Her images have already gone viral, her feminist work reaching to all parts of the globe. Photographer Liora K is on a mission, and it began right here in Tucson. By Gillian Drummond. Cover photo by Liora K.
It’s a striking image of a striking image. Liora K, photographer and women’s rights advocate, is pulling up a news story on her cell phone. She looks at a photo taken at a demonstration in Tunisia – a gathering of protesters against an alleged rape of a woman there by police officers. Someone in the crowd is holding a banner with one of Liora’s images on it, enlarged. It’s a woman’s naked torso with painted words on it: “Rape is rape. No excuses.”
More than ten thousand miles across the world, someone in that crowd had found Liora’s photo – one of many feminist works she has done – and taken the trouble to mount it on a banner. “I’m honored that women across the world were able to connect with the image,” says Liora.
It’s not the first time, however. This Tucson photographer got a taste for world headlines last May when her photos of Tucson blogger and body positive activist Jes M Baker and a male model went press- and Internet-viral. Called Attractive & Fat, the photographs were a take-off of Abercrombie & Fitch’s black and white ad campaign.
This was a turning point for Liora, 25, who up until then had viewed photography as a hobby and creative outlet. Now, family and friends were encouraging her to turn it into a profession. By the summer, her day job and her photography were turning her working week into seven days. She credits her then boyfriend (now husband) Andrew with making her step off that creative cliff and hand in her notice at jewelry design firm Krikawa, where she was (happily) in charge of client services.
That was in August, and she has been surprised, and excited, about the work that’s come along since. “Once I gave myself permission to do that I was so shocked by the requests I got. And in terms of networking, it exploded,” she says.
Liora has Tucson to thank largely for her change of direction. She grew up in New Jersey, went to college in Pennsylvania, and after graduating followed Andrew to Tucson, where he had been attending the University of Arizona. “I said ‘It’s been four years, you have a job and I don’t. So I’ll come to you’.” Andrew, whom she had met in High School, had a job guaranteed as an engineer at Raytheon.
Liora worked at several different jobs here, including retail and a stint at the Center for Creative Photography. One of her jobs was at the beauty store Sephora, which she loved. “Make-up is like painting,” she enthuses. Soon after, she would turn to a different sort of painting altogether.
It was 2012, and she became angry at the so-called War on Women and what she saw as clampdowns on women’s health and reproductive rights. The daughter of very liberal parents, Liora was finding it tough living in her first politically red state.
She had met Tucson model Katy Gierlach (pictured on our cover page) at an event in Tucson and told her she would love to photograph her. Katy gave Liora her number. Then Liora, who admits to bouts of shyness, took fright. “I was too scared to call her for a month. Katy had to call me,” she says.
The two became friends, Katy modeling largely TFP, as they say in the photography trade. It stands for Time For Print, and means the model gives his or her time in exchange for photos, either prints or digital images.
One day, an image came into Liora’s head: words painted on a nude woman’s body. At 7 am the next day, Katy and another model turned up at Liora’s house. Liora painted two phrases on them with acrylic paint: “What about my right to life?” and “Enough is enough.”
Liora posted them online, tagging the women’s rights group Unite Women. The group got back to her and asked her if she would produce a series for them. In the meantime, Katy introduced Liora to her friend Jes Baker. The very next day, Liora and Jes drove to Phoenix together to one of Unite Women’s state capitol rallies. They became fast friends. And the rest is feminist photography history. As Katy says: “I had no idea when I introduced them what amazingness would come.”
Together, Jes and Liora are quite the feminist and body positive powerhouse. They came together to both shoot and participate in the charitable photography project Sexy Lady Bookworms (read more about it in this 3 Story feature from Spring 2013). A photography exhibition last Spring at Tucson’s Cafe Passe included both of them and their body positive and feminist photography. There was Attractive & Fat. There’s a book proposal. (As part of it, Liora photographed 68 women topless, whilst topless herself.) And you can bet there is much more to come. A snap appeared on Facebook recently of them in snow with the comment “We’re at it again!” Liora won’t say what – not yet, anyway.
