Growing up in a small town in rural Maine, my contact with others was limited. My sisters and I lived in a close-knit religious culture where sexuality was never mentioned. I was raised alongside three sisters, and as children, we created elaborate fantasy games and tried to find every Bible passage we could about powerful women and witches. The forbidden nature and the ritual of the occult fascinated us.

Our household was staunchly Christian. I witnessed the demonization of sexuality and femininity in our church, yet I was surrounded by powerful feminine energy. Though she was Christian, my mother read us books about witches of all kinds. Baba Yaga was always my sisters’ favorite.

I became obsessed with femininity, ritual, and the history that New England has with witchcraft. For the last six years, I have made images that document different interpretations of femininity in my life. As a young woman, I watched myself and my sisters go through the different stages of becoming women, in particular how girls changed from children to objects sexualized by older men. I create images about this transition into womanhood, examining strength but also the pressure to exist as a female. My photographs explore religion and the community I created with my sisters through portraiture, all being played out on the stage of a New England landscape.

In our religious cult of womanhood there exists a theater of eternal youth and femininity. We are confrontational while on display, finding our escape from this repression in the forests and seascapes of Maine.

—Tabitha Barnard

See all of the award-winning work by the 38 international photographers selected for the first annual LensCulture Art Photography Awards.