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Challenging Gender Roles

by Art U News

Photographer Chloé Meynier wins gold and silver for fine art series “Made in the Shade”

By Cristina Schreil

For years, Chloé Meynier studied others. In her native France, she earned her Ph.D. in psychology, based on research concentrating on the brain science behind how people make difficult decisions quickly.

Now, years later, she’s turned inward—examining and delving deep within herself through her fine art photography self-portraits.

Meynier, an instructor at Academy of Art University, recently won gold and silver awards in two categories at the PX3—Prix de la Photographie, Paris competition. She entered images from her series titled “Made in the Shade,” wherein Meynier shoots herself as a series of imagined female characters in mid-century modern settings. In each image, brimming with mid-century styles and warmly lit to evoke a bygone era, the female subject’s faces are turned away from the lens. A character sits on a couch; another stares at artwork or stands at a piano. The series ruminates largely on women’s roles during this time in history, when Meynier notes that women who had entered the workforce during an empowering moment in World War II were then thrust back into more passive roles in the domestic sphere.

“It was interesting that they went from doing many things during the war … to men are back and now you’re going to go back to a family-oriented [role]—you’re a woman, you should care for the children, cook dinner for your husband,” Meynier said. She spoke at a café across the street from one of her classrooms in San Francisco. Before, she relayed a tale of how she tried to cut wood at a local Home Depot and met resistance and shock from the men around her. “It’s very interesting to me that society still has that [belief of], ‘Okay, this is what a woman should be doing and this is what a man should be doing.’ I still see that in a lot of ways.”

A photograph from Chloé Meynier’s ongoing and award-winning “Made in the Shade.” Photo by Chloé Meynier.

Placing herself in the photos is also interesting. Almost conjuring ephemeral moments, Meynier embodies characters whose names she makes up—and later forgets—over the span of the photoshoot. It makes her wonder what she would be doing if she were born in this era. Would she subscribe to those gender roles? Or, would she be a rebel? It fascinates her.

A general interest in mid-century modern architecture emerged when Meynier moved from her native France to the U.S. to pursue research at UC Berkeley. Meynier found herself enchanted with photography and photo editing—her parting gift from her laboratory in France was a camera. “It was something that I got really interested in,” she recalled, describing weekends of roaming and shooting. “I decided to quit the research world and get an M.F.A. in photography.”

She studied at Academy of Art University’s School of Photography (PH) and focused on fine art photography. Leaning into her fascination with mid-century modern settings, she researched to find locations, such as Eichler-style residences, decked out in period décor.

It also triggered a deeper dive inward—one that she found it was important to do on her own terms. “From the very beginning, I’ve been very honest with myself as far as photography. It’s been a solo adventure,” she said, adding she always shoots by herself, with no assistants. Over the years, she’s worked less with models and focused on self-portraiture. “Everything is on my own. I do my own styling, I do everything in post-processing. It’s more like a cathartic way of doing things. If it’s shared with somebody or somebody is helping me, it would be a completely different experience. It’s more like something that I needed to do to release things in myself.” She also edits the photos to appear warmer. It’s not just a nostalgic touch, but a specific intention to make the images appear as she sees the world—Meynier normally wears glasses that have a warmer tint.

Perhaps because of her academic background and the introspective quality of many of her photos, people often ask if psychology informs her work. “I would say I never, ever think of this when I do photography,” she said. Rather, it’s her own experience, she shares—she was sexually abused as a child. “It really affected me in a lot of ways. Photography is kind of an outlet to kind of get out. I would say that’s the main drive.”

Currently, she’s also driven to complete a booklet of her series that she can use to secure more shooting locations. She’s on the quest to finish her series, aiming for 16 photos. She’s also just won second place in Fine Art and gold in Fine Art/Portrait at the Budapest International Foto Awards and third in APA’s Something Personal competition.

Her advice to those pursuing fine art photography? “Go with what you need to do with your gut, in photography or anything.”

For more information on Meynier’s work and on “Made in the Shade,” visit www.chloemeynier.com.

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