Inspired by conversations with women and the daily struggles being faced, in the fall of 2017, Audra Miller was enraged and decided to use her own photography skills to uplift women going through hard times and showcase just how resilient they are. Knowing that photography has the power to capture a minute speck of history and force viewers to grapple with difficult concepts, the She Rose Project was born.
UNUM: Can you first talk a little about you, your upbringing, and the inspiration behind starting She Rose? How did you come up with the name?
AM: I’m a photographer that grew up in a small Kansas town who now lives in San Francisco. My parents were public school teachers and brought me up to be helpful, hardworking and honest. The first portrait shoot I ever did was pro bono for a senior in high school whose family didn’t have enough money for senior portraits. I have always loved photography because of its ability to empower and to build someone’s self-confidence. Photography also has the power to spark conversations. Throughout my career, the projects that have meant the most to me have been the ones that have brought new concepts into the spotlight and have created dialogue. I’ve worked on The Gender Project showing gender as a social construct, Everyone Deserves a Home, a portrait series of formerly homeless San Franciscans, and most recently, the She Rose Project.
The #MeToo movement was in full swing. One of the women I talked to had just discovered that a former colleague of hers was outed as a serial rapist. She had had an altercation with this man in the past and this news was overbearing. I witnessed how this affected her. She felt powerless, terrified, hopeless, unable to leave the house sometimes due to that fear.
I was enraged. No one should be made to feel this way and yet many, many women do. I didn’t know how to help but I wanted to. I brainstormed ideas of how I could use my photography skills to uplift women going through hard times. Women are incredibly strong and resilient. I wanted to somehow showcase that.
And the She Rose Project was born.
Initially I was going to call it SHEroes, but one day as I was explaining it to a friend, they misheard me and thought I was saying She Rose. It stuck. These portraits portray women as the superheroes that they are. They show how women overcome incredible obstacles and rise above them stronger. It mimics the #MeToo movement by acknowledging that while other women have experienced pain and trauma, these women have also persevered through it and are more powerful because of it. It inspires hope. She rose and so can others.
UNUM: Was there something that happened in your own personal life that gave you the idea to do such a powerful project?
AM: There was not an event in my life personally that generated this project, however, I experienced an incredibly traumatic event right in the middle of creating these portraits. It goes to show that in life, we will all experienced something awful, something that throws us, something we thought would never happen. We will all experience pain, loss, grief or sorrow at some point, and we all need to find the inner strength to get back up.
UNUM: Have you seen women transform because of She Rose?
AM: This project has allowed women to acknowledge their experiences and confirm their inner positive beliefs of themselves in the present. Many of the women who have participated have decided to print their portraits large and hang them in their home, to help remind themselves of the hero that is inside. We don’t realize how incredibly amazing we are as human beings. We are all capable of fighting a darkness in our life.
It took a lot of courage for some of these women to share their stories with me. What’s even more incredible is that many of them were willing to have their stories shared with a larger audience, which is where a more visible impact could be seen.
UNUM: What are inspiring moments you have seen in the lives of not just the women you work with but yours as well. How has this project affected you personally?
AM: Throughout this project, I have met so many amazing women and have learned their stories. Each woman I have worked with so far has had insight into how to build resilience and to grow after setbacks. I am incredibly humbled to have the opportunity to spend time with each person involved. Through them all is a visible theme. Every woman I have talked to has found a way to better themselves and others who might be experiencing the same burdens. Some have started organizations to help abused women, some volunteer, some make sure it’s their mission to help other women and be a listening ear or resource.
In the middle of this project I experienced an unexpected loss of the one person I loved the most in my life. I became anxious and depressed and lost a majority of my self confidence. If you have never experienced those feelings before, when you do, it’s almost completely disabling. It hasn’t even been a year since my loss and I am still trying to pull myself up a few inches, even though the pain throws me back down, day after day.
This project has kept me going. Even though I have lost so much and felt like I gave up on the happiness of my own life, I couldn’t give up on these women. They deserved my time, my attention, and my ability to visually create each epic version of each woman.
Life can sometimes stab you in the back and walk out on you, but you still have the choice to better another person’s life, no matter how small. This project has given me a feeling of purpose and that I can help others build their own confidence.
UNUM: What would you tell anyone wanting take a leap to follow their own ideas and dreams?
AM: The biggest risks are worth taking, even though they may have the most painful outcomes. There are some things that we cannot change in our lives but what we can change is our outlook. You can make a difference. You can be more than your past. You can get through this. You can become someone great. Things will get better. You are absolutely incredible and above all you MATTER.
Life will have setbacks. Life will have pain, but that does not mean that you should give up. Find what gives you meaning in your life and pursue it like there’s no tomorrow. Do what you love and you will make a difference in this world.
UNUM: What are your favorite superhero stories you’ve heard so far?
AM: One of the first women I took a photo of was named Kenda. She was a former neighbor of mine. Kenda had never thought of herself as an athlete or a runner. One day she decided to start. She started slowly and didn’t jog very far but every day she kept trying. A year and a half later, she runs in almost ten races a year and has completed marathons! I took a photo of her to look like the Flash. She wore her running attire and a cape that she made for her kids that she nannys. She also loves glitter so we incorporated it in with her powers.
Stephanie was throwing her life away until she found out she had cancer at age 21. Instead of pulling her down it gave her a newfound determination. She finished her degree and turned her life around. She now values the time that she has been given and tries to make each day important. For her superhero we made her a time hunter with hair of fire to symbolize how she lost her hair during chemo.
Johanna was sexually assaulted in college and was too ashamed to tell anyone for a long time. She felt numb. When she did tell people, it was a release but also brought with it more pain, disgust about herself and her body and despair. She thought about ending her life but with the help of friends she pulled through. She has an internal fire that pushes her forward. She now fights for her life to be better. For her superhero we made her running through a blizzard with balls of energy escaping from her palms.
UNUM: What do you hope to accomplish with this project?
AM: Primarily, I want to empower each woman that participates in She Rose. Acknowledging the inner hero inside of us helps build confidence and pride. If I can do that, even for just one person, then that’s a step in the right direction.
If the women allow me to share their images and stories on other platforms such as blogs, social, articles, galleries, etc, this project can inspire others to rise up. Every day we hear stories of horror and stories of success but very rarely do we hear stories of turning pain into power and struggles into strength. I want women to recognize that they are incredible.
I hope to continue to grow this project. I know it’s not possible but I wish I could help give everyone their own superhero. We all have a hero inside of us.
Nominations for the She Rose Project can be found here.
History is behind us but Herstory is now.
Words: Audra Miller
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Audra Miller has been a published, professional photographer for the past ten years. Her work is best known for its rich textures, intriguing concepts and authenticity. While a majority of her pieces strives to maximize the use of natural light and environments, part of her portfolio experiments with elaborate post processing techniques that create the unimaginable. Audra has established works such as Everyone Deserves a Home, the Gender Project and most recently, the She Rose Project.