Photographer Eva Zar's newest project Shy but not Shy exposes and celebrates the background work that goes into virtual performances of femininity. Exploring the negative space of such stylized exhibitionism -- such as the more vulnerable moments before a selfie, the messy room that you crop out of the frame and the way you look at your body when no one is around -- Zar attempts to capture the intimate realities that tend to be overlooked when viewing someone's Instagram feed.
The project started shortly after Zar moved to New York City, which she said was a place where young people have a particular relationship with technology. Celebrating the unabashed way many young New Yorkers embrace their exhibitionism, Zar wanted her project to reflect how our social media accounts have become "personal exhibition space."
As such, Shy but not Shy attempts to capture moments of intimacy surrounding social media exhibitionism as authentically as possible, finding people who actively cared about curating their Instagram accounts and asking them to do what they would normally do when taking pictures.
"[The photos were taken on] a Sunday morning, and [the models] had just woken up. I asked, 'What would you be doing right now? Would you take a selfie? Do your own thing and I'm just going to be around. Try to ignore me as much as possible,'" she said. "My intention was to find that really intense and really fragile moment of a person before the staging. I really tried to not [overstylize] anything and to make it as natural as possible."
In portraying people at their most intimate and most comfortable, she legitimizes their self-curated experiences. In Zar's glittery worlds, her subjects' hair curlers are tools, their beds stages. They are quietly experts in lighting and painting their nails, in knowing their bodies. In a culture where these skills are often seen as frivolous, where femininity is associated with weakness, such a depiction feels inherently political -- an assertion that even in our most private moments, those of us who practice and perform femininity carry with us a specific, powerful understanding of our visual personalities.
It is especially powerful that Zar shows that femininity is not just for bodies typically classified as female. She says that she doesn't want to make this kind of relationship with femininity seem abnormal, but rather, feels its important for her work to be situated in a climate in which gender is beginning to be understood as amorphous and shifting.
"It has always been really normal for me to see boys with lipstick or girls with short hair, but I totally understand that we're still not at the point where we can say gender roles don't [exist] at all," she explained. "That's why it's so important to take pictures like these to normalize it more and more. I didn't stage the moments [in the photographs]. This is the everyday life for the models."
Ultimately, Zar wants us to consider the ways in which our performances of bravado online contrast with our deeper feelings of shyness and uncertainty, and how those vulnerabilities unite us.
"People pretend like they don't care about their pictures [on Instagram], but they often care very much." Zar says. "The feeling of wanting people to like us comes from a really deep, fragile place that everyone shares. We want to know our hair looks great or our outfit looks nice, or the work we're going is important. People are often ashamed of that feeling, but it's totally normal. At the end of the day, we all just want to be admired" -- which is something we can all identify with.