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Pink dress photography project empowers students

PABLO – Inside an unassuming brown box that arrived from New York were layers of pink satin, tulle, sequins … and a challenge. 

The layers of pink were four dresses. The challenge was to reclaim pink as part of a cooperative international roving photography project for girls.

Several Two Eagle River School students decided to participate in the project and in doing so, examine labels traditionally assigned to the color.

The box was from the Lower Eastside Girls Club, a free after school program for girls and young women that aims to connect them to healthy and successful futures.

TERS has an ongoing cultural exchange connection with the club, and this time, the New York club sent a box of pink dresses to their friends here in Montana. 

TERS freshman Monique Grant said her initial reaction to the color pink was that it’s “pretty girly,” which is a reaction people often have to the color. “The Power of Pink: A Photography Project” was created at the Eastside Girls Club to add a new dimension to the color.  

Lyn Pentecost, LESGC executive director, sent a synopsis of the project. She notes that people around the world are “reclaiming pink” from commercial marketers who identify pink with passivity and princesses. She says the color has also been used in opposition to war, against global violence, and as a symbol of patriotic opposition. 

“In the space between marching and marketing stands the teenage girl, absorbing multiple and conflicting messages coming from all directions,” she notes. “Truth be told, while there are finally significant conversations around actions being taken to address historic gender inequalities, merchants have deeply colonized our minds, defining for most young girls what a princess is and does long before she owns her first pink dress.”

The LESGC decided to reclaim the color pink with a photography project. The girls at the club took the “lonely pink dresses” left on the racks from their annual Gowns for Girls prom dress give-away event and took to the streets of New York with a camera. The girls used their environment, interests, and culture to make the color their own.

“Our pink photography project was born out of watching the ways in which our left-over pink dresses allowed girls to break the bounds of peer defined normal behavior,” she notes. “By learning to take risks in their art, our students enter a creative space that grown artists, photographers, performance artists, activists, and others inhabit.”

The Power of Pink project was so successful that the New York girls decided to share. They boxed up the dresses and sent them to southern Mexico.

“When we decided to bring the pink dress project to them, there were many skeptics, particularly among the local Mexican photographers who had grave doubts that the girls there would be comfortable moving outside of their community standards, but that was not the case. The feminist movement is as strong, visible, and vocal in Mexico as it is in the U.S.”

The girls in Mexico took photos of themselves in the pink dresses among cornfields with farming tools slung over their shoulders. When they were finished, they packed up the dresses and sent them back to New York. The LESGC put a new label on the box of dresses and sent them to Montana to share with TERS. Students put on the dresses and others took photographs. 

TERS photography teacher David Spear once lived in New York and decided a cultural exchange would benefit the school and the club. He said a nonprofit project called Art Vision and Outreach In Community Education in Pablo sponsors the collaborative project between the school and the club. 

He took a group of TERS students to New York more than a year ago so they could develop their photography skills in a new environment and visit the club. This year, he helped organize the local pink dress project. He said the TERS students are drawing upon their culture and environment to define pink in their own way.

“They are using different settings from the lake to the dam and including friends and elders,” he said. 

Students are taking turns with the project utilizing the four pink dresses the box contained. On Friday, Jan. 26, four students from TERS gathered at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo for a photo shoot. Senior Nikki Burke was the photographer for the day. She was working with the students wearing the pink dresses to create the photographs. Seniors Whisper Michel, Michelle Tomma and freshman Monique Grant modeled the dresses.

The group walked around the SKC campus with the hems of their pink dresses swaying around their feet. The ground was covered in snow but the sun was bright. The girls posed in front of a few sculptures, leaned against teepee polls, and walked on the footbridge that connects the college to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal complex.

Whisper wore a beaded medallion in the shape of a heart with the pattern of a basketball. She said she loves basketball and that the three-point shot and the half-court buzzer beater are her favorite moves. She says she feels like she can wear pink without it defining her. “I define it,” she said.

Michelle said the project inspired her to be herself without worrying about what pink means, and Monique said it was fun to use the color in her own way.

Spear said the box of dresses will be at the school for a few months. Student photography from the project will be sent to New York to be displayed in a show at the club. He said TERS might also have their own photography show when they are finished with the project. 

TERS students signed up for the Pink Dress project include Nikki Burke, Leeanna Powell, Chandra Whiteman-LaForge, Chaise Yonkin, Zion Bolen, Nina Leone Hernandez, Mariah Waugh, Sierra Mattson, Chayla Russell, Bojai Grant, Xavier Smith, Michelle Tomma, Monique Grant, Whisper Michel, Jerome Hewankorn, Josh Crumley, Malanya Carpentier, and Esperanza Orozco-Charlo. Danielle Adler is also participating. She is a former TERS student, 2017 graduate, and current SKC student.

 

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