Maureen Nichols and Rose Price laugh together at their kitchen table in Brecksville, a Cleveland suburb. They talk rapidly with an easy rapport that calls to mind the charming closeness of the mother-and-daughter leads on the “Gilmore Girls.” Spread between them is a collage series that was Rose’s senior project and photographs from the program she recently completed at Rocky Mountain School of Photography.
Much of the art on the table grapples with issues that women are facing today: unequal pay, abusive relationships, cultural oppression and sex trafficking. What sets these women apart from the “Gilmore Girls” is their self-awareness. They interrogate everything — sexist language, oppressive norms, even their own behavior and privilege. They learn from and support each other across their generational vantage points in a way that Lorelai and Rory never dare. They wade into the darker depths of our culture and process it together.
The collage series has a retro feel that’s not an accident. Turning every photographer’s aspirational job into the medium of her art, Rose constructed each one using old National Geographic issues. Her meticulous work displays an awareness of the mechanics of misogyny, and it starkly depicts powerlessness. “Through collage, you kinda gently take it in and look at it,” she says.
During her freshman year of high school, Rose’s parents divorced. For Maureen, this was an act of self-preservation after decades of unseen abuse. For Rose, though, this was the beginning of coming to terms with a harsh reality; even people we love can be abusive. Seeing this complexity in her father hit Rose hard, compounding her mounting battle with anorexia, a struggle that became so severe it landed her in a rehabilitation center for the better part of her junior year.
Anorexia Nervosa is a mental illness that can – and did – get passed down from one generation to the next, and it almost cost Rose her life. Checking in to the center at an emaciated 82 pounds, it took nearly eight months in rehab for Rose to be strong enough to return to finish high school. She calls her first day of treatment “The day I was saved from myself.”
Rose’s art makes meaning of the world she inhabits. Making it helps her process and heal. Also, she says, “That’s when I totally lose myself in what I’m doing.”
The RMSP Professional Intensive gave Rose experience shooting new kinds of photography and a high degree of independence. Growing up in an affluent suburb has been pleasant, but it’s left Rose with a sense of boundary. The negative response from some in her high school class made Rose think twice before sharing her collage work more widely. She even worried that it might limit her job prospects in Ohio. “That was my concern back in high school, but now that I know my personality a little bit better, I’ve learned that if someone doesn’t like that about me or doesn’t want that from their employee, then I don’t want to work there anyway,” she says. Maureen beams across the table at her daughter.
At 20, Rose Price is just beginning to share her perspective, and it’s a glimmer of hope for a more enlightened, inclusive, empowered future.