I first picked up my camera when I was 14 and since then my best friend Hannah has been a consistent focus for my photography. Now, nearly 15 years later, we have created a body of work that confronts the experiences we faced, both challenging and empowering, while coming of age in America. We Grew Up With Gum In Our Hair is about the various challenges youth face, especially young women, while developing a sense of self and self worth.
I did not set out to make this project. I was always collecting and documenting, not knowing why or what would come of it, and Hannah was constantly willing to being vulnerable in front of the camera. There was no deliberate intention. We just processed our experiences in away that made sense to us.
When Hannah and I were both 20, we did not speak to or see each other for two years because Hannah was in a violent domestic relationship, and neither of us knew how to handle it. It was during those two years that I was assaulted once and raped twice and I began to think critically about sexual assault and gendered violence.
When we were 22 we reunited and, without hesitation, I picked up my camera and Hannah allowed me to document her recovery. Her recovery was far from immediate as she suffered from extreme PTSD. She would not sleep for days at a time and began pulling out her hair until she had no eye brows or hair on her head. Now, at age 28, Hannah is able to look back and see how much she has grown since she left her abuser. “My life became worse before it became better,” Hannah said. “I lost the person I was before that relationship, and Annie’s project has allowed me to put the piecesof who I am back together.” Until last August this body of work focused primarily on Hannah's life immediately after she left her abuser. This August I decided to expand this project into a book. So, I spent the fall locating, organizing and scanning nearly 15 years worth of journals, photographs, negatives, saved notes and polaroids. As I read through our journals and sorted through years of film, I began to think about how these complicated, difficult, shared experiences impact the majority of young women. I then decided to include pieces of my self and evidence of peripheral experiences because to not include those would be leaving out a large part of the story.
This project has taught me about vulnerability and trust and simply striving to make work that matters. It was the result of my reflex to feel through photographing and it has drastically shaped the way I approach photography and live my life and was as a catalyst for a long term project on gendered violence. That said, without Hannah's strength and commitment to sharing her story, this would be nothing.