Once upon a time, there was a girl, her camera and fairytales.
For her baccalaureate exhibition, art student Kaitlin Ridl used her emphasis in photography and her love of books to convey a serious message: violence against women.
At first, the images are hard to interpret. The princesses we’re used to seeing in beautiful dresses, singing and running into the sunset with their princes are left defeated, broken, a husk of what they used to be.
“I really wanted to bring attention to the relationship between women and violence,” Ridl said. “Because, as much as we don’t want it to be around, it’s there. But, a lot of time it feels like it’s hidden. Well, that was the same way with these stories. The women and violence part of the stories was hidden. So, I wanted to bring that to light and kind of make a statement with it and really let people know that, yes, this is here. This is something that’s been going on for hundreds of years and we need to pay attention to it because it’s not okay.”
Looking for patterns of violence against women, Ridl chose five commonly known fairly tales to photograph: Snow White, the Little Mermaid, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella. Both the protagonists and villains of the stories are represented.
“It didn’t really matter to me whether the character was the villain or the protagonist,” Ridl explained. “It just mattered that they were a woman and something was happening to this woman, whether it be in penance for something they did or something that was trying to destroy their future.”
Ridl originally began her studies in painting. But after transferring to NDSU from Bismarck State College, Ridl discovered photography. For her senior project, Ridl chose to use photography rather than painting as her medium.
“I chose to do photographs because I wanted to keep a realistic element within the images while still portraying this very fantastical feel with them,” she said. “And I wanted people to see that this happens to real people. While you can paint people, it’s not necessarily always going to be realistic. You’re not going to get, ‘Oh, that’s somebody. Somebody I could know.'”
Another side to this experience was Ridl’s choice to cover the models faces. This, according to Ridl, leaves them open to interpretation by the audience, allowing them to place their own friends or family in the places of the women they see in the photographs.
Ridl’s always been interested in books, saying she’s “loved reading since I was really little and it’s always kind of made my imagination go wild.”
When building the idea for her senior project, Ridl used her love of books as the basis for her project. However, at the beginning of the semester, Ridl also went on a trip that influenced her senior project.
“I got to go on a research project with some theatre students and some women and gender studies students on women’s role in the oil field,” Ridl said. “I actually like just listening to all of them talk about the things they were passionate about, like feminism and all these types of things. It really just kind of caught my attention and I realized that a lot of my opinions kind of fell in line with them. I really wanted to bring a voice to women and help them, you know, have a voice in bringing to light these really serious issues that shouldn’t be happening anymore.”
So far, people have been reacting to Ridl’s project the way she hoped: with a little confusion, then recognition.
“Especially on Tuesday, during the opening, I saw the reactions of people and I was like, ‘Yes, this is what I wanted,'” Ridl said. “I saw people looking at the photographs, being like OK, what’s going on here. Reading the little text box next to it and being like, Oh, something’s clicking. I could see them really engage with the photographs and that made me really excited.”
Ridl will be graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with an emphasis in painting and photography this spring. Right now, her plans postgraduation include researching graduate schools to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree.
But that’s not all.
“I plan on continuing the series,” she said excitedly. “I really got into it, I’m not sure if I’m going to go in the same direction or if I’m going to try and twist it around, but I really, really am involved and really passionate about this idea so I want to see how far I can take it.”
Kaitlin Ridl’s work, along with the other six baccalaureate students, can be seen in the Memorial Union Gallery as part of the 2017 Spring Baccalaureate exhibition. Their works can be seen from now until April 27, 2017.
To learn more about Ridl’s work, visit her website: kaitlinridlart.wixsite.com/kailtinridl.