Emily Wiethorn (b.1991) is a third year MFA candidate in Studio Art at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she is an Instructor of Record and holds a Graduate Teaching Assistantship. She received her BFA in Photography from Northern Kentucky University. She has most recently been awarded the 2017 SPE Student Award for Innovations in Imaging, was a Critical Mass finalist in 2017, a finalist for The Texas Photographic Society’s National Photography Award, and is a featured artist in the Spring 2018 issue of PDN Edu. Her work has been published online with Musee Magazine, Lenstratch, Loosen Art, among others. Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally in China and Italy. She works primarily in self-portraiture where she explores notions of feminine identity, societal constructs of femininity, and self-discovery. 

PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: A Certain Kind of Woman

2016 – present 

There is immense pressure on women to “perform” for the public. Whether this is the feeling that we must be “presentable” when we leave the house each day, or when we tailor our personalities in public in an attempt to be more socially amenable. There is an intense weariness that has consumed me after years of putting on disguises each day, trying to make myself perfect, likeable. I learned how to perform my feminine identity, and now I’m learning how to disassemble it, take it apart and see the bones underneath. I’ve learned how powerful my feminine identity is in its imperfectness, but also how incredibly fragile it is as well.

As a young girl, I was given many instructions on how a woman should act and spent my life in the well-intentioned disguises taught to me by my mother. I concealed much of my introverted personality by making sure I always appeared happy and complacent the way I was taught a woman should always behave. I gladly accepted these parameters in hopes that I would be desirable to society, and in turn happier within myself. My mother’s influence is paramount to my understanding of feminine identity; her impact is intertwined into each image in both subtle and prominent ways.

Utilizing self-portraiture, I am constantly experiencing a “hall of mirrors” effect where it is difficult to distinguish between truth and illusion, as I am both subject and maker. I am a complicated construct of both the rejection and acceptance of society’s definition of femininity. I am confronting the disguises that have become a part of my feminine identity while exposing and scrutinizing my own secrets. Working alone, I experience a powerful reclamation of power. I confront the viewer, the camera, and ultimately myself in an attempt to uncover and assert my inner identity underneath years of impersonations.

Hidden behind expected social roles, our inner identity can become lost. Through my work, I explore what happens when our masks become so convincing that we no longer recognize ourselves.

© Emily Wiethorn

When and where A Certain Kind of Woman begin?

This body work begin during my first year of graduate school when I was researching and attempting to find ways to make photographs about my mothers influence on my development as a woman growing up. I realized that I could make a body of work about her influence on me without directly using her in the photographs as I had done previously. I turned to familiar things to draw inspiration from, feminine objects, fabrics, wallpapers, all of which in some way reminded me of her. Through and through, my mother has been a continuous source of inspiration for early every image in some way. Through making this body of work I have had to examine myself and my identity nearly constantly, and through this process I have come to better understand my identity and accept parts of myself I haven’t always understood. 

PDN EDU, Vol. 17 Issue 1 / Spring 2018

Where do you see A Certain Kind of Woman going?

For the time being, A Certain Kind of Woman is an ongoing project. I am looking forward to continuing to make images for this body of work until I feel like I can close the conversation. So much of this project is about me understanding my identity as a woman, which I believe is most likely a lifelong exploration so I think this particular body of images could be something I could return to frequently. I am greatly looking forward to exhibiting a finished edit of this work for my MFA thesis show in April, and hope to have more opportunities to exhibit it in the coming future. 

What helps you sustain your current creative practice?

I consider myself extremely lucky at this point in my career to have the time and opportunity to just be a graduate student for a few more blissed months. I draw so much inspiration for my images from conversations and memories that I have with my mother, so our communication is quite frequent. I also devour nearly every book I can get my hands on which keeps my ideas flowing and helps me to gain perspective on my art from different view points. In my spare time when I am out searching thrift stores for materials for my images I’ll often stumble upon a fabric or an object that will give me an idea for an image. Sometimes inspiration can hit you when you are least expecting it. 

What’s next for you?

As of right now, I’m just focused on successfully graduating with my MFA in May! After graduate school, my partner and I will be moving from Lincoln, NE to Cincinnati, OH and just taking it one day at a time. Ultimately, my goal will be to enter into academia in some fashion while continuing to make my art as well.