Hayley McCord identifies with a quote by French writer Émile Zola: “In my view you cannot claim to have seen something until you have photographed it.” She believes the reverse is also true – that often a subject cannot be fully seen until it is unapologetically captured in a photo. This is why her documentary photography seeks to empower women through capturing real feeling and emotionally charged situations like political protest and civil rights marches.

Hayley’s passion for photography began at a young age and her current understanding of portrayal as a medium for empowerment came about through her study of the 2015 refugee crisis. Photographic depiction of refugees, particularly female refugees, was often impersonal and portrayed refugees as victims of a crisis, not as active in their own liberation. This observation started her on her journey to respond to this and other problematic portrayals of women in modern society.

Hayley’s Women Protest Project sheds light on the often unrecognized female experience of peaceful protest and dissent. She has followed movements such as the Women’s March, Fridays for Future, Close the Camps, and Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) campus walkouts in Houston, Texas and Santa Cruz, California. Her work seeks to highlight women’s active roles in the democratic process and in their own and other’s liberation.

Women Protest Project

My thesis research at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg utilized feminist security theory and exposed physical and structural violence against Muslim women in Germany. My field research was in the form of intimate interviews with women who wore the hijab and drove home the vital importance and empowering force of enabling women to tell their stories, voice their discontent, and to be seen.

Photography is a powerful tool and can be used to categorize and to objectify. Our modern society is often made uncomfortable by depictions of female power, strength, grief, and rage. We as the viewer are unused to these images because they conflict with mainstream media portrayal of women as primarily beautiful and silent creatures. This
portrayal of women was created by men – the proverbial male gaze is one of objectification, which is innately disempowering.

My ongoing Women Protest Project builds upon my research to redefine the female image with my own empowering female gaze through my lens. This is the reason why I choose to shoot protests, rallies, marches, and civil disobedience. I began my project last year in Houston as the news spread about kids in cages at the US/Mexico border. The majority of protestors outside detention facilities in Houston were female. It is at these events and actions that I found and continue to find my subjects at their most powerful and most convicting. The more actions I photograph, the more I realize that women are angry and that their voices are integral to protest and therefore ultimately to democracy.