Petra Collins Take Us For a Ride in Coming of Age

The photographer and creative powerhouse takes us back to the beginning in her most recent book.

By Brittany Natale

Petra Collins is a photographer whose work has become synonymous with dreamlike settings, ethereal aesthetics, and magical vibes. But most importantly, her work exudes empowerment under the female gaze. Many of her photographs capture raw, honest portrayals of girls–lounging in front of a laptop browsing the Internet, taking selfies at a party, and feeling comfortable in their own skin; these moments calling to mind certain recollections that make you go, “Wait, me too!” Experiencing Petra’s work feels a bit like discovering those deep corners of yourself that you didn’t even know existed. She has the power to unearth memories and emotions that you thought were long gone.

Petra, a native of Toronto, Ontario has done it all. She’s shot for magazines such as Vogue, Wonderland and Elle; exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art; has directed music videos for Carly Rae Jepsen, Lil Yachty, and Selena Gomez among so many others. She was also the resident photographer for Tavi Gevinson’s Rookie magazine, Ryan McGinley’s protege, and most recently directed Gomez’s performance of “Wolves” at the American Music Awards. But in her newest book, Coming of Age, Petra takes us back to the beginning. Through her words and photos she navigates us through a stripped down version of her world–one that existed, in part, before the music videos and magazine shoots.

“I wanted to create a world with my subjects, a new world–completely apart from what we saw on TV and in magazines, which never showed girls feeling doubtful or vulnerable in the way I felt I was.” – Petra Collins

Coming of Age acts as both a retrospective of the work Petra has done so far, as well as an autobiographical account of life experiences. From body image to mental health, from her relationships with others to her relationship with herself: In her essay, titled “Family Album”, Petra shares with us a touching account of childhood–honest and relatable reflections of parent/child dynamics–and how those primitive years truly shape a person. In “Body Reveal” she shares the importance of not becoming desensitized by the media’s ongoing skewed portrayal of women and how positive change regarding this must happen. And with “Home Again”, one of the book’s final essays, we are brought full circle when Petra recounts the grounding experience of revisiting home after being away for quite some time.

What is found in Coming of Age that is just as striking as the words are the photographs that are included throughout. Images of young women bathed in neon light with tears streaming down their faces, two people in a warm embrace, her younger sister and forever muse, Anna, in a ballet pose, and magical scenes of her young cousins in Budapest, all make Petra’s words come alive. Readers may also recognize some familiar faces that belong to friends and collaborators such as Zendaya, India Menuez, and Diana Veras.

One of the strong themes in Coming of Age, as also echoed by contributions from fellow creatives Laurie Simmons, Karly Sciortino (aka @karlyslutever) and Marilyn Minter, is feminism and the efforts Petra has, and continues to make, in helping to strengthen the voices of women. Since her early days, Petra has worked hard to help create more of a space for female artists. In her last year of high school, after being frustrated by the lack of platforms showing women artists’ work, she created the Ardorous which has featured familiar talent such as Maya Fuhr, Grace Miceli, Beth Hoeckel and many others. Through this and more, Petra has showed us you don’t have to feel 100% one hundred percent of the time, you don’t have to fit into society’s outdated beauty standards, and you certainly do not ever have to apologize for who you are. That women can be multitalented and multifaceted, that it doesn’t have to be one or the other, and that all of those facets should be celebrated.

“I wanted to create a world with my subjects,” Petra writes in her essay “Bed and Bath”, “a new world–completely apart from what we saw on TV and in magazines, which never showed girls feeling doubtful or vulnerable in the way I felt I was.” And that she did.

Coming of Age is available through Rizzoli wherever books are sold.