These photos of adrenaline-addled athletes are a remarkable comment on female strength.
With her series, “Male Sport,” which will be on display at Pictura Gallery in Bloomington, Indiana next month, Sophie Kirchner hopes to start a conversation about gender injustices, and, simultaneously, pay tribute to the strength of women who combat them simply by pursuing their passions.
“In Germany, women still are not equal to men in some aspects of society. I was looking for a platform that almost everyone can relate to – like sports – to address this. I wanted to provoke a discussion about how we look at women,” says Kirchner.
In 2012, the photographer spent three days shooting dozens of top-level women in three sports – rugby, hockey and water polo – that she feels, unlike soccer and basketball, are still largely perceived as male domains.
Kirchner set up a makeshift studio at sports arenas and photographed the women right after they finished their games. She wanted their appearances unaltered, their faces still marked by adrenaline and exhaustion. The women were photographed shirtless, so that viewers are forced to focus solely on the expressions of the athletes.
“A lot of people who looked at my work said, ‘They are very manly. They are not very sexy or girly.’ Some people said they were afraid of the women somehow because they look so strong and that made them insecure. When I was working on conceiving the work, I was thinking about these prejudices that exist in society,” says the photographer.
While Kirchner has been unsettled by some of the reactions to the work, she said she thinks a frank conversation about sexist attitudes can help dismantle them. Meanwhile, she hopes her photographs will present a more accurate and honest image of what female athletes look like.
“Her work is all about showing people who do what they love. Nothing more, but also nothing less,” art collector Heinz Lohmann wrote about the work. “With her expressive portraits she simply points out that these women are not marginal, but that society is marginalizing them.”
Prints from the series can be purchased here.