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18-Year-Old Photographer Gives a New Lens into Youth Culture

Visual artist Sophie Day talks to us about skaters, fuckboys, and the new face of feminism.

Anthony Pappalardo

Images courtesy the artist

Sexuality, gender roles, and masculinity are themes seldom addressed in skateboarding, but these ideas are paramount in Sophie Day’s body of work. Day looks at males through a green lens, making them a collaborative part of her work, in an effort to explore sexuality in new ways. Currently studying photography and media at the California Institute of Arts , the 18-year-old New York-born artist has big aspirations. Now, she’s learning that the execution of those ideas is an art in and of itself. Part of her expansive vision was to found the Durable Girls Collaborative, a multidisciplinary creative group—not collective, she emphatically notes when discussing it—last year with eight other likeminded females equally intent on furthering their perceptions of feminism. 

She describes her latest work as a “sex positive exploration," a print zine titled Wet Dreams Zine. She’s also working on a documentary titled Fuckboy, which evolved from a scripted short film into a documentary, based on downtown NYC skateboarders.

Who Day is becomes apparent the moment you speak to her about her work in photo and film. She isn’t coy about the meanings behind her work, nor does she speak in verbose tangents that skirt actual answers. She’s impassioned and courteous, with a confidence that seems to spawn from her level of self-awareness. We'll let her give it to you straight:

The Creators Project: Tell us about Wet Dreams Zine.

Sophie Day: Wet Dreams Zine started with the simple question, "Has anyone ever had a wet dream about me?" And from that, I started thinking about the significance of wet dreams and sexual fantasies. The idea that anyone has had to fight back a boner in class or fantasized about a girl before falling asleep fascinated and inspired me, in part the same way boyhood did for Fuckboy.

It evolved into asking people for submissions—people’s anonymous nudes, people’s wet dream stories, and people’s fantasies. Those were the three components. I compiled them all into a zine and it all became a larger story because there are no names. It really became an indulgence for whoever is reading it. We ended up making 150 copies. I’m working with Alife—they’ve always had my back—who are making t-shirts to come with the zine. I kind of had a problem with it initially, because there’s an image that’s used on the cover spread, which is actually a nude of myself. The way that it manifested on a shirt was kind of problematic for me, because it’s a pink shirt with the image and the text Wet Dreams Zine and Sophie Day. The tee needed to be more than a naked girl photo on a shirt. The context of where it would be in the shop, the meaning would be lost. The people buying it would only see the shirt and not get the meaning.

Right, that could really change the meaning and intent of the work.

There’s a balance of what’s empowering and where you lose it. The whole point to me was that I wanted to be on a shirt and represent my work, but I also think it’s a very particular thing. We changed it to a limited amount of shirts, so I have more control of where they are going. Also, in order to get the shirt, you have to buy the zine, so you can’t plead ignorance to it—you have to learn what the shirt is about. There’s going to be a bio printed on the inside of the shirt, explaining the project.

It gives you the ability to reach a different audience by merchandising it that way.

Something really impactful my friend said, was that if you don't give people a chance to be interested in this shirt or project, you’re preaching to the choir and that doesn’t make any positive change.

Fuckboy is a curious choice for a series about boys, because your work is about empowerment. Why did you choose it?

It started as a Facebook status asking people for insults for men. I got so many replies, including little dick, asshole…just all these names that were trivial or didn’t necessarily attack boys until someone wrote fuckboy. I just started thinking about the word and how fuckboy is a word of this generation. It’s a part of New York’s culture, specifically used toward boys who fuck around and are always trying to hook up with girls. It’s used almost in an ironic way, because I’m not calling these boys fuckboys. It’s not about exposing these boys and saying, "Look how shitty they are." It’s about what created the fuckboys of this generation—what made them act the way they do. It’s also "Fuck, comma, boy." It’s telling a boy what he’s supposed to do: Go fuck, boy!

Fuckboy right now is a documentary film rooted in a short film that I wrote about a group of six boys who are 16 and 17 years old, but at the time 15 and 16. Last summer I started working with them—I was really fascinated by them. It was right after I was wrapping up this project I was doing about female sexuality, identity, and reclaiming our bodies, which I worked on for a year. It was really important to me. A lot of my work is about female empowerment, but a big question that kept coming up for me was, "What are boys allowed to do and how am I allowed to interact with them and work with them in a way that doesn’t offend anyone?" I was fascinated by boyhood and trying to understand it.

Skateboarding is a strange culture, almost a paradox, because it’s supposed to be about creativity and this sense of freedom, but it can also be really judgemental and misogynistic.

