Cheer Up Luv: Photojournalism Tackling Sexual Harassment

Eliza Hatch is a photojournalist who uses her lens to capture and tackle women’s experiences of sexual harassment around the world. 

Interview by Bella Spencer.

Tell us about your project in 10 words

@Cheerupluv is a photojournalism series retelling stories of sexual harassment.

 Ok, you can have as many words as your heart desires now. What is Cheer Up Luv and how did it begin?
Cheer Up Luv is a photo and interview series, retelling women’s accounts of street harassment. The project combines photography with journalism, activism and  social media, and has gained interest from women all over the world. The women are photographed in public places related to their experience of harassment, then the stories are featured on @cheerupluv and cheerupluv.com.

The project has traveled from London, to New York and Tokyo, and has most recently partnered with the United Nations Population Fund, on an awareness campaign about sexual harassment on public transport in Sri Lanka. The project aims to represent the women who don’t have a public voice, and to create a community of shared experiences whilst raising awareness about everyday harassment. It has gained coverage from i-D, Dazed, Wallpaper, BBC, and Refinery29 to name a few. It has also been exhibited in Sri Lanka, New York and and London.

The themes behind Cheer Up Luv have been a constant factor in my life, but it was after a man on the street walked past me and told me to “Cheer up”, that single phrase, which I am used to hearing, finally irritated me so much to the point where I needed to do something about it. It prompted me to have a conversation with my girlfriends about harassment and we ended up story swapping for over an hour, talking about sexual harassment like it was the most normal thing in the world. This really shocked me, how we where speaking about this topic in such a normalised way. However, It was only when my male friends interjected with their disbelief and horror that we actually could experience it as much as we did, that prompted me to start the project. I realised that it wasn’t just the harassment itself that was the problem, it was the lack of awareness surrounding it.

You represent people from around the world; how do you find their stories?
To be honest, If it weren’t for Instagram and social media in general, I think the project wouldn’t have flourished as much or had the same reach at all. Instagram plays a crucial part to how I communicate with women and find stories from all around the world. It is an amazing open platform, and it means not only can women find me and tell me their stories, but they can read through other women’s stories too.  It creates a community of shared experiences, awareness and solidarity.

What is the biggest challenge the project has faced?
My biggest challenge was probably the Sri Lanka campaign. It was extremely physically and mentally exhausting, but the most rewarding thing I have ever done. The project faced a lot of online backlash when it came out, because there is still a lot of stigma attached to speaking out about issues like these in Sri Lanka. There is a lot of victim blaming and shame attached to it, so it was a really difficult process from start to finish. Finding women to speak out about the issue, and then facing the harassment that came after the campaign came out. The whole experience was a learning curve, and really overwhelming at parts. But ultimately it was a really necessary thing to do, and its a conversation that needed to happen.

How has your work developed over time?

The project developed from me taking photos with a point and shoot 35mm film camera of my friends at bus stops, and experimenting with Wordart in my bedroom, to working with the United Nations and shooting medium format. (To be fair I still photograph girls at bus stops and work in my bedroom occasionally.)

I am a completely self taught photographer, so as well as the many life lessons and challenges this project has brought along, I have also developed my skills with photography. It has been one long learning curve, and my work is constantly improving. I look back at some of my photos from two years ago and cringe, but thats all part of the process I suppose!

What’s your proudest achievement?
My biggest success in 2018 was definitely partnering with the United Nations Population Fund on a global campaign to raise awareness about sexual harassment on public transport in Sri Lanka. I photographed and interviewed 16 women about their experiences. We then released daily content during the 16 Days of Activism on all UN social channels, as well as creating an interactive website, short film and photos on bus stops around Sri Lanka. The project was viewed by more than 6 million people around the world and started a much needed open dialogue about the issue.

Whats next? How do you hope Cheer Up Luv will develop in the future?
My aims with Cheer Up Luv are to keep growing and expanding my network organically and travel to more countries and work with different communities. I plan to keep raising awareness about sexual harassment in other countries and work with more organisations. My main aims are to continue representing women who don’t have a public voice or media platform.

Images courtesy of @Cheeruplov
For more visit http://cheerupluv.com

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