Photographer, activist and founder of the campaign Cheer Up Luv as well as a newly launched podcast under the same name, Eliza Hatch is giving voices and victims of sexual harassment a platform to speak up from all over the world. In turn, she and those voices are changing it. Screen Shot spoke to Hatch about how photography and creative work can be used as a driving force towards positive change, as well as how to find your own voice when you don’t know where to look for it and dealing with imposter syndrome.
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Creatives in general, but not as a rule, have a puzzling time figuring out exactly what medium they want to devote themselves to, and Hatch is no exception. With a wide array of interests, her title and introduction now is more of a ‘slash’ career, something the new generation will be familiar with. But even with her success thus far as a storyteller that uses photography in a core way, she humbly told Screen Shot that “I still kind of wrestle with imposter syndrome and even calling myself a photographer because I didn’t go down the traditional route.”
“I’ve always just had photography as a hobby,” Hatch continued, stating that she had studied graphics and illustration at university. “Photography was never anything that I thought I would go into professionally at all, it was just something that I always did. I just started taking photos in my spare time. I was working in set design in the art department for TV and film and I just wanted to kind of do something for myself on the side. I wanted to have something creative and something fulfilling to keep me going.”
Having an interest is usually something that motivates a project into existence, and for Hatch that interest was Cheer Up Luv, which stands for something that women from all walks of life deal with on a daily basis: sexual harassment. Hatch wanted to create awareness around the way in which harassment is perceived by the general public, including her close male friends, and prove how even mild comments, when piled up on top of each other, become an enormous weight to bear. Traditionally, these comments are mostly aimed at women. From catcalling and ‘just smile’ gestures to extreme abuse, it is all relevant towards the same cause.
Essentially, Cheer Up Luv is a photo and interview series which aims to tell affected women’s accounts of street harassment, in any form or relation to that criteria. The ongoing and growing project uses photography, journalism, activism and social media as a community to portray the important message of a somewhat previously silent problem, and to evoke change towards it. Women featured in this series tell their stories, and are then photographed within the situation of where the harassment was experienced.
Hatched explained to us that Cheer Up Luv in its essence is a platform for women to speak of and for the general public “to hear their stories.” “It gives them the location as a stage to tell it and allows the victims to reclaim their space. There’s somehow a disconnect between what you’re hearing and who the storyteller is, because often when you hear stories of assault it’s anonymous or it’s words on a page or it’s a quote in an article, or someone had their face blurred out. So I basically wanted to bridge that gap by putting the person in the location and for viewers to see them telling their stories. It makes it easy for people to get the message. Ultimately, I wanted to make it easy for people to understand that this is a real thing that is actually happening to real people in recognisable places. I wanted to make it as relatable as possible.”
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When we asked Hatch how it was to be a woman working within the photography industry—which in the past has been a heavily male dominated space—and if she had ever felt a sense of disparity within it, she told us that “It’s reared its head in ways that’ve been surprising to me, I’ve actually found in a lot of ways, being a creative and being a woman, and doing what I do—I’ve been lucky that I have been recognised that I do a certain thing because of the topic that I’m covering and the field that I’m in, so in that sense I’ve carved my own path in such a specific area that I have felt quite isolated from that. I haven’t had to compete for a certain kind of spotlight in that way.”
“But in a lot of other ways, I have found quite a direct conflict with being a female photographer, and the ways that I’ve felt that have been just from taking photographs in public, a lot of the work that I do is on the streets in public places—and the amount of harassment that I’ve experienced just from taking photographs of other women on the street is ridiculous. I had never experienced that until starting this campaign. It happened in every single country that I’ve been to and it happened when I haven’t even been doing Cheer Up Luv related things, when I’ve just been on a photoshoot in public. It’s the comments you get, the looks you get, the shock, the disbelief that you’re a woman doing what you’re doing in the public realm, so that has been really shocking to me,” Hatch further explained.
“There’s still such a perception that photographers are men and no one bats an eyelid when a man takes a photo of a man on the street or a woman on the street but as soon as a woman is taking a photo of a woman on the street, everyone stops, watches, looks, comments. Everyone has something to say. It’s remarkable to me the amount of attention you receive, people will stop and ask ‘oh are you models?’, ‘will you take my picture?’, and ‘oh cheer up and smile’ and crowds literally gather. I’ve had people follow us before, I was once followed for half an hour in central London. I’ve had people try to get me to come into their cars.”
