The first steps

Through my family - my grandfather was and my father is very keen on photography, so I got my first camera (point-n-shoot analogue Kodak) when I was 8 years old and was going for a first-class trip. I got very quickly into it and cried when my dad bought me a dream-come-true - analogue Minolta with an incredible zoom lens. I think I was around 11 at the time. I knew I wanted to be an artist from very early childhood, but somehow never thought of photography as my main form of artistic expression. It was so “natural” - always there. But even now, having achieved a degree in photography and practised as a professional photographer, I don’t consider myself a photographer. Everything around me inspires me - it could be a book I read, a story I heard, my partner and our talks, friends, TV shows… But sometimes even a simple walk and clearing my head can be great to have some free space for new thoughts.

I feel like I’m an artist who uses photography as one of the ways to spread the message of body positivity, feminism, equality, and beauty in diversity. 

Empowering women through a lens

Committing to feminism was a whole process. I didn’t wake up one day and decided I wanted to focus on intimate portraits of women taken with a feminist perspective in mind. It all started by working as an Airbnb experience host and taking portraits of many wonderful women from all parts of the world, whom I offered my service of professional photos from their travels. I was surprised how many of them - incredible, sexy, smart women, felt uncomfortable in front of the camera because they felt they were not [...] enough - you name it: not slim enough, not tall enough, bad hair day etc. I realised that this feeling is universal - for all women. And I combined it with my personal experience as a woman - of being in a constant battle with the way I look. Even though I know I’ve been lucky to be born a white, slim and tall girl, it didn’t change the fact that I very much hated my body throughout most of my teenage/young adult life. I saw around me - on ads, in magazines and in movies, only women that were otherworldly beautiful and perfect and I thought you have to be like them to be considered pretty. And of course, women are taught their appearance is one of their main advantages, so how can you not get depressed by that comparison?

I ended up realising that the problem is not with us - normal-looking, attractive women with skin texture and belly rolls, but rather with social perception. And I knew that as a photographer, I have the power to influence this perception.

I decided to take photos of women mostly undressed, to not allow them to hide behind their clothes and empower them as sexual, attractive human beings. No matter their age, size, shape etc. I wanted them to come to the photo shoot as they are every day - no special make-up or hairstyle, their favourite underwear or old oversized sweater (they can be sexy too). Because only that way the photos I took would show their natural, everyday beauty. As much as I understand the need to dress up and have a big show - that wasn’t my goal. I didn’t want the woman to go back home, wash the make-up off, the fancy clothes and hairstyle went and think “I was beautiful for an hour today”. No! I want them to look at the photos and think - this is me, the way I am every day, and I look so great every single day!

Photography plays a huge role in gender equality. No male photographer, no matter how empathic he could be, can fully understand the actual meaning of being a woman. And that’s visible in photos. When I take a photo of a woman, I naturally sense what can be the reason she’s tense and try to act on it. The same goes with the way someone is photographed. The famous “male gaze” is not just a catchy term feminists love to use, it is true that the nuances of the female experience are lost when a photographer is a man. Women see the world a bit differently, for many reasons - one of them is the culture we live in. And as long as we don’t share and show the way women see the world, we can’t talk about gender equality.

Another side of it is of course photography as a business - I was put many times in situations where I wasn’t treated seriously because I’m a young woman with a camera. As if I’m “playing” a photographer and not being one. The fact that I had formal training in photography at art school and recently started a PhD project in photography wasn’t enough - I still felt like a fraud, because I was treated as one. We need to change that culture urgently.

Midsummer Sisterhood

Summer Sisterhood - A photo of bodypositive women sitting on a tree, interview of Monika Kozub by Beazy on feminism and photography

This series of photos was shot during one of my first big photoshoots with the Berlin Boudoir project. I came up with the idea to commemorate Midsummer with empowering photos of diverse women, showing that beauty knows no limits. I wanted it to be a reminiscence of the pagan rituals when women in nature met to celebrate the shortest night of the year, but with a modern perspective. I had the idea and a feeling of how I would like it to look and decided to reach out with a call for models. I got overjoyed and overwhelmed by the response - I got messages from over 200 women, who were willing to pose for the photo shoot. Unfortunately, I could only pick a few - and you can see them here, all different, all stunning - but I would like to repeat the experience upcoming summer. It was truly magical - Midsummer Sisterhood, as I called it.

When shooting, I try to be as natural and friendly as possible. I remember as a teenager meeting with girlfriends, putting on our favourite clothes and posing for some photos for fun. And that’s exactly the feeling I want to achieve in my photo shoots - a group of women having fun. And it just happens that one of them is a professional photographer and can capture the whole experience.

Summer Sisterhood - A photo of bodypositive women sitting in a lake in Berlin, interview of Monika Kozub by Beazy on feminism and photography
Summer Sisterhood - A photo of bodypositive women standing on a beach in Berlin, interview of Monika Kozub by Beazy on feminism and photography

I like to experiment with analogue cameras, as they’re not such an investment and I love the unique results.

Summer Sisterhood - A photo of bodypositive women sitting on atr in Berlin, interview of Monika Kozub by Beazy on feminism and photography

Making Change

Together with Social Period, an NGO specialising in fighting period poverty in Germany, I decided to create a series of self-portraits, as the pandemic didn’t let me organize a photo shoot. They all address the problem of menstrual products being luxurious items for some - I played with the common understanding of jewellery as a luxury item and combined it with menstrual hygiene products. There’s a petition you can still sign to change the law in Germany and make menstrual hygiene products freely available in governmental institutions for people in need.

Social period Campaign by Monika Kozub - Women and tampons
Social period Campaign by Monika Kozub - Women and period products
Social period Campaign by Monika Kozub - Women and period panties
Social period Campaign by Monika Kozub - Women and period panties

I want even more people, especially women, to believe in their beauty and power thanks to my photos, illustrations and podcast. I wish that in the future no girl will hate her body just because it doesn’t fit a certain standard. And I want women who get older to be allowed to express their sexuality, and take up their space in the general public. We have a lot of work to do, but I’m a woman on a mission and nothing will stop me. Years don’t matter, as long as I have a clear goal.

Sheroes Wanted

I would like to share with you my podcast Boudoir Talk -  I decided to start one when the pandemic hit last year in April. I always felt that visuals can’t tell the full story I want to present with Berlin Boudoir, and I wanted to have a space where I can invite other women and quite literally pass the mic. There are still not enough voices of women in the public sphere, especially women that are these ordinary extraordinary sheroes to me - they’re too busy with their lives to become celebrities, but it doesn’t mean their voices shouldn’t be heard. I’m always on the lookout for new women to interview, so if you’re reading it and feeling like you would like to share your story with others - let’s get in touch and record a podcast. 

You can also get in touch with me via my website, social media or Beazy profile.