A woman holding green and wine-coloured flowers against a deep pink/purple background and surrounded by green fern-like leaves.

The hearts of female warriors

In her work, Canon ambassador Guia Besana often focuses on the complexity of womanhood, painting an authentic image of the struggles modern women face. Here, for International Women’s Day 2020, Guia shares her thoughts on strength, fragility, motherhood and the balance of power that exists within.

“Being a female photographer can be tough, but because I was self-taught and became a reportage photographer quite late in my life, it was even more of a challenge. After spending ten years in interior decoration I made the decision to follow my dream, which was actually quite complicated because I also wanted to have children. I moved from Italy to Paris, as there was a lot of photography work there, but I had a bit of a crisis after I had my daughter because I realised that I couldn't travel anymore. That's when I started working symbolically. I began with a series called ‘Baby Blues’, where I was taking fictional images depicting motherhood conflict. In reality, this fiction was more real than all my reportage because this was my own story and it started a new direction in my work. Gradually I was requested to add my own voice to my commercial work and began to be recognised as someone who did a lot of work with women.

A woman holding green and wine-coloured flowers against a deep pink/purple background and surrounded by green fern-like leaves.
“We are human beings that have the right to be fragile.” © Guia Besana

This image is part of a commission from Canon for the launch of the EOS R system. I was given the freedom to forward any ideas I felt passionate about. Since I had shifted from reportage to fine art photography, working on more personal projects, I wanted to take this opportunity to do something personal. I often start these kinds of project with myself as a baseline and then translate my view and understanding into a more universal message. For this, I wanted to work with different women, using colours and flowers and felt it was important to share an aspect of myself because in my life, like so many other women, I have overcome challenges. I believe that when I tell a story it's important to keep a sense of fragility and imperfection because if you don't have this within your powerful and complex self, it may be more difficult to overcome your challenges.

I wanted to use this woman as the main subject and have the flowers tell a story of fragility, power and indecision. Women often face situations where we question ‘should I do this, or should I do that?’ and these moments are where we find ourselves in between big choices. I started researching the significance of the flowers and colours because many countries have different connotations and meaning for the same flower. I wanted to be careful not to select something that meant life or death in two different places. With the help of a female producer in Barcelona, we cast a woman (she was not a model, as I never use professional models) and this picture is probably the one that has the most contrast in between what she looks like physically and the final image. The girl in the picture is tiny and had a fragile kind of body, but when she sat in front of the camera, I noticed how much life and history was in her eyes. She looked like a warrior, so I wanted to place her powerfully – a sort of samurai or woman warrior who fights alone – yet her fragility was interesting. Fragility and power in femininity cannot live without each other. In womanhood, this is intertwined and it's how we grow. That's how we overcome things, even though it may include pain and fear.

A photograph of Guia Besana, standing with her hand on a white chair, in front of prints of her work and under a photographers lighting rig. To the left is the quote: “You have to find the balance between power and fragility. For me, this is where real femininity lies.”

Working on fiction, for me, is more honest. And I think it's interesting to work on something that is related to my personal experiences. I like to deliver my piece of a story and then expand it to a more universal expression, but I always verify that what I'm about to say in the story is related to human beings in general.

In the first two series, 'Baby Blues' and 'Under Pressure' I was talking about motherhood and women under pressure in society. It's a mix of my story and others, which I did in 2010, before the ‘Me Too’ movement. When I first delivered the images, everyone told me that the women looked like victims, but I saw women: housewives, mothers, but with careers and being challenged by the differences in male and female salaries. It was like a freeze-frame of a moment in society. Then two years ago, the photography festival Cortona on the Move held an edition focused on women and the curator of the festival asked me to show this work. All of a sudden everyone was like, ‘this is really contemporary! Did you do it this year?’. When your photographic process brings something unexpected – and it's human – that's the way I like to connect with people.

Of course, there is empowerment, but when we only see strength in people, we might start to think – don't do it all by yourself! I have many friends who gave everything to their career and now they've reached an age where they can no longer have kids and feel so sad. They wanted to be independent. Perhaps they didn't find the right person, but they didn’t think it would take them so long. So, when they got there, it was too late. We cannot put so much energy into every single thing – we will burn out. So, let's not lose who we really are. We are human beings that have the right to be fragile. I want to say this because it's so easy to forget. It's ok to allow our fragile parts of ourselves to co-exist in the complex humans we are.”

Written by Guia Besana and Cecilie Harris

Related Articles