Photos empower women at work (slide show)

MARYSVILLE – Tina Tang is concerned about her image – the one in her camera anyway.

Tang is a photographer, and her images always try to capture one thing – the empowerment of women.

Her latest project, “Working Class Women,” is about females who work in male-dominated jobs.

“It’s a good time for women in America,” Tang said, referring to women’s marches and other trends. “It’s like the women’s lib movement (in the 1960s). It’s come full circle.”

She said the “me too” movement regarding sexual harassment is one example. “People are now aware how common it is. This goes on all the time.”

Inspired by Annie Leibovitz of celebrity portrait fame, Tang said many people don’t know that more women are working in formerly male-dominated fields and “they’re killing it.”

“It’s an important time for this particular project,” she said. “We can be out there in these kinds of jobs.”

She said men in blue-collar jobs are accepting the change. “Men are more respectful, not what you used to see.”

Tang said the work doesn’t take anything away from a woman’s femininity.

“You can still be a mom. You can still be lots of things. But you can still be a woman,” she said.

The pendulum has swung so far, Tang said she actually feels sorry for guys, especially shy ones.

“They’re oversensitized,” she said. “They’re afraid to talk to women.”

Tang, who works out of her Parris Blue studio, started 10 years ago in the profession. She photographed survivors of domestic violence. “It was difficult for them to feel good about themselves,” she said.

One of her recent projects was called, “Beauty in the Raw,” where women posed for portraits without makeup. She said it sends a good message.

“It’s about self love. This is who I am. I don’t need it (makeup). I like every line, every wrinkle,” she said.

Tang said it’s a cultural thing. The beauty industry tells us we need it, she said, adding, “We’re not enough – we need that mask on every day.”

When she’s not doing documentary-style photojournalism, Tang likes to have fun with pictures. She photographs women, girls, families, kids and pets. For even more fun, she shoots glamour, boudoir and pinup.

“You get to play somebody else, other than yourself,” she said, adding pinup costumes are in the 1940s-‘50s era. “You get to play a character. It’s a confidence boost.”

As for her working-class women, she posted the idea on a mom’s group online site and quickly received 100 responses. She’s already shot Ashley Underhill, a warehouse worker; Cheyanne Baker, a general laborer; Stephanie Libby, a groundskeeper; Lacey Huge, a home builder; and Victoria Garrett, a steel metal worker. She’s also going to photograph an electrician and welder.

A friend told Baker about the shoot after seeing the ad online, and she decided to do it for fun.

“It’s admirable people want to recognize women in the workforce,” she said.

Baker said she comes from a long line of union workers, with her grandma being in a union for 45 years and her dad a union carpenter. She chose to be a laborer because of the good pay, and she likes doing physical work that changes every day.

“I do a little bit of everything,” she said, adding she wouldn’t want to do the same thing every day.

She also likes that she can work weekends when her husband can be home with the kids. “They realize family comes first, which is nice,” she said of the union.

She said she’s becoming somewhat of a celebrity, at least at her union hall, which has posted Tang’s photos of her on Facebook. Baker said the other workers are great. “I’ve never had an issue with anyone. We’re all treated the same.”

Underhill, who is the only woman working in her warehouse, said the same thing.

“They treat me like one of the guys essentially. They even joke about poop,” she said, adding she has a sense of humor. “They tease me. You can’t be super sensitive. If you can dish out what they serve you then you’re good.”

She said she grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of guys, so she played football and wrestled more than playing Barbie. “I don’t mind getting down and dirty,” she said. Underhill said her parents were hard workers so she’s been around that her entire life.

“I love being in the back room helping unload trucks,” she said. She worked in retail for a while, but wasn’t fond of customer service.

“In the warehouse I move stuff around all day, listen to my music, do my own thing,” she said.

When she goes home she’s a mom of two kids, cleans and cooks dinner. She doesn’t have time for a gym.

“Running around a big warehouse is my workout for the day,” she said.

It’s a physical job, carrying up to 50-pound boxes up and down ladders. The only time she asks the guys for help is if something’s too tall for her to reach.

Underhill said she’s “pretty stoked” about Tang’s project. “There are not a lot of females who do the job I do. There are a lot of jobs women do that they don’t get recognized for,” she said. “It’s a powerful message.”

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