The legendary photographer Ansel Adams is one of those who take photos and those who make photos.
For Watt, creating these intricate images is a form of therapy, a way for her to process traumas and personal experiences.
She told CNN in a recent interview that it's not really an inspiration as much as a compulsion to work it out. It ends up being a really healing way of dealing with those things by constructing it through staging and storytelling and narrative. The photos follow the metamorphosis of a young girl from childhood to adulthood by using the geisha as a metaphor for the hypersexualization of East Asian women. The girl is playfully sprawled out across a bench, with fruits and white blossoms in the frame conveying innocence. As a girl matures into a young woman in subsequent photos, the use of bold reds evokes menstruation and sexuality.
Watt, who is Chinese American, says the series examines how East Asian women are perceived by society, how they are thrust into playing certain roles, the ways in which they become complicit in stereotypes and how they rebel against them.
She said it's complicated because you want to play that part because you want to belong somewhere. But you don't really want to play the part, because you don't really like that part. Watt has a lot of questions and contradictions that she struggles with in her own life. When she shoots subjects who aren't Asian American women, she says she wonders about the extent to which her racial and gender identity influences their interactions. When she's asked to work on projects for clients, she wonders whether she got the gig to meet a diversity quota.
Why do I get hired because I'm being used as a token? Is that okay? Watt said something. Another series called The Wait, published in Blanc Magazine, explores the concept of liminal spaces. The series is inspired by the design studio Atelier Aveus' furniture collection of the same name and situates its protagonist in eerily ethereal waiting rooms. In several of the images, the woman sits upright in a chair and looks on wistfully, surrounded by soft shades of seafoam green and pink. As time goes on, the woman's patience seems to erode and her posture becomes decidedly less restrained. One photo shows the woman stretched out across the floor, her head resting against the arm of the chair.
This one is about being in this space where it's kind of unclear if you're trapped in the space or if you're putting yourself in that space - if it's a choice for you to be there, Watt said.
The ambiguous state of being is all too familiar for Watt.
She said that I find myself at these liminal thresholds in different areas of my life, especially in relation to identity. The meticulous work of making it begin when she has a vision of what she wants the photo to look like. Materials are created, sets are assembled, outfits are donned. Watt can identify what finishing touches are needed to give it that signature, fantastical quality with the physical elements in place. Here she thrives in the liminal space.
After a little bit of breathing room, I start seeing the magic of that unknown, Watt said. That's where the post production process is fun because I start seeing things I didn't see before. I can enhance things I couldn't imagine before.