”
The need to speak out has never been so discussed. There are several campaigns pointing out that silence is part of a culture of violence, especially against women. In the current context, Elaine believes that the biggest challenge for Brazilian women is to “occupy spaces everywhere, especially in politics. I think that women are still too afraid to occupy the political space and they also don’t identify with the women who are in politics today. In all spaces, we (women) are very afraid. The rise of young feminists is very important; they enjoy being women. It is very difficult to like being a woman—to like your menstrual periods, to like yourself and your defects. ”
And that’s what assuming her own identity—as photographer and as a woman of mixed race—brings to Elaine: the possibility to love herself as she really is. She plans to continue occupying spaces and dreams of what is possible. Currently, “I’m doing small practice outings along with my (photography) studies. The goal is to photograph life, happiness, moments of time, slices of emotion, people.”