Jes says simply of her friend: “I love that f***ing girl.” She recalls “huddling” around Liora with ten other men and women at a photo shoot for a feminist photo book cover. “She spoke about the dire need for advocacy within women’s rights. Her voice was strong, courageous, and unapologetic as she detailed current events.” She recounted them with such conviction, says Jes, “it gave me goosebumps”.
Adds Jes: “She’s a clear, powerful, and brilliant voice in a world that will never be able to shut her down. I admire her pioneering spirit, her blunt communication, her creative vision, and her dedication to the things that truly matter.”
That dedication includes fighting for causes, and working hard to accomplish them, says friend Rachel Garman, who spearheaded Sexy Lady Bookworms. “This is a woman that will get up at four in the morning to get the perfect shot.”
Liora has a reputation for working fast and economically on shoots. “She definitely knows when she’s got a shot,” says Katy Gierlach. “Sometimes though, when she gets really into the shoot and excited, she gets caught up and has to stop herself. ‘OK, three more frames and then we have to be done… I could just keep doing this’.”
Photographer and graphic designer Steve McMackin (who happens to work for this magazine) collaborated with Liora on shooting the Sexy Lady Bookworms project. He says: “Liora has an uncanny ability to get people to be comfortable in front of her camera. I can only marvel at her ability to pose and orchestrate people in a way that’s as much fun for the models as it is for the viewer.”
Growing up, Liora was “totally dorky, totally straight-edged”, she says – raised a conservative Jew and regular temple goer. She loved drawing, painting, dance and choir, and her parents were “super supportive” of her creative pursuits.
Her father, an amateur photographer, asked Liora what she wanted for a high school graduation gift. She told him she wanted a digital camera, and didn’t want to have to use a flash. “I really like photographs where I can use natural light,” she says. He bought her a Fujifilm FinePix, a point-and-shoot with a manual setting, and that summer taught her about aperture sizes and F-stops. It was, she says, like a new dawn; being able to recreate pictures she had had in her head that she couldn’t quite nail through drawing or painting was liberating. Her photography flourished in college, and she spent summers interning at galleries and museums in Chicago.
She still has that Fuji camera, although she uses a Nikon D700 professionally. She also has the pictures in her head. “[Sometimes] I’ll have an image in my brain and I can’t get rid of it until I photograph it. That’s how it is 10% of the time.” The other 90% of the time, she works intuitively and quickly. “I’m working on having longer shoots and pushing myself to take time over it.” she says.
Easy, fun, sometimes a little shy, and with a genuine love for her friends and family, Liora cuts a modest and sincere figure.
She’s very well-read – from Simone de Beauvoir to third-wave feminist blogs. Would she call herself a lipstick feminist? No. “Other people might… I think that it’s an over-simplistic term to describe a whole person.” She prefers the term third wave intersectional feminist, a reference to the theory that oppression is bound up with and influenced by things like race, gender, class, ethnicity.
She talks fiercely about “slut shaming”, and don’t get her started on Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines song and video. “I dance to it,” admits Liora. But “I hate it.”
As for the reductive last name, she says the use of the ‘K’ is nothing more than a general preference. “I just have never used my last name online. I consider my last name personal information, and just got in the habit of using the initial.”
She recently got to be on the other side of the camera when she and Andrew got married in the Hudson Valley. Was choosing a photographer stressful? She shakes her head no. She thoroughly researched it, and came up with a woman whose work she had admired for some time: Los Angeles-based Liesl Diesel.
As for her own, increasingly busy, business, Liora says she isn’t restricting herself with the sorts of shoots she does; she’s game to do portraits, weddings, events and food. She is particularly enjoying her photo projects for the new magazine Edible Baja Arizona. Switching up her photography projects like this “keeps it fresh,” she says – something Liora clearly thrives on.