What if I told you a remote island in the North Atlantic achieved the top position in the world for gender equality for the past seven years? And what if I told you that same society is also the only European country that managed to recover properly from the 2008 global financial crisis?
You might wonder what it is about this place that inspires such functional social dynamics. In 2013, I decided to travel to Iceland and find out.
‘An Equal Difference’ is a book of portraits, stories, and wisdom. It is the result of two-and-a-half years of researching, speaking with, and photographing over 70 inspiring people living in Icelandic society today. It is my attempt to understand a culture that would call for measures like the jailing of bankers responsible for the crash, creating an energy policy based on independent, renewable sources, maintaining a socialised child care system, and making prostitution illegal by criminalising the buyers instead of sex workers. What really caught my attention was Iceland’s call to ‘feminise banking’. They examined the behavioural aspects of a problem, not the gender of it and in doing so, inferred that we are all a mixture of masculine and feminine behaviours and dynamics. This model not only feels true, it provides the framework for a greater understanding of ourselves and each other.
My process began with wondering what women’s minds would be like in comparison to those in the societies in which I had previously lived (the USA and UK) - societies that provide relatively little support for women’s biological responsibilities and tend to raise girls who struggle with self esteem issues. I wanted to know what makes gender equality work on a practical level. How does it influence the way one thinks and operates in society? How does it shape society itself?
The first portraits I took were exclusively of women. The sessions carried no agenda but allowed us to gravitate naturally towards a discussion based on our interests. I met with an explorer who had been the first Icelander to ski unaccompanied from from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. She wisely pointed out that “if you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t – you’ll find an excuse.” I met with business women in groundbreaking companies, former ministers and politicians who built national buildings in the face of the crash, women who were not victims but leaders speaking out against violence, authors who spoke eloquently from the heart, members of the Lutheran church, designers and makers of products and jewellery, and trail blazing musicians. My fascination snowballed and I began recording the audio of the shoots as this project’s concept began to crystallise. Olympus presented an early selection of these images at the launch of their new flagship camera in London in September 2013. The Icelandic Embassy in London exhibited an extended set of images from January 2015 until January 2016 in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the women’s vote in Iceland. One of the images was selected for the 2014 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize and hung in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Over the course of making this project, I frequently travelled between London, Reykjavik, and New York City. This developed my perspective on the societal differences between these three cultures and provided opportunities to discuss and reflect on what I was experiencing in Iceland. After countless conversations it became clear that I needed to consolidate what began as a portrait project into something I could more easily and effectively share. Don't get me wrong - Iceland is still far from perfect. But from what I’ve witnessed, I see a relationship between gender equality and intelligent thought that feels absent in most Western civilizations. Something is definitely going on in Iceland which, if harnessed, could be exported along with its tasty fish and affordable energy.
It wasn’t long before this project challenged me to confront my own unconscious gender biases. It was not a comfortable experience. I’d rate it on par with a trip to the dentist. You might be in for a filling or a root canal. As with any pain, remembering to breathe through it helps. I had considered including men as this project formed and discussed it with many people, but it a challenge to see how I would accomplish this with balance. After about a year I found I had come to a natural decision about inclusion which didn’t patronise men or overshadow the discrimination women face.
Feminism is an indispensable part of gender equality, but it is also a much misunderstood word. The grievance many have with it is a question of language, history, and fear. I began researching and photographing men last year and the sessions which remain to be completed will focus on them. My goal with this work is to inspire individuals. The development of the self is essential to the healthy development of any society. Then collectively, we can action our societies to close their gender gap through healthy and effective measures. After studying the ways Iceland is managing to do this, I’m certain that the movement towards equality must include men or it will not be equality.
Contained in the pages between the portraits are references to a multitude of my discoveries there, ranging from music, pedagogy and research to landscapes, architecture, sweater patterns and ultimately - ideas. Through aspects of psychological and philosophical analysis, paired with factual context and a measure of humour, the book brings forward an inspiring snapshot of the experiences and philosophies of Icelandic people living in a society that is striving for gender equality.
