The analogue photography community is a thriving network, consisting of interconnected hubs of activity which reach into all corners of the world. Graingurls is one of those hubs. It is a collective dedicated to female film photographers and mostly exists online. It's run by Nikki in the UK and Tonicha in Canada and has been showcasing some of the great women photographers out there. As part of the International Women's Day celebrations we talked to Nikki about setting up an online community, the importance of these groups and the reasons behind starting it.
Hello Nikki, please tell us a bit about yourself and the Graingurls collective?
Hello! So I'm Nikki and I help run the female film collective, Graingurls. Me and a fellow photographer Tonicha set up Graingurls during lockdown over a year ago as we had both hit a rut creatively and just wanted something to focus on. Even though neither of us knew each other, I messaged Tonicha to ask whether she wanted to get on board with the idea. She was the only other female photographer I had noticed in the constant scroll through Instagram stories and the idea snowballed from there.
Having settled on the name, I literally just suggested what the logo should entail and it literally blew up once we posted it on Instagram. As two singular female film photographers having come together with a little idea of a female only photography Instagram and then seeing it reach 1,000 followers at the end of the first day was just unreal. The amount of women that reached out to us with a kind of "FINALLY" moment was amazing to see and reaffirmed our reason for doing it. I am based in the UK in York, and Tonicha has recently relocated to Canada but we keep in contact regularly and both share the work of keeping the collective ticking over.
What made you want to open this Instagram account for women?
From one conversation with Tonicha, it was clear we both had similar views on how female film photographers are represented online. There's just not enough exposure! So we thought that if we felt like that, how many other women or non-binary individuals would be sitting out there aimlessly scrolling through Instagram without truly feeling a part of it? Not that Instagram is the be-all and end-all, personally I fight with staying on Instagram sometimes.
I absolutely love photography and want a place to share it but when it comes down to algorithms and "likes", it really saps my enthusiasm for having an account. The Graingurls account however is something I am so proud of. The amount of people who interact with us is truly special. It's not about me and Tonicha, we're just the people clicking the post button. It is down to each and every female film photographer out there and their awesome work which keeps people interacting with the page.
What has been your experience of being female in the photography world? Did your experiences effect your reason to set up this account?
I'll be straight up and say being a female in the photography world is scary as hell. I remember when I first started out I used to go into my local photography shop to buy film and just ended up panic buying rolls. Frantically pointing at random boxes on the shelf like I knew what I was doing. I never had the space to ask what ISO meant, or what the best roll of film was. It feels overwhelming walking into these shops where there's a lens in the window that costs more than a car and I'm standing at the counter asking what ISO 200 means. I'd like to say my experiences in these shops have been positive since but I can't.
It's thanks to Youtube and a fair amount of trial and error that I have managed to grasp some skill to shoot the odd mediocre roll. I just wish there was something like Graingurls when I started out 5 or 6 years ago, I'd have been all over it. You need to have confidence with a camera. It can get frustrating really quickly when you're spending x amount on rolls and development, to come out with one or two good shots. You need friends and people who share that passion to keep you going. It's lonely out there sometimes when everyone is talking about this set-up or that light meter where it costs £500 and you're standing there with a £35 point-and-shoot camera.
Graingurls are here for the female photographers who feel like they're not enough, or they don't have the latest kit. Photography is an amazingly creative art form and it should be enjoyed by everyone, not just the Leica shooters. Tonicha and I were approached to speak at an event in our first year and the attendance was 90% male, which was sad to see but again it just showed us what we're up against when it comes to representation.
How important do you think digital platforms and groups like yourself are for communities and individuals?
I could literally write a novel under this question but I will try to stay on topic as best as I can. Graingurls isn't the only movement for women within the photography world. Emma from Analogue Wonderland has already done crucial work for the voice of female film photographers. The #sheheartsfilm movement has been central in gathering us together, whether that's with their online presence or regular meetups. It's been a joy to see their numbers grow alongside us.
Emma is always supportive as well and I think that's something which is unique in this community. I haven't seen one troll or one negative comment within the community. It's all about creating a safe space for people to share their work. I feel like without a digital platform I wouldn't have met so many wonderful people. When we launched our website I created a map of where all our contributions had come from and we had people emailing us from some of the most remote parts of the world.
When we started this up we didn't realize how much of a need there was for it. This last year has just been crazy, a good kind of crazy though. But now it's about focusing on how we move forward. I don't want it to be that we had a cool logo and then stuff fizzled out. I genuinely want us to be a force for women in the photography world. How we achieve that I have no idea. We are definitely still figuring this whole thing out that's for sure!
What plans do you have for 2023?
Plans for 2023 would definitely be another Merch run to fund the upkeep of our website. Aside from that it would be really cool to get a Northern based meetup. There are a few photography meetups going on but always seem to be in the Southern parts so it would be good to get something Manchester or Leeds based going as I know there are thousands of us who shoot film up here.
Lastly I'll finish on, if you ever think your photography isn't good enough or you're not confident enough to post anything, at least you're picking up a camera and doing something you love. No amount of likes or follows will replace that.
Find out more about the Graingurls Collective and give them a follow on their Instagram page.