Being Truthful with Yourself

11-year-old Eva

I met Eva nearly three years ago when I wrote about her for Talk magazine. It was late spring in Brooklyn, when summer comes creeping in and by 9 a.m. the humidity level is 100-percent. I was uncomfortable and a little sweaty knocking on her studio door that afternoon. When she opened it, relief washed over me.

Part of this came from Eva’s work. Her portraiture is immediately familiar. That is to say, her subjects look the way an entire generation has imagined itself, on social media and in reality. I’m not sure there is a difference for Eva, or for the post-9/11 generation. Her photographs are a mirror reflecting the psyche of American youth in the twenty-first century. The images display all the uncertainty, bonding, prejudices, aspirations, and deep tenderness that are part of growing up in this country today.

And part of the relief I felt, the calm and collectedness, is Eva. She grew up next to Penn State and still shoots there—a Midwestern openness plays across her face in a way that is keenly observant and seemingly unbiased. It welcomes you in, and has allowed her to delve deep into the mythologies of her hometown, producing images devoid of nostalgia.

Relief is still something I feel when viewing Eva’s work. Relief that a woman is focusing her lens on women from a younger generation. Relief that she made it out of the academic institution with all the knowledge and none of the bias nor constraints that attach themselves to women navigating academia. Relief that she remains true to herself, year after year, project after project. And mostly, relief that Eva is strong enough to return home, to examine her past, to look, to listen and to learn from it. Something that, in this current moment, we all would be wise to do.

Elizabeth Karp-Evans

Mo: Where are you right now?

Eva: A few months ago I moved back to my hometown to work on a project. I'm currently in State College, Pennsylvania living in a three-bedroom family home on frat row. It's kind of shocking, I was paying $200 more in NYC for a bedroom in an apartment with two roommates and half a studio. On the one hand, I'm alone in Central Pennsylvania but it's great because I can have a studio, a room to shoot in and my own bedroom for a lot less.

Mo: How is it compared to seeing your roommates every morning?

Eva: This house is unusually cheap, even for this area. But it was weird when I first moved in because I wasn't used to having space. I remember thinking "Holy shit, I can choose what room to drink my coffee in.” [both laughing] But now I've gotten used to it which makes me wonder what moving back to New York will feel like.

Mo: I'm assuming you've been given a lot of solitude now.

Eva: Last year I was commuting and splitting my time between Pennsylvania and NYC. In PA, I was living in a barn behind my childhood home, but my mom ended up moving into that space. I had to decide if I was going to put everything on pause for a while and go back to New York or sublet everything in New York and move out here. I chose to move out here. I spend a lot of time alone here, which can be strange because it's where I grew up. There's a lot of introspection.

Mo: What surprised you the most from the solitude?

Eva: Up until this point, my work, in a lot of ways—consciously or not—has always been rooted in what it was like to grow up in this culture. The project I started in grad school was called Happy Valley, which is a nickname given to my hometown. It was a way for me to examine feelings I had growing up and try to make sense of them. In retrospect, that's how I would describe the process. At the time it felt more intuitive, I felt I needed to make certain images. I knew they were coming from a personal place, but I didn’t know how to talk about my experiences yet, so the images came first.

Eva: For Spitting Image, I worked with 120 girls between 11-14. I photographed through a two-way mirror and made a portrait of each girl responding to their reflection. I wanted to work with girls growing up in the same place I did. Personally, I feel that growing up here had a specific sort of impact on my life and I wanted to see if that might be visible in them, too.

Eva: Every so often I go back to New York and it's grounding. I can beat myself up easily, especially when I'm trying to make work. Sometimes it feels like I put my life on hold for this project. If I go too long without making pictures I start to question who I am and what I'm doing.

Mo: Whether as a photo editor or photographer, I think about how the internet and, in particular, how social media is a tool for research and sometimes is a process of the work. Right now I'm on a four week sabbatical from social media apps. It's way harder than one thinks to pull the plug on those things.

Eva: When I make an intentional effort to go offline, it always takes a few days to detox. You don't really think you're addicted until you try to take a break.

Mo: The illusion of relevancy scares me the most.

Eva: It's tricky. I do freelance work and social media helps. There's professional pressure plus social pressure plus escapism and addiction—it can be a lot. Sometimes it's helpful to say you're logging off because then you feel embarrassed if you fail and go back on too soon. You think, “Oh no, everyone knows I couldn't handle it!” [both laughing]