The day after Valentine’s Day this year I spoke to Ana Blumenkron about many areas of her work and her photography. We spoke early morning and delved into her craft. More notably we spoke about Playdate, a culmination of her own feminist research and how, ultimately, in her own words, 'thinking about men takes too much time.'
As she puts it herself, Playdate is ‘A leap of faith into what a feminist love could look like’. It is a body of work that reminds us that patriarchy harms both men and women and she enlightens us with her own such experiences. Sitting down to chat over zoom, we discussed the zine and how it came to fruition.
Ana was born in Mexico City and has been living in London over the course of the past fifteen months to complete her master’s degree in photojournalism and documentary photography. But Ana already had a career of steady, successful work in Mexico before embarking on further study (having worked with Dior and Netflix to name a few). ‘I was already an established photographer back in Mexico. I already had clients. I was already making a living out of photography.’ I asked her about this and why she felt it was the right move to return to studying, and her response was a refreshing one. ‘I felt like I was in this loop of money-making and work instead of my creative practice. So for me, being able to do the masters, being able to take a break from what commercial work I was going to do next and try to focus on what I wanted to do, I quickly jumped into the feminism theme because it’s what’s most important to me’.
Such a feminist take is present throughout her work and the writing that accompanies Playdate’s photography.
‘It gave me a stronger background to know what I’m actually talking about because sometimes I feel that maybe, like two years ago, even though I was really committed to the cause I didn’t know too much about it. I hadn’t read the foundational books on feminism’ (she recommends Bell Hooks and Virginie Despentes.) ‘I didn’t know who key members of the feminist groups were or what happened in the sixties, what they were fighting for’ and more specifically ‘what are we fighting for right now?’ ‘I used my masters to focus in photography of course, but with a backbone of feminism.’
Playdate’s photography is rife in playing against the gender roles that Ana believes need to be challenged. ‘Patriarchy also hurts men, in a way that they really don’t want to commit or they’re not ready or they don’t have the tools in their lives to share their emotions or talk things out.’ And so, Playdate was born as a culmination of these observations.
‘I wanted to see how relationships could be seen from a feminist point of view’.
Asking her about what makes her passionate about love and feminism, she said ‘I feel that the way love is portrayed in the media is always violent, or if they break up, the guy will just live outside her house for five days until she forgives him, and that’s straight A stalking. Even women having to shave or dress in a certain way. I wanted to challenge the stereotype.’
‘When you’re growing up, the way we learn what love is, is through TV. The way that we conduct ourselves sexually is learned from the media.’
Whilst Playdate challenges such stereotypes it’s no doubt a personal display of work. Born in 1989, Ana more specifically wants to make the point that women dating once in their thirties find it more-so difficult due to the patriarchy they face as single women. It’s shot through a feminist lens but also through one that is of personal experience. The series features an ex-partner; photographs that were taken when they were together and then some when the relationship had ended.
Ana came to be living through what the zine itself was about unintentionally as the project was being made. Experiencing and understanding what the zine itself stands for, she ‘came across again this massive disappointing dating life’, and was reminded that finding love is hard. She was experiencing this feeling in real time as Playdate was still being created as she went through her own breakup.
In the early stages of the project she found that ‘finding love as a feminist is possible, all of the stereotypes are false’ which is still present in the zine, but on the other hand, ‘patriarchy is also hurting men’, ‘not that patriarchy is what broke us up, but rather makes it more difficult. Ideas of love have nothing to do with reality, because we have this fantasy created by the media that love is this amazing passion or crazy amount of sex when through my research I came to the personal discovery that love is about being committed, respectful, being there for someone else. It’s a responsibility; an emotional responsibility.’ She hopes to capture this in her own photography and throughout the zine.
But Ana doesn’t want people calling her ‘brave’ as she puts it herself. That is the very problem she acknowledges when it comes to how we discuss women in relation to men. ‘I am just putting out there an experience, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had it. I felt really strange when people told me I was brave for putting this out there. I’m simply acknowledging a story I’m sure many women have lived and will continue to live’.
How did making the zine make you feel about how far women have come?
‘I think it had two parts, because before the breakup I was really excited about the photography and being able to share this with someone because I’ve never really done a project with a partner in that way, so I was really excited about being able to share it with him and that he was so open and so willing to participate. But after the breakup it was really about going down into that loop again that I have to fulfill again my gender stereotype and that I’m feeling like I was a failure because this guy broke up with me, and that was when I wrote the script. The script was after the breakup and it was laying down all this frustration.’
‘That’s when I realised this pressure.’
‘For me it was “why did you guys break up?” but for others it’s “So when are you guys going to get married and have kids?” For others it’s “Why haven’t you found a partner to have kids with?” That’s when I decided it was just so sad’.
‘It’s sad, all this pressure that we get for our relationships with men. I saw people more happy because I was dating this guy than getting accepted into this school in London as a Mexican and I was really proud of myself’.
Her work was shifting in real-time. Whilst processing a break-up and creating Playdate Ana realised a few things.
‘People give more weight to women’s relationships than to actual women’s lives.’
‘Women are so committed to the cause of having a relationship that often times we put a lot of time and a lot of thought and energy into it’ subconsciously.
Hence; ‘Thinking about men takes too much time’.
Something she has learnt through her study of feminist literature is that 'love is a tool utilized to perpetuate the patriarchy. However, real love has nothing to do with that'
Playdate is a culmination of not just Ana’s own experiences, but of the experiences women face as a whole when dating. She is laying down her own frustrations as well as the ones of women she knows, about ‘how sour and how sweet it can be dating a guy.’ She goes on to say that ‘The feminism wave helps women stop being pestered about love’ but also that ‘feminism helps both men and women.’ Finding a feminist love is possible, but finding love at all is not the be all and end all of a women’s capabilities.
Thank you Ana for sitting down and talking with me over zoom! It felt so enlightening.