How One Photographer Is Documenting Sexual Harassment

Florence. Image via Eliza Hatch/Cheer Up Luv.

In a series of frank and straightforward portraits, ordinary
women meet the gaze of photographer
Eliza Hatch
’s camera. They are accompanied by equally
ordinary stories, recounting incidents of street harassment and
sexual assault. “He put his hand up my skirt,” says Olivia, her
gingham dress backlit by the sun. Dorina, sitting at a table, a
bright red lunch tray filling the foreground, recounts the time
a man told her “I’d like to taste your chocolate,” in front of
his own daughter. “Everyone was watching but no one said
anything,” says Lulu, captured sitting in a small field of
flora. Olivia, Dorina, Lulu, as well as the dozens of women
that populate Hatch’s ongoing project,
Cheer Up Luv
, are striking in their familiarity.

Cheer Up Luv is an ongoing photojournalism project that Hatch,
a London-based photographer, began in January of 2017. The
project aims to document the experience of sexual harassment in
public, no matter how big or small. The women featured in Cheer
Up Luv share a range of experiences: from being yelled at, to
physical assault, as well the common aftermath of humiliation.
Each entry into Cheer Up Luv is similar: photograph and text
combine to tell an often all-too-familiar story of harassment
in a public space. In the process, Hatch’s project reclaims
that space, transforming it from a site of harassment into a
kind of photographic Speakers’ Corner, where women can be both
heard and seen.

Hatch recently told Jezebel that the themes that motivate Cheer
Up Luv have “been a constant factor in my life,” but she was
prompted to action after a “strange man walked past me and told
me to ‘cheer up.’” “It really bothered me,” Hatch says,
stressing a common exasperation. She began a “conversation with
my girlfriends about harassment and we ended up story swapping
for over an hour, talking about sexual harassment like it was
the most normal thing in the world.” It was only after some of
her male friends “interjected with their disbelief” that Hatch
decided to embark on Cheer Up Luv. “I realized that it wasn’t
just the harassment itself that was the problem, it was [also]
the lack of awareness,” she added.

Hatch began Cheer Up Luv by asking women close to her if they’d
be willing to pose, as well as share their stories. “To my
surprise, everyone responded positively and wanted to
contribute,” Hatch says. Since launching the project, which has
now traveled beyond London and into a handful of countries,
Hatch says that she’s had a “constant stream of women coming
forward to me, sharing experiences, and wanting to be
photographed.” The location of her portraits is determined by
the stories women tell her, and it is always in public—buses,
Tube stations, streets, and restaurants are recurring locations
in the project—because she wants “to give an impression of
everyday life and the unfortunate normality of harassment.”

Given the nature of the project, Hatch says that it’s
“extremely important” that the women she photographs “are
comfortable and relaxed… I want to show strength in place of
vulnerability.” The final photograph is the result of
behind-the-scenes labor. “I like to spend some time chatting or
getting coffee with the woman beforehand so that we are both
familiar with each other,” Hatch says. The result is a
collaborative portrait born of visual and personal empathy and
metamorphosed into a visual reclamation of public spaces.

Though Hatch began Cheer Up Luv before #MeToo
became such a prominent movement, she notes that she’s had a
“constant stream of women coming… to me sharing experiences
and wanting to be photographed, especially in light of the
#metoo hashtag and outpouring of allegations.” But, she adds,
#MeToo hasn’t changed the artistic purpose of her project. She
still wants to “keep sharing stories and photographing women”
but is now more aware “of reaching a wider audience and
affecting real change.” Hatch acknowledges that awareness of
sexual harassment, its unrestrained existence in public spaces
ranging from streets to restaurants to workplaces, is still in
its infancy. “There is still plenty of work that needs to be
done regarding sexual harassment,” Hatch says, “this is just
the first stage of it: creating awareness. Now that awareness
just needs to be utilized, practiced and taught.”

In that respect, Hatch sees Cheer Up Luv as an ongoing project,
a project with a potentially endless number of subjects and
stories. “The project’s lifetime is as long as the women who
want to be involved,” Hatch says.

See more of Cheer Up Luv at
cheerupluv.com
and on Instagram at
@cheerupluv
.

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