Vanessa Wu: Natural Femininity

In March 2020 the inaugural Women’s Work photography exhibition was held in Auckland to celebrate International Women’s Day. The aim of the event was to showcase the work of 21 female photographers from the Advertising Illustrative Photographers Association (AIPA), while also drawing attention to the current imbalance in gender representation throughout the commercial photography industry. We recently caught up with Vanessa Wu whose work was featured.

Vanessa has been voted one of the top 200 advertising photographers worldwide by Lürzer’s Archive, and is only the second female in New Zealand to have been awarded this achievement. She says she enjoyed her involvement in the Women’s Work exhibition as it brought female photographers together for moral support and empowerment. “As a freelance photographer, it can be a lonely business, so having a platform where we can share our views and get support from our peers is great,” Vanessa says.

The theme of Women’s Work could be interpreted by the artists in any way they chose. Vanessa decided to illustrate the connection between the beautiful forms of nature with feminine connotations.

Her photograph of a calla lilly captured the petals in a way that illustrated sensual curves replicating a voluptuous female form. “The calla lily is also named after the Greek word for beautiful, calla, and is associated with the Greek goddess Hera,” Vanessa explains.

“According to legend, Zeus brought Hercules — his son from another woman — to his wife, Hera, while she was asleep to drink her milk. When she woke up she pushed him away and drops of milk flew across the sky to create the Milky Way. The ones that fell on the ground grew into beautiful lilies. When Venus — goddess of love, beauty, and desire — saw the lilies she was jealous of their beauty. She cursed their beauty by placing a large yellow pistil in the middle of the flowers. Because of this story some associate the calla lily with Venus, and, thus, with lust and sexuality. However, the most common meaning for calla lilies is purity, holiness, and faithfulness. It’s commonly depicted in images of the Virgin Mary.”

Vanessa also showcased two photos of gingko tree leaves in the exhibition. Along with femininity, these images also introduced concepts of love, power, and hope. “The ginkgo tree is a phenomenon, an object of veneration, a sacred tree of the East, a symbol of unity of opposites, by some seen as a symbol of changelessness, possessing miraculous power, bearer of hope and of the immeasurable past, a symbol of love. Because of all its properties, it is associated with longevity.”

The final image in her still life series was of an ostrich feather. “In Ancient Egypt, the feather was the symbol of Ma’at, the goddess of truth, justice, and order. She is often depicted wearing a single ostrich feather in her hair. After death, the heart of each person would be weighed against the weight of the feather of Ma’at. If the heart was free from the impurities of sin, and therefore lighter than the feather, then they could enter the eternal afterlife.”

Vanessa photographed this series using her Sony Alpha 7R III and Sony 90mm f/2.8 G macro lens, having switched to using a Sony Alpha camera in mid-2019 to take advantage of its exceptional auto-focus and video performance. “For this project I used the 90mm macro lens because of its sharpness, and so I could get in close to the subject, which gave me lots of room to do variations.”

“My next will definitely be the Sony Alpha 7R IV. I have been totally impressed with what my Alpha 7R III can do, and the sharpness of all the Sony lenses. I originally liked the option of being able to use my Canon lenses with an adapter, but now I’ve traded them all for Sony lenses.”

The Women’s Work exhibition will be running annually, and the AIPA is looking into touring the show around the country.

Vanessa Wu is represented by Match Photographers. You can see more of her work at and find her on Instagram as @vanessacwu.

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