“It’s ironic how people will say the words ‘Cheer up luv’ and not even understand the impact of what they’re saying when they do. I have experienced sexual harassments and comments all my life, and it was when one man said exactly this that something switched on how I felt about the whole thing. It’s funny people don’t think it’s the most serious form of harassment, being told to smile or that you’d look so much prettier when you smiled or cheer up doesn’t seem like the biggest deal, but it triggered all of the other kinds of experiences that I’d had in my life and brushed under the carpet.”
“Why is this something that you’re just expected to take, why should you be made to feel self-conscious, angry, guilty and all of these emotions in the space of like one second from a throw away statement that this person has probably forgotten about instantly, while I’m thinking about it for the next 24 hours? This isn’t limited to where we come from; it happens all around the world in variations of the same phrase or motive, and it’s pretty much only ever directed at women because of this whole idea that we should be available and smiling and complicit.”
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The concept of Cheer Up Luv, and the medium Hatch chose to start the project, somewhat happened by happy accident and consequence. The photographer, although self-claimed as feeling like an imposter within the industry, found her way to today by working out two different passions separately, and eventually allowing them to meet in the middle. “I was completely self-taught and I just kind of started to upgrade my kit slowly over the years, which has been a whole learning curve for me, but something that I’ve always done. I was always the one that at social occasions or parties would bring out the camera and have always been extremely irritating to all of my friends,” shares Hatch.
“To everyone that’s ever known me, I’ve always been the one with that horrid small digital camera at parties that’s inescapable, but it was never something that I thought I’d do professionally.” Hatch further explained that she “kind of just started documenting things through Cheer Up Luv and I had this little point and shoot film camera that someone gave me and I just started messing around with it, started using it more and more and more. Then as Cheer Up Luv began to become more of a thing, I just put two and two together.” With regards to career ambition, Hatch made an important point which is essentially a decision that will resonate with any creative reading this, that “it just doesn’t really matter what you studied, it’s what you end up doing in your life that really matters I think.”
“I was doing all sorts of stuff in my last year of university, but in my first year I was really rigid. I thought that I had to be doing one thing but couldn’t really figure out what I was supposed to be doing at all but by the time I got to my last year, I had one friend in particular actually who really encouraged me to just do what I enjoyed, in any medium that I wanted to do it in, rather than focus on how to, let’s say, draw something or have a certain style. So I just kind of let loose and started doing things that I didn’t know how to do, imperfectly, but I really enjoyed them. It was sort of the passion, for me, that mattered the most at that time. That’s what’s kind of driven me with my work with Cheer Up Luv, it’s the passion behind it rather than being… I suppose, a master at the craft. That was a really freeing lesson for me and something I have always remembered—do things because you enjoy it, not because you are the best at it.”
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Every single person starts somewhere, and it’s important to note that somewhere can be anywhere along the way: things change all the time, especially careers. Hatch admitted that the whole trajectory of her life and career changed from where she initially imagined herself going in life and that she has accepted that. “It’s totally okay to not have everything figured out. There is so much pressure on young women especially to be successful and be young while doing it, but it’s unrealistic and it’s unnecessary pressure. Something else is that a lot of people worry that there is not enough space for everyone and that there is only enough space for one or two people doing certain things in certain fields and it’s just not true.”
To commit to flexibility as a creative, especially when facing hardship, is something many of us have experienced recently due to obvious reasons. Hatch told us that “The pandemic has allowed me to be more flexible with my work, and to hear from people all over the world. Change the way that I do Cheer Up Luv, which has been a really great opportunity for me to be able to speak and photograph people from all over the world that I would never have been able to beforehand. Before the pandemic, the project was almost limited in a sense that I had to actually be there with the person for it to happen, but don’t get me wrong I prefer that so much, being able to talk to the people in real life…I miss doing it so much, I can’t wait to start to have those connections again out on the streets but it’s been incredible to do shoots with people from like New Zealand and Canada and Pakistan that I may not have been able to do before.”
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In conclusion to her advice, although there is undoubtedly much more—and her career in future will most definitely be one to watch—Hatch told us that “If you want to do something but you aren’t sure what you want to do: just find the thing that you are most passionate about and just go from there. Don’t worry about the medium or what the final result will be. Don’t worry about what you think this thing is going to materialise, just hone into the topic you are most passionate about and break it down into its core values. Especially with large themes like politics, climate change or feminism, you could delve into that thing and not even touch the sides. It’s so important to just focus on something really small and simple, or a part of it specifically that you’re passionate about, and enjoy the journey of exploring it.”