In a series of frank and straightforward portraits, ordinary women meet the gaze of photographer Eliza Hatch’s camera. They are accompanied by equally ordinary stories, recounting incidents of street harassment and sexual assault. “He put his hand up my skirt,” says Olivia, her gingham dress backlit by the sun. Dorina, sitting at a table, a bright red lunch tray filling the foreground, recounts the time a man told her “I’d like to taste your chocolate,” in front of his own daughter. “Everyone was watching but no one said anything,” says Lulu, captured sitting in a small field of flora. Olivia, Dorina, Lulu, as well as the dozens of women that populate Hatch’s ongoing project, Cheer Up Luv, are striking in their familiarity.
Cheer Up Luv is an ongoing photojournalism project that Hatch, a London-based photographer, began in January of 2017. The project aims to document the experience of sexual harassment in public, no matter how big or small. The women featured in Cheer Up Luv share a range of experiences: from being yelled at, to physical assault, as well the common aftermath of humiliation. Each entry into Cheer Up Luv is similar: photograph and text combine to tell an often all-too-familiar story of harassment in a public space. In the process, Hatch’s project reclaims that space, transforming it from a site of harassment into a kind of photographic Speakers’ Corner, where women can be both heard and seen.
Hatch recently told Jezebel that the themes that motivate Cheer Up Luv have “been a constant factor in my life,” but she was prompted to action after a “strange man walked past me and told me to ‘cheer up.’” “It really bothered me,” Hatch says, stressing a common exasperation. She began 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.” It was only after some of her male friends “interjected with their disbelief” that Hatch decided to embark on Cheer Up Luv. “I realized that it wasn’t just the harassment itself that was the problem, it was [also] the lack of awareness,” she added.
Hatch began Cheer Up Luv by asking women close to her if they’d be willing to pose, as well as share their stories. “To my surprise, everyone responded positively and wanted to contribute,” Hatch says. Since launching the project, which has now traveled beyond London and into a handful of countries, Hatch says that she’s had a “constant stream of women coming forward to me, sharing experiences, and wanting to be photographed.” The location of her portraits is determined by the stories women tell her, and it is always in public—buses, Tube stations, streets, and restaurants are recurring locations in the project—because she wants “to give an impression of everyday life and the unfortunate normality of harassment.”
Given the nature of the project, Hatch says that it’s “extremely important” that the women she photographs “are comfortable and relaxed... I want to show strength in place of vulnerability.” The final photograph is the result of behind-the-scenes labor. “I like to spend some time chatting or getting coffee with the woman beforehand so that we are both familiar with each other,” Hatch says. The result is a collaborative portrait born of visual and personal empathy and metamorphosed into a visual reclamation of public spaces.
Though Hatch began Cheer Up Luv before #MeToo became such a prominent movement, she notes that she’s had a “constant stream of women coming... to me sharing experiences and wanting to be photographed, especially in light of the #metoo hashtag and outpouring of allegations.” But, she adds, #MeToo hasn’t changed the artistic purpose of her project. She still wants to “keep sharing stories and photographing women” but is now more aware “of reaching a wider audience and affecting real change.” Hatch acknowledges that awareness of sexual harassment, its unrestrained existence in public spaces ranging from streets to restaurants to workplaces, is still in its infancy. “There is still plenty of work that needs to be done regarding sexual harassment,” Hatch says, “this is just the first stage of it: creating awareness. Now that awareness just needs to be utilized, practiced and taught.”
In that respect, Hatch sees Cheer Up Luv as an ongoing project, a project with a potentially endless number of subjects and stories. “The project’s lifetime is as long as the women who want to be involved,” Hatch says.