THE WOMEN AND WILDERNESS PROJECT
Coming to the Maritimes - spring/summer 2021
Scroll down for sneak peeks!
The Women and Wilderness project is a fine art photography series
which focuses on women's connection to nature.
HOW THE PROJECT CAME TO BE
The 'Women and Wilderness' project officially began on a cold winter day in February 2019, with two friends in the woods surrounding Hamilton Ontario, but the true reason for this project’s existence goes much deeper.
I grew up in a volatile home.
My family was quite controlling and violent, interspersed with moments of deep loving connection, which for some time, too long, buffered the raw cognitive dissonance required to maintain these kinds of family dynamics.
I would live in the hope that things would improve, that I would be able to ‘fix things’. However, peace rarely lasted. This yoyo formed the foundation of my female relationships, leading to a guardianship of my feelings and a mistrust of female connection. I had a few strong female friendships which began in my late teens, but a fear of new female relationships. I was very guarded of my selfhood and my own femininity.
In early 2019, my grandmother passed from dementia, she had a difficult passing. I spent a month in the hospital with her and another family member, with whom I also had a very complicated relationship.
When I came back home that January I was broken. I had bottled so much for so long that there was no more space for me to absorb it all. It all came to a head and I was unable to function. My light had gone out.
I was diagnosed with severe PTSD. My doctor explained that after years of trauma, my body and mind were no longer able to sustain its weight. I had been ‘fine’, happy and functional, surviving, but the severity of what had happened with my grandmother brought strong emotions to the surface like a large, exposed nerve. I would have night after night of nightmares, I became afraid of going to sleep so would just stay up, not sleeping for days at a time. Flashbacks, debilitating panic attacks… I would lose memory of my day to day activity. I cried all the time. I stopped going out, doing the things that I loved, reading, hiking, making art. I stopped living in earnest, being myself.
With the support of my partner and my doctor, I started therapy. It helped, but slowly.
What really brought me back was starting Krav Maga and the Women and Wilderness project.
I decided to try Krav because everything was making me jump. Loud noises would have me drop to the floor. I couldn’t have anyone stand between me and an exit without panicking.
I needed something physical to shake me out this slump.
During my fist class, I was paired with a female partner. I felt safe around men, but not women, but I didn’t realize the extent of it. She asked me to throw a punch, and I had a complete meltdown. The head of the gym sat with me until I calmed down, and told me that I was not broken, and asked me about my relationship with women. It was only then that I truly recognized how guarded I was in female spaces. I had taken it for granted. Outside of a couple of close friends, I really struggle to feel safe in new relationships.
The wonderful woman I had sparred with and the head of the gym started coming in for private sessions, refusing until I could join the class. Every lesson, my whole body would shake, I would move through tears and yet they treated me with so much kindness and respect. We worked together to move through the fear, though the anger, and into grief about the loss of my family.
My grandmother and I weren't close, but she was one of the only two remaining family members that I had. We were a tiny family, and our dynamic was such, that when my grandma passed away, I knew that as far as my biological family was concerned, I would be alone.
There is however, one thing that did tie us all together, and that was our love for the outdoors.
I remember being a child at the beach and watching my grandmother's head disappear on the horizon of the cold Polish Baltic sea. She would swim far offshore, and, I believe, in those moments find some peace.
My childhood, when I stayed in Canada for the summer, it was always very woodsy.
One of my fondest memories is of when one evening we drove to some sand-dunes. My mother packed only the essentials, and we, and our big German Shepherd mix, slept under the stars.
We would go canoeing every summer, and we rented a little cabin that we would go to every Friday after I was done school, coming back early on Monday morning to start class again. I would spend hours up in the treetops, swaying in the wind, my favourite place. I would make secret forts in the undergrowth out of old branches, bringing with me some trinkets to keep me company for the day.
Wilderness was and remains a sanctuary.
On the cold February day when I unknowingly began this project, two close friends came to visit so we could all mourn different things together. The loss of a relationship, a dysfunctional job for which one friend had moved thousands of kilometres, and my little family. In that moment, we decided to go find some nature and I asked to take their picture so we could commemorate our losses, but also to capture this moment of love for each other, and the healing peacefulness of our surroundings. Without hesitation, in the cold winter air, both women stripped down to their sweaters. I asked them to step into the shelter of a large conifer and the Women and Wilderness project was born.
When I released these portraits, other women began to ask about having theirs taken. I put a call out on Facebook, and overnight my inbox was full, of friends and strangers alike, wanting to share their own relationships of the wild, and what it had brought to their lives.
This project has brought me healing and created a safe space for other women as well to share their own stories privately. To document their healing and selfhood. To talk about and explore how nature has been part of their own journey of discovery, love, healing.
In looking for other women who love the outdoors, I inadvertently create a safe space for myself and others. In doing so found solace and regeneration in nature, I have found a new light in female connection, trust and discovery.
This photographic project would like to become a book, so if you, or someone you know would like to participate or donate, please don't hesitate to
Scroll down for sneak peeks!
The Women and Wilderness Project is entirely self funded.
If you would like to help support the project, click the button below.
Donations help to offset the cost of travel to remote shoot locations.
Emma W., Hamilton ON - The Image that started it all.
Annastacia F., Oakville ON
Savannah K., Rawdon QC
Haidi C., Montreal, QC
Emma A., Montreal QC
Cassandra B., Dundas ON
Erin G., Oka QC
Haidi C., Montreal, QC
Olivia K., Montreal QC