The progressive photojournalist documenting the daily plights of women worldwide.
A few months ago, photojournalist Eliza Hatch found herself at a random party — as one does — making small talk with a stranger in the early hours of the morning. “I photograph women who’ve experienced sexual harassment,” she told him: “and he just burst out laughing.”
The 24 year old sat him down to explain her documentary project Cheer Up Luv; to let him know, “very straight faced”, that since starting it two years ago she’s been invited to speak on BBC News, partnered with The United Nations, and become fully self-employed just two years out of Uni. “Yeah,” she laughs, “He was obviously a bit embarrassed.”
In January 2017, London-born Hatch started photographing friends in places they’d experienced sexual harassment — from tube platforms and buses, to markets and busy streets — and posting them on Instagram alongside candid accounts of the incidents. Soon others were approaching her with similar experiences of being catcalled, touched up, exposed to, or told to “Cheer up, love – it might never happen!” (Cue wry smiles of recognition from every woman in the room/world.) @CheerUpLuv became a safe space for women to exchange stories of being violated, reframe them on their own terms, and reclaim the public areas where they took place.
As the year came to a close, the Harvey Weinstein scandal was vociferously met with global movements #MeToo and #TimesUp, in what now feels like a pivotal, all-consuming cultural watershed. “Suddenly it seemed like the world was responding,” Hatch recalls the shift. “This massive stream of women were coming forward to me. It was like the floodgates were open.”
(LEFT) Eliza Hatch wearing t-shirt NAPA by MARTINE ROSE, blazer and trousers JOSEPH, socks FALKE, shoes YUUL YIE.
(RIGHT) Turtleneck SHUSHU/ TONG, top TOPSHOP, socks FALKE, shoes YUUL YIE, trousers ELIZA’S OWN
Eliza Hatch wearing t-shirt NAPA by MARTINE ROSE, blazer and trousers JOSEPH, socks FALKE, shoes YUUL YIE.
Turtleneck SHUSHU/ TONG, top TOPSHOP, socks FALKE, shoes YUUL YIE, trousers ELIZA’S OWN
As her platform grew Hatch was contacted by UNFPA, the segment of the United Nations that deals with gender-based violence, and in September 2018 they flew to Sri Lanka together to produce “Don’t Look Away” , a multimedia project telling stories of harassment through social media and bus stop posters in the country’s capital, Colombo. With sexual assault still deeply shrouded in stigma, fuelled by victim blaming and shame, the campaign was considered deeply radical in Sri Lankan society — they struggled to find just 16 participants — and started conversations Hatch hopes will form the foundations for long-term change. Their partnership will continue to develop in other cities worldwide, next destination: Mexico. Sometime next year, she’d like to honour and immortalise the photo series with a comprehensive book.
Of course, Cheer Up Luv has been met with significant backlash, both abroad and within the UK. Though Hatch ignores the nauseatingly bitter comments online — most of which are directed towards her 2017 feature on BBC News — she responds to email attacks with detailed replies. “The people I want to reach are the people who have a problem with it, or people who see it as problematic. You don’t want to be just shouting in an echo chamber of people agreeing, ‘This is terrible, this is terrible.’ You want to be talking to people who think it’s OK,” she says, emphasising that though it seemingly operates in a virtual space, Cheer Up Luv uses confrontation and conversation as tools to incite change in real-time.
After our shoot Hatch and I are catcalled outside a central London tube station, and though it’s laughably ironic at the time, the high-pitched whistle underlined the pertinence of her message. “The ultimate aim is for women to feel empowered to speak out about their experiences and feel a sense of solidarity, community and support; it’s meant to be straight-talking women just telling you their honest experiences,” she concludes, also bringing to mind her encounter with that party’s presumptuous stranger. “I’ve never demonised any man; I’ve never shamed or called someone out. It actually hasn’t got to do with men at all – it’s about the woman telling the story.”