TLM: What was the inspiration for these photographs?
PN: My inspiration for the photos honestly came from my partner in the project and the model Maddie Natoli. Her idea for the Ophelia’s Death shoot has blossomed into a beautiful project we have created together, The Shakespeare Photo Project. In a more literal sense, the photos were inspired by Ophelia’s Death scene in the play Hamlet.
TLM: What are you trying to change about diversity or representation through creating these images?
PN: Through our project, we would like to show that every one should be represented. It isn’t very hard to be fully inclusive, and I personally love the irony in taking such traditional characters as those of Shakespeare and making them more diverse. I personally am trying to change the mindset that characters and models especially have to look one way. I’m here to say that a model doesn’t have to be what you classically see, anyone who wants to be a model truly can. Everyone should be able to see someone who represents themselves in the media.
TLM: Why do you feel these aspects of representation need to be challenged or changed?
PN: I feel representation as a whole needs to be changed. We as the media have taken very few steps to include people of color, LGBT+ people, disabled people, all genders, and all body types. I realized there was a problem with this almost eight years ago when I fell ill and became disabled, no one looked like me. I once thought that the issue of lack of representation for all of these communities was too large to fix, too big for me to even make a dent in. Then I realized that by having my photos and the Shakespeare Photo Project be truly inclusive, I could make ripples in the pool that is media and diversity.
TLM: What about this Shakespeare character did you find inspirational?
PN: I find Ophelia to be inspirational because she is a strong and brave woman who suffered deeply. The opposite of my goal is to romanticize suicide, but Ophelia’s story and her last moments are often skipped over. Suicide is the opposite of romantic or tragically beautiful. Ophelia made an irreversible decision because of a tragic loss she went through. The fact that she took her own life often makes people forget about the person she was, or her character was. Part of being inclusive and diverse is showing things that are not as fun and beautiful. I tried to show Maddie in a light that portrayed depression and mourning as real, strong, and normal. Once again, no one should feel alone, these emotions portrayed in Hamlet many years ago are emotions people experience every day. I want people to remember Ophelia’s strength, not in spite of her very last moment of weakness, but in addition to it.
TLM: What place do you think this character has in today’s media?
PN: Our Ophelia belongs to many groups of people. The Ophelia we portrayed is for chronically ill people like Maddie, who are told they can’t model because of their illness. You can [model]. She is for disabled people like me, you can accomplish your dreams, whatever they may be. She is for LGBT+ people, like Maddie and I. She is for people struggling with mental illness or mourning a loss, she stands as encouragement to seek help and to remember you are not alone. Lastly, she stands for the lives lost to suicide, may they all rest in peace and be remembered for their strength.
TLM: Where can readers learn more about your work?
PN:Readers can learn more about the project and see our work on Instagram, @shakespearephotoproject. They can also find both Maddie and I there, @mimzee_madz_photography and @presleynassisephotography. If anyone would like to participate or talk to us further about our project they can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.