The culture is really interesting to me, because a lot of my friends have always been involved in it, but I’m an outsider being a girl—what’s my role in a skatepark? They’ll say "ramp tramp," which is essentially a girl who hangs out to meet boys or whatever. I was never called that, but that was always interesting to me. As I started filming and tried to set up the dialogue, I realized the best stuff I was getting was catching them off guard and them being themselves. The real truth—what I really wanted—was just being around them and filming anything that was happening in their normal day. With one of the boys, we got really close and he shares anything with me. He’s a lot more in tune with himself and sensitive than the other boys in the group. He started skating with these 20-year-old boys when he was in his early teens—they took him under their wing. How he talks to me is so different than the rest of his friends. He can talk about relationships, where his head's at, and what it means to be a boy, but as soon as the other boys are around, he would speak differently. He explained it to me: all the boys stoop down to the same level so they all feel comfortable together.

No one is addressing that dynamic in skateboarding and if they are, it’s from the male side.

Something really impactful my teacher, who is a man, said the other day when I showed some work for this project, was that men try to act tough when they feel weak—that really hit home for me. There’s this idea that masculinity is a constant performance, so how much are they putting things on to prove their strength and themselves. They’re (the boys in the documentary) all very different individuals, despite them fitting in the same category (skaters).

So, do you think that in doing this, you’re enlightening these boys, rather than just using them as subjects of your art?

Skate culture is really confusing. I used to get really frustrated when boys who skated weren’t friendly or wouldn’t talk to me that much, but I ended up realizing—and this is a generalization—if you grow up around all boys and this is what you do—this activity together with a whole crew of guys spending time together—you’re kind of scared of girls. It’s hard for these boys to see girls as their equals or counterparts. It’s intimidating for them to see a girl who is powerful.

I’m interested in switching the roles of power. I'm older than them and I’m a girl. I’m using—in a way—these boys for my own benefit and understanding. It’s really powerful, because I don’t see that often and it’s important to me to put women in that position. After working and identifying as a feminist and getting recognition for the work I was doing about reclaiming our bodies and sexuality, it just felt like one half. I realized how complex this was and that I could know everything about girls, the oppression of women, and everything me and the girls in my life have experienced, but that at the same time, I needed to know what happens on the other side. Also, I started spending time with these boys and being really fascinated with them. It was a really natural transition—it didn’t feel fulfilling to only be working with girls.

When you work so closely with people, you start to identify patterns, and it’s important to know what causes those patterns and [that] a lot of that is driven by male/female relationships, regardless of sexual orientation. I kept seeing girls making similar work, with similar values. I didn’t feel like I fit into that group or identified as a feminist artist. Fuckboy ushered that change. I had been put into this box of “Instagram Feminist Photographer Girl,” and that’s a really full box. I didn’t feel like that was me.

 

A photo posted by Durable Girl (@sophieday.nyc) on

Tell us about Durable Girls Collaborative.

It was trying to bring together female artists who were really powerful in what they do—their personality and identity really circles around female power. It’s eight girls, who all work differently, between the ages of 17-20. We have meetings in NYC to talk about where we are going and what the work can be, but going away to school put it on hold. It started as a blog/platform, but we are relaunching, doing “Durable Girl Talks,” which are interviews with boys and girls, changing the space to have all genders. There was a revelation to promote everyone’s understanding.

Durable Girls is a movement. Durable Girls is about inclusion and understanding and listening. And how much we can share truth about masculinity and femininity. Our core values are sexuality, fluidity, and gender identity, and how [if] we can talk about these separate things that are related, then we can really understand them. It’s not just about boys and girls anymore, that’s pretty clear in our current generation. We can’t change anything if it’s one-sided. I don't think an exclusionary space is the right way to fix other exclusionary spaces. We have to be working towards something together, with love and acceptance.

FUCKBOY CLIP from sophie day on Vimeo.

Was there a moment that moved the needle for you and really sparked your interest in masculinity?

It happened last summer, when I was finishing Mine [a series of photos of young women] and at the same time, starting Fuckboy. It was a really transitional time, because I was graduating high school and moving on to college across the country. A lot was going on and my perception on everything was changing a lot. There were so many boys in my life that I loved so dearly, that I realized how hard it was to not talk to them about what I was doing, but to have them relate to it. That’s really important to me and my practice.

There was this one experience I remember, where I was at my friend’s house over the summer and there was this boy there that I didn’t know, who was kind of drunk and something about feminism came up. He seemed so confused and frustrated, and repeating things commonly said by boys that are counterarguments and all easily defeatable and broken down by someone who knows what they’re talking about. I had this moment where I realized I could either yell at him, explain all my frustrations, and channel all that at him, which I don't think is positive or progressive, or I could sit down with him and try to have a conversation.

At the end of the conversation he told me that he never had a girl listen to him like I did. Even though it can be hard at times, girls can be allowed and have the capability to love themselves more—we have feminism, we have all these conversations that we’re allowed to have. We’re expected to be in touch with our emotions in a way that boys don’t. I think that in some ways it’s up to girls to overcome these boundaries, so we can sit down and listen to these boys who have been silenced or taught all these things they can’t break free from.

Click here to learn more about the artist.

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