More than seventy percent of the portrait sessions are complete. I am currently in Iceland working with an editor and a graphic designer to finish writing and laying out the images and words that will eventually be printed and bound as a limited edition book. We will also produce an eBook to take advantage of the ability to hyperlink resources and be electronically portable. This project has been a privilege to work on, and it will be a pleasure to read in spite of its serious context.
We should all be feminists, equalists, humanists; call it whatever you need its name to be. The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities in social and political arenas, education, employment, health, and all other areas of life is essential to our future. Gender equality doesn’t have to be like going to the dentist. It is liberating, holds untold promise, and without someone else’s hands in your mouth, it’s much easier to breathe.
With your generous support this book will be in your hands by August 2016.
The final phase of the project is currently underway. This is a rough timetable of what has happened and what remains to be completed.
The Book and Funds
The funds raised on Kickstarter will go towards the completion, design, editing, and printing of the book which present significant costs. I am working with a local graphic designer on the layout, an editor, and sub editors in NYC and Iceland. Aside from a bursary from Olympus of £2500 in 2013, I have self-funded the production of this work. With your generous support the book will be printed and bound in Europe in full colour spanning approximately 250 pages, over 100 photographs and close to 40,000 words ensuring the production of a beautiful book to high standard.
Of the people I’ve photographed and interviewed I anticipate that almost all the portraits will be in the book, and between 20 and 40 focused stories will accompany their respective portraits. I decided to launch this book on Kickstarter for the benefit of connecting to a powerful network, building a community, as well as raising some of the funds to enable to me to complete the last stage of photography and writing.
In addition to the limited edition printed book, the designer and I will use our time together to lay out an eBook which will benefit from hyperlinks to research, statistics, media, and more. I’ll be using two carefully sourced companies chosen from personal experience for their professionalism and quality for the printing of postcards and limited edition prints. You can visit www.gabriellemotola.com/kickstarterprints to view which prints are available and also specify which prints you want when you pledge for one.
Other rewards range from e-postcard updates to experience based rewards such as meetups, education, and adventures. We made sure to keep it diverse and hope you find a reward that resonates with you.
Please spread the word and share this project with someone if you pledge for a reward or even if you do not. You can help to create an impact.
With your support my team and I sincerely look forward to making this book a reality. Thank you.
Risks and challenges
I selected the time period to achieve this in based on what I know to be my working capacity to be. I’ve added 20% on top for contingency. The winter is a fantastic time to write. There is not much daylight and that which is available is fabulous for photography. With your support I will be able to focus 80% of my time on this project and ensure its completion. Why 80%? The other 20% will go towards working to raise the final amount of money needed unless this campaign exceeds £15,000. If it does then things will be done even more efficiently.
If we reach our funding goal of £15,000, it is just a matter of finishing the words in the book and between ten and fifteen more shoots which I will complete over the coming months. For the beginning of the project I worked incredibly fast producing twenty six portraits in one week. I don’t have to work at that pace now but I can if I need to. I’ll complete the layout with the designer, send the artwork to the printer, and finally distribute the books.
I have sourced more than one bid for the cost of printing, the cost of editing and layout, and the funding goal will meet or exceed this. Any funding beyond our goal will first be put towards printing more books, if there is enough demand, and then increasing the quality of them. We have based our Kickstarter budget on a handsome but initially modest printing specification.
Regarding the eBook - accurate formatting for all devices is being taken into consideration and measures and research are being taken to ensure that the eBook is technically glitch free, easy to follow and read. The formatting will be laid out carefully ahead of time and proofed by my editors.
Regarding the printed copies - delays could always arise due to shipping or print production. To avoid this we will have agreed all shipping and printing schedules ahead of time and use second class royal mail post to ensure distribution is handled efficiently. We've taken all costs into consideration to reduce the chance of surprises.
Regarding the pledges which require me to be in places at certain times: priority will be given to organise dates, book flights and accommodation as soon as the campaign closes and we are funded. The pledge amount takes into account mosts costs within Europe and the USA. Any unforeseen costs incurred outside of the pledge will be adjusted where possible by way of dates or alternative accommodation to decrease cost and meet the budget. If this is impossible for any reason it will be the responsibility of the person pledging to cover the cost but it will also be at their discretion.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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