Portraying Women As Superheroes, Photographer Turns Pain Into Power In New Visual Series

We celebrate Women’s History Month in March, but as far as we’re concerned, we celebrate the achievements of women all year round. And not just the well-known, famous women. We are especially dedicated to showcasing the powerful and inspiring stories of women whose stories you need to know about. Everyday superheroes who are in our communities, families, schools, workplaces, etc.

Often, it is the stories of these everyday women and their struggles that end up impacting so many others to know and tap into their own power. This is what San Francisco-based photographer Audra Miller wanted to tap into when creating her new visual series “She Rose”. Audra has been working on this project for the past three years that promotes women as superheroes and shares their stories of turning pain into power.

Inspired by conversations with women and the daily struggles being faced, Audra decided to use her own photography skills to uplift women going through darkness and showcase just how resilient and powerful they are. Read more about Audra, her career, and the process behind “She Rose” in the interview below.

Photographer Audra Miller on set for “She Rose”

Tell us a bit more about you. What got you into photography? 

I grew up in a small Kansas town and now live in San Francisco. My parents were public school teachers at the school I attended. The first portrait shoot I ever did was pro bono for a senior in high school whose family didn’t have enough money for senior portraits. I have always loved photography because of its ability to empower and to build someone’s self-confidence. Photography also has the power to spark conversations. Throughout my career, the projects that have meant the most to me have been the ones that have brought new concepts to the forefront and have created dialogue. I’ve worked on The Gender Project showing gender as a social construct, Everyone Deserves a Home, a portrait series of formerly homeless San Franciscans, and most recently, the She Rose Project. 

What was the inspiration for the She Rose Project? 

This project idea began in the fall of 2017 when the #MeToo movement was in full swing. I talked to a friend of mine who had just discovered that a former colleague of hers was outed as a serial rapist. She had had an altercation with this man in the past and this news was triggering and traumatic for her. I witnessed how this made her feel powerless, terrified, and hopeless. 

I was enraged. No one should be made to feel this way and yet many, many women do. I didn’t know how to help but I wanted to. I brainstormed ideas of how I could use my photography skills to uplift women going through hard times. Women are incredibly strong and resilient. I wanted to somehow showcase that. 

And the She Rose Project was born.  

Initially the name was going to be SHEroes, but one day in explaining the project to others, they misheard me and thought I was saying She Rose. It stuck. These portraits portray women as the actual superheroes they are. Each portrait was paired with the participant’s story to show how women overcome incredible obstacles and rise above them stronger. It mimics the #MeToo movement by acknowledging that while other women have experienced pain and trauma, women have also persevered through it and are more powerful because of it. It inspires hope. She rose and so can others.

What are inspiring moments you have seen in the lives of the women you’ve worked with? 

Throughout this project, I have met so many amazing women and have learned their stories. Each woman I have worked with so far has shared amazing insight into how to build resilience and to grow after setbacks. It has been such an honor to have the opportunity to spend time with each person involved. 

One of the themes I’ve noticed is that every woman I have talked to has found a way to better themselves and others who might be experiencing the same burdens. Some have started organizations to help abused women, some volunteer, some make sure it’s their mission to help other women and be a listening ear or resource. 

It took a lot of courage for some of these women to share their stories with me. What’s even more incredible is that many were willing to share their stories with a larger audience, creating an even larger visual impact. 

How has this project affected you personally?

In the middle of this project my partner that I thought I would marry unexpectedly left me without much explanation. I lost most of my self confidence, developed anxiety and fell into depression. If you have never experienced those feelings before, when you do, it’s almost completely disabling. It took me almost two years to get past most of the trauma that came with that experience. 

This project kept me going. Even though there were times that I felt like I had given up on the happiness of my own life, I couldn’t give up on these women. They deserved my time, my attention, and my ability to visually create each epic version of each participant.  

When someone disrespects you or makes you feel worthless, you still have the choice to better another person’s life, no matter how small. This project gave me a feeling of purpose and motivated me to help others build their own confidence.

What would you tell others wanting to take risks and create?

The biggest risks are worth taking, even though they may have the most painful outcomes. You will never learn how to swim without ever letting go of the edge. You can make a difference. You are more than your past. You will get through this. You can become someone great. You can create something great. You are absolutely incredible and above all you MATTER. 

Life will have setbacks. Life will be painful at times, but that does not mean that you should give up. Find what gives you purpose in your life and pursue it like there’s no tomorrow. Do what you love and you will make a difference in this world. 

What are some of the favorite hero stories you’ve heard so far?

One of the first women I took a photo of was Kenda, a former neighbor of mine. Kenda had never thought of herself as an athlete her whole life. One day she decided to try running. She started slowly and didn’t jog very far but every day she kept pushing herself. A year and a half later, she was running ten races a year and has even completed marathons! Our inspiration for her photo was the Flash. She wore her running attire and a cape that she made for her kids she is a nanny for. Kenda also loves glitter so we incorporated it in with her powers. 

Stephanie was making some poor decisions in her life until she found out she had cancer at age 21. Instead of this pulling her down it gave her newfound determination. She finished her degree and turned her life around. She now values the time that she has been given and strives to make each day special. For her superhero we made her a time hunter with hair of fire to symbolize how she lost her hair during chemo. 

In college, Johanna was sexually assaulted and was too ashamed to tell anyone. She felt numb. When she did tell people, it was a release but also brought with it more pain and disgust about herself and her body. She thought about ending her life but with the help of friends she pulled through. There’s an internal fire that pushes her forward. She now fights for her life to be better. For her superhero we made her actively running through a blizzard with spheres of energy blasts escaping from her palms. 

What are your goals for this project?

I want to empower each woman that participates in She Rose and each woman that sees the project. Acknowledging our inner hero helps build confidence and pride. If I can do that, even for just one person, then that’s a step in the right direction that I want to take.  

This project can inspire others to rise up. Every day we hear stories of horror and stories of success but very rarely do we hear stories of turning pain into power and struggles into strength. Women need to recognize that they are incredible. 

I hope to continue to grow this project. I know it’s not possible but I wish I could help give everyone a visualization of their own superhero. We all have a hero inside of us. 

Nominations for the She Rose Project can be found here.

History is behind us but Herstory is now.