Photography student empowering women with photo shoots

Taylor Sexton
A&F Staff Writer
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Walking through the botanical gardens on a chilly day with a camera around her neck and model in tow, senior photography student Mechal Harward conducts a boudoir shoot for her final show as a UNC Asheville student.

Katie Ayers models for Mechal Harward’s boudoir photography project in the Botanical Gardens. Photo by Emma Jordan.

Harward’s interest in photography developed her freshman year of high school. After seeing her grandmother with a camera around her neck at any family event, she began to take an interest.
“She gave me a film camera my freshman year of high school,” Harward said. “Then from there, after developing a couple roles of film and being like, ‘Wow this is really fun,’ I decided to use the rest of my bat mitzvah money and buy myself a DSLR.”
Harward started with an interest in portraiture photography and said she believes boudoir photography extends as another form of it.
She was not free in school to pursue boudoir photography until her Photography 3 class last semester when Harward said she decided to try it out for her final project. This would be the beginning of one of her biggest projects.
“At first, I didn’t realize how much it was going to empower not only my friends who I’m photographing, but also myself,” Harward said. “I finally feel like my photography is going in a direction where it’s doing something and that being empowering these beautiful women both inside and out.”
Katie Ayres, a junior psychology student with a K-6 teacher licensure, modeled for Harward in the gardens.
Ayres said she heard about Harward’s request for models through both Instagram and her roommate Leah Griffin, who had worked with the photographer before.
“I want all women to be fucking confident. For someone like me who is really insecure, doing this is a really big thing and I think more women should do stuff like this because it makes them feel really beautiful,” Ayres said.
Ayres felt nothing but excitement and power when looking at the photos once they were done.
“They’re so beautiful. I think to myself, ‘She did that, I did that, we did that!’ and it’s just amazing,” Ayres said.
Griffin, a literature student, said the shoot was empowering for her and was another step in her journey of self love.  
“I’m in the process of unlearning shame around my body. It’s a long process and I constantly have to work to remind myself of the value of this body that I get to inhabit,” Griffin said. “I felt like this shoot would help me grow to be more comfortable in my own skin and it did.”
Starting in middle school, Griffin said she constantly felt the need to cover her skin up and hated the thought of showing any at all. She said the fear always lingered and this shoot was important for her because it allowed her to fight back fear of exposure and the shame she once felt.
Griffin said she believes many images of women which portray them showing skin of any kind are often taken by men and presented for male consumption.
“This shoot was nothing like that, it was taken by a woman for women, with nothing in mind except to make us feel powerful and beautiful,” Griffin said. “I think that’s really special. It definitely made me feel empowered and proud.”
Harward said she tries to not degrade anyone or oversexualize her friends. She wanted to show her friends how awesome and beautiful they truly are and she said she encourages more women to do boudoir photography so that they can feel the way they deserve to feel — empowered.
“People can say what they want to say. But I do really feel like it’s a true feminist form of art, just embracing you and your sister’s beauty,” Harward said.