Thick black eyeliner wings out above her eyes in stark contrast to the light blonde fringe across her forehead. She smiles often and is quick to laugh. Her hairstyle is reminiscent of a 19th century Swiss dairymaid. But University of Oregon art student Rachel Lemme is anything but dated. At 21, she is very much a product of her generation.
Rachel has an Instagram account with close to 10,000 followers where she posts minimal, whitewashed lifestyle photographs. Her images are often of people in trendy outfits standing in juxtaposition to empty backgrounds at truck stops, abandoned shopping mall and barren landscapes. Rachel’s feed is a collection of succulents, carefree moments, road trips, art galleries, desert expanses, wide-brimmed hats and flowers in the morning light – all of which are presented in minimalist images.
In one of her photos, Rachel wears high waisted jeans, a silver bangle on her arm and a black wide-brimmed hat. A red bandana is the only pop of color in an otherwise muted photograph. She looks down at the ground laughing, appearing embarrassed. Her cropped t-shirt displays dozens of simple drawings. From far away, the sketches resemble a collection of rounded doodles. Up close, it becomes obvious that they represent female breasts: each a little different than the next. Lemme mentions that some of her followers want her to screen these images on t-shirts and make them available to customers.
She originally came up with the design for a midterm project. After she started printing it and posting it on Instagram, she was surprised by how much interest her designs garnered. She says that when people see her shirts, “I want them to think it’s cool and compliment it and see that it’s okay to wear something representative of our bodies.” The Millennial generation has seen the emergence of collective change-making efforts such as Black Lives Matter and the Occupy Movement. They tweet, like and share their way to social justice. Rachel is no different: “As a woman, I am a feminist.” Just as she posts a selfie on Instagram with no apologies, Rachel declares her identification as a feminist with no explanation.
Recently, Rachel has been trying to move away from inspiration gathered through social media. “You’re either going to be mad that your work isn’t as good, or you are going to copy it,” she says. Instead, she focuses on her own life. When Rachel was in high school, she moved from Southern California to Texas. The transition from the ocean to the flat, open desert was difficult. She was confronted with a conservative culture and a challenging mid-high school social scene. She says, “I’m just trying to focus on finding who I am in my art. That’s through the desert and my gender – who I am as a woman.”
You can find more of Rachel’s prints on her Etsy shop.
She discovered fibers during her junior year of college. Fiber arts integrate pieces made with fabrics, yarn, or thread. For many, fiber arts illicit images of hand-knit scarves or quilted blankets. Rachel has a different idea. She dyes her pieces with coffee, prints modern minimalist designs on tapestries and screen prints feminist imagery on her own trendy cut-off t-shirts.
Not only is Rachel trying to distinguish her art physically, but she attempts to reach into her past to draw out new inspirations. Like many artists, she draws from past hardships. Rachel is vague in her verbal references to past breakups and family losses, yet her voice is clear in her art pieces. One tapestry is an accumulation of phrases and sentences that she remembers from an unhealthy relationship. The viewer can literally see the words that shaped her past. Some tapestries display her signature breast prints. She prints simple images of cacti on other tapestries, eliciting her roots in Texas surrounded by an arid desert landscape.
She is now moving away from lifestyle photography-based Instagram to an art-based Instagram because she perceives her artwork as a more important aspect of her life to display. She says, “It’s kind of scary because I feel like there’s a pressure to post every day…I kind of hate that.” Social media now has the power to allow almost anyone to be seen and rise as pseudo-celebs. Rachel feels some of the pressure that many people may feel with a large following on the internet.
In the past, Rachel used hashtags on her pictures to gain attention. Looking back, she sees the irony in the #liveauthentic images that she posted. She didn’t want to be linked to the “cliché stereotypes of hipsters” that she associates with the tags. By befriending other Instagramers and collaborating on photography projects, she increased her audience on Instagram. Rachel is drawn to platforms like Instagram because she perceives them as more real than the images shown to us through magazines and the fashion industry.
What does Rachel think is authentic? She says, “Go on adventures because you want to, not because other people like it.” She encourages other people on social media to post things that they like or are interested in rather than catering to what they perceive as popular or cool.
Words by Elinor Manoogian-O’Dell, @
Photos by Kendra Siebert,@ and Elinor Manoogian-O’Dell