Introducing “Women Sitting on Grass”
During the Fall of 2011, I spent a semester of my junior year of college studying in Paris. It was my first time living abroad and I relied on a petty stipend from the university to cover my monthly expenses. The stipend and my inability to work in France afforded me the predicament of an enormous amount of free time with limited funds to spare.
While my classmates traveled to other European cities on the weekends, I instead solitarily explored Paris, embodying the flaneur- the aimless wanderer. I spent my days strolling through Left Bank bookstores and flea markets. I sketched at Le Musée Rodin and bopped along La Seine in my Boise headphones, getting hopelessly lost during this pre-Google Maps era. I saved my spare coins and bought Camel Blues from the local tabac and read Anais Nin over au laits at countless cafés around the city. It was the first time in many years that I was forced to slow down. There were no deadlines to meet, or retail jobs to work. My only obligation was to succumb to the life of Paris.
It was during this time that I came across what would become the first photo in my collection of “Women Sitting on Grass.” It was a Sunday afternoon, and like many before, I spent it strolling Le Marais, challah loaf in arm, peeping around the flea markets. I stopped to look at a pile of old photographs absentmindedly spread out on a table and was struck by one photo in particular. It was a photo of a mother and daughter dressed in Victorian style clothing posing on grass for presumably a husband or grandfather. They were wearing matching outfits, the mother topped with a hat and her daughter, a large bow. The difference in emotion of each character surprised me. The mother’s large grin (a rare expression for women of this era) versus her young daughter’s precocious indifference at her photo being taken. Like in an Édouard Manet painting, the daughter laid on her side, as if to encourage the eye behind the lens to accentuate the curve of her waistline. Why was the daughter so unphased by her country surroundings? Why was the mother so happy?
As I spent more time frequenting flea markets around Paris and then around the world, I noticed a trend of women from a particular time period posing on grass, often accompanied with an expression of glee. These women became my companions as I imagined who they were and how they came to pose on that certain patch of grass. Was the photographer inspired by the painters before him who often portrayed women in ethereal settings? Or were these portraits spontaneous? I like to believe it’s the latter. The apparent ease of expression (some even nude) of these women splayed across grass hints at a sense of freedom. It’s as if these women were finally able to let loose and enjoy a world outside of their male dominated societies and stifling, laborious households.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, I began to draw parallels between these women and my own confined existence. With limited opportunities to leave my apartment, I savored the moments spent strolling around Central Park, getting lost within the Northern Woods. Enveloped by the surrounding vegetation and wildlife, I finally felt liberated from Covid-19’s grip. Maybe this is how the women in these photos felt, living during a time of greater female repression. Maybe each photo captured their momentary snapshot of freedom?
Over the past 11 years, I have accumulated a collection of over 100 photos of women sitting on grass from around the world. No matter what city I’m in, I never fail to find similar women, in similar poses, always on grass. The universality hints at the innate connection between women and our perpetual search for peace within the natural world.
In the “Women Sitting on Grass” photo project, I aim to bring these women to life and honor their memory. Each photo will be accompanied by a short, fictionalized account of who these women were and what they were doing on the day the photo was snapped. The photo project can be viewed on Instagram @womensittingongrass