Turners Falls photographer uses camera to express political views

  • Photographer Anja Schütz, of Turners Falls, uses her camera lens to express political views. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Photographer Anja Schütz, of Turners Falls, center, and two of her subjects for the #GrabHimByTheBallot photographs, Lisa Gaimari, of Greenfield, left, and Christina Postera, of Turners Falls. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Lisa Gaimari, of Greenfield, and Christina Postera, of Turners Falls, both posed for Anja Schutz’s #GrabHimByTheBallot photographs in 2016. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/16/2020 10:21:40 PM
Modified: 1/16/2020 10:20:47 PM

Editor’s Note: This profile is the fourth in a week-long series focusing on female activists from across Franklin County, timed in advance of the coming weekend’s Women’s March. Check Saturday’s edition for the final profile in the series.

TURNERS FALLS — Anja Schütz did not expect to be in the news.

This was 2016, in the final weeks of the presidential campaigns. As she tells it, she was just one of the many women who were disturbed by a 2005 recording that had recently surfaced of then-candidate Donald Trump, where he made lewd remarks about women and said “Grab them by the p***y.”

Trying to process what she’d heard, Schütz, a photographer who lives in Turners Falls, gathered a few friends for a photo shoot, she recalled. In front of a simple backdrop of an American flag, each woman posed nude, covering herself with only a folded 2016 ballot.

Schütz put the photos on her social media pages, but the shoot was not intended as an ongoing series, she said.

Still, the Greenfield Recorder ran an article about it that week, mentioning the hashtag she’d attached to the photos: #GrabHimByTheBallot. Suddenly she was getting calls from women she had never met, asking to be part of the project.

That Saturday she set up an all-day photo shoot, which got so much interest that it ended up going three hours longer than she’d planned. This snowballed into more shoots in this area, plus a few in New York. The story appeared in the Boston Globe, the Huffington Post and other publications.

By the time she ended it, several weeks after the election, Schütz had photographed about 200 women in the same basic configuration: against a backdrop of the American flag, nude, with a 2016 ballot as her only cover. Schütz gave her models minimal guidance on how to pose, preferring for each woman to naturally express her feelings about the situation.

“It was a celebration of our dignity and our power and our resistance in the face of what was going on,” Schütz said, meeting for coffee this week with two of the local women who had participated in the photo shoots.

“We are not the women who are usually posing naked,” said Christina Postera, who lives in Turners Falls. “But Trump was presenting in a way that many men have presented in my entire life.

“All those little snippets of his disgustingness actually empowered us to say, ‘No, these are our bodies, and you’re not going to touch them’; and to join together in this raw, intimate moment to say, ‘I’m standing up, and I’ll stand up naked if I have to to call attention to what is wrong,’” she continued.

“And that is the part that continues,” added Lisa Gaimari, who lives in Greenfield. “Regardless of the election, we all still have these feelings, and they’re real and they’re true.”

Reflecting on it a few days after the shoot, Gaimari wondered if her photo might be a problem for her employer, a local prep school with a fastidiously maintained image, she said. She hadn’t considered that beforehand.

“I was ready to say, ‘This isn’t about my work. This is separate. This is 100 percent about me,’” she said.

Postera felt similarly.

“I’m in real estate. Image matters,” she said. “But I also recognize that anybody I would want to do business with would share my sentiment. In image, that’s what you have to decide: who you want to be. I had to be true to myself.”

In fact, all three found that their friends and co-workers understood and were even inspired by what they had done. Gaimari was contacted by an old acquaintance from high school who said he had voted for Trump, but that her photo had changed his thinking.

On the internet, responses were often less civil. At its worst, Schütz said, people would “rate” each photo on a scale of 1 to 10. She had to assign a friend to moderate the Facebook page where the photos were published.

“It was brutal,” Gaimari remembered.

“It was cruel,” Schütz added. “And they were doing it to hurt.”

#GrabHimByTheBallot still resurfaces on social media from time to time. Most notably, it flared up around the 2018 midterm elections. That time, Schütz said, the responses were even worse.

“People had been emboldened by Trump, and had seen that if he can get away with stuff, so can they,” Schütz explained. “Especially in the anonymity of the internet.”

Several of the women contacted Schütz and asked for their photos to be removed. She would always do so if asked, she said; otherwise, she would be victimizing the women the same way Trump did.

However more vitriolic the negative responses had become, the positive ones had likewise intensified, Schütz said. She said she took this to mean that the political situation hadn’t really changed since 2016.

Now, in another major election year, Schütz said she expects #GrabHimByTheBallot to flare up again.

“I would be surprised if it didn’t,” she said. “But I don’t think I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t.”

Despite the abuse on the internet, all three women said they have no regrets about participating in the project. They describe it not only as a response to the political situation, but also as a more general response to women’s issues of body image.

“If nothing is immediately impacting us, we can go on and be OK,” Schütz said. “But as soon as we feel our reality is being attacked — then there’s that moment of inspiration.”


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