LensWork Publication Skills Grant

Submission Info

American Girl

INNA Valin - St Paul, MN, USA

In this series, fine art photographer Inna Valin explores the diverse worlds of often invisible American Girls in the contemporary landscape. Referencing personal experiences as a cult survivor and a homeless teen Valin documents girls in the margins and sidelines of culture, who may not stereotypically come to mind when we think of the phrase American girl, such as New Muslim immigrants girls, girls affected by the opiate epidemic and homelessness, forgotten rural working class girls. She creates a remarkably honest and poignant portrait of the American experience through the eyes of the American Daughter.

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Upon entering middle life, my art has taken an introspective turn. Oddly enough, this introspection has manifested itself in very public photographs of strangers on the street. The result is my series, American Girl.

American Girl is one part documentary photography, one part autobiography and one part symbolism that reflects the ritual, metaphor and ineffable existential question of the human condition. It is an exploration of the iconography of American girlhood in the tableaux of the modern American landscape. I have shot these photographs in black and white as a reference to the timelessness of our human condition.

Like many people, my start in this life was not easy but it gave me a lot of material to work with as an artist. I grew up in the spiritually abusive cult of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their zealotry affected every aspect of my life growing up and later caused me to be a homeless teen for rejecting the cult.

I doubt I would have survived these experiences and come out a whole, free, independent woman in any country other then America. Some of it was certainly luck, such as surviving a brutal attack by a stranger, but so much of it was the freedom I had as an American girl to choose my own destiny.  Free is such a simple word yet it’s true life meaning is almost incomprehensible to the generations of women who came before us. American freedom meant that I could not be held hostage to the religious wiles or gender roles of my family of origin. It meant that I could choose my own destiny. 

As a child I dreamed of exploring the world with my camera. I poured over issues of National Geographic and plotted how I would become one of their photographers. I never outgrew the romance I began with my camera as a child although the path did not lead to my dreams of becoming an elite photojournalist. My path has been full of unexpected twists and turns and I feel so lucky to have held onto the camera throughout the journey. I use my experiences to empathize, access and explore human experiences and cloistered worlds.
It is not without a sense of irony that I now use my camera to look back at childhood, exploring the worlds of these American girls. I am also looking forward to the future generations of American women. 

I am ready to turn this series into a book and am seeking this grant to acquire the education at the Minnesota center for book arts to create handmade art books. I will combine the skills of handmade art books with modern software to layout the project. I will create a stunning art book, American Girl. I have a solo show of this work scheduled for Spring of 2018 at the Minneapolis photo center and this grant will facilitate my acquisition of the skills and software the creation of a book to accompany the exhibition and a tool to approach publishers and agents.

I click the shutter in hopes of stopping the hands of time and to capture that microsecond which speaks of transcendence, beauty, imperfection, survival and existential mystery. I hold my camera as a mirror for us, we orphan daughters, the transcendents, the survivors, we who fall and get back up. I am an old-fashioned photographer, paying my entry fee in shoe leather, immersed and baptized in the sidewalk grit, the aisles of discounts stores, the streets where I fought for my life. I make these pictures to mark these shifting days, as East and West meet and meld together in central standard time. All of the tribe’s daughters blending their voices in faith and frailty, singing low and soaring high. 
I appreciate your consideration.



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