2017 national forum would not have been possible without McGill LSA

In February and March 2017, the McGill Law crew behind LNFB fundraised $3,804.23 through their Seeds of Change crowdfunding campaign. Unfortunately, this money was not immediately available to them. The McGill Law Students Association (LSA) stepped in to provide LNFB with a no-interest loan on the money that we fundraised so we had the cashflow necessary to fund the national forum. Brittany Williams was one of the key players working behind the scenes to make this loan possible. Thank you, Brittany!

 Brittany Williams, Third Year McGill Law Student and 2016-2017 VP, Clubs of the McGill Law Students Association. Photo Credit: Tamyra Okoroze.

Brittany Williams, Third Year McGill Law Student and 2016-2017 VP, Clubs of the McGill Law Students Association. Photo Credit: Tamyra Okoroze.

Word on the street is that you were instrumental in getting LNFB a significant loan last year to make sure the national forum had the necessary cash flow to happen. Can you give us a little behind the scenes look into how / why the LSA agreed to do this?

It just made sense for our team. LNFB was doing some unprecedented in law schools and we felt it would be a disservice not to help them with their project and forum. As LSA execs, we were able to see, on a more global level, what the 2015-2016 campaign was able to accomplish in making bolder the voices driving feminism in the law. We knew that the forum was bound to be successful and wanted to make sure the LNFB team had support from their student association and execs to be able to thrive.

Why did you think this was important to make happen?

It's no surprise that issues surround women, feminism and the law are too often set aside for more seemingly pressing or important endeavours, especially as overeager law students. As a student then LSA executive myself, I saw firsthand where our student funds were going and who we were supporting and for how much. When it came down to it, I wanted to make sure that LNFB and projects/groups like it were afforded the same opportunities as more institutionalized clubs and student groups.

Given your role in student politics at McGill Law, how do you think LNFB has impacted the faculty?

From the first photo campaign until now, LNFB has helped bring forward and keep at the forefront the notion and mindset of why law needs feminism. By putting faces to stories and showcasing these narratives for the larger legal community, LNFB has made it that much harder to ignore the issues that plague the legal profession when it comes to women as legal professionals.

a peek into the mind of LNFB’S first photographer | conversation with whitney lewis-smith

Whitney and Rachel worked together at Play Food & Wine in Ottawa’s Byward Market almost ten years ago. While they’ve both since pursued very different careers, they were thrilled that their paths converged to produce the first 33 LNFB portraits in March 2016.

LNFB is grateful to Whitney for laying the founation of our portraits, which have now reached almost 1000 in number, and setting the honest and relevatory tone of the campaign. We are truly lucky to have benefited from Whitney’s talent and genius. It is no wonder her work sits in prominent private collections in Canada, the US, England, Spain, Mexico, and Chile, as well as the private collection of Sophie and Justin Trudeau, The Beaverbrook Art Gallery of New Brunswick, Maison Simons colelction, SUMMA contemporary Art Fair’s premanent acquisitions, and Ottawa City’s Public Art collections.

Want to learn more about Whitney’s work? Check out her website here, or her representation by Galerie St-Laurent+Hill (Ottawa) and Subject Gallery NYC (New York).

 Whitney in the studio. Photo Credit: Metropolis Studio

Whitney in the studio. Photo Credit: Metropolis Studio

To get things rolling, can you tell us a bit about yourself, Whit?

I’m a Canadian photo-based artist and college instructor at The School Of Photographic Arts Ottawa. I studied drawing and sculpture at Concordia University which has also become a large part of my practice. The last few years have had me travelling frequently to source props and long term project opportunities. I was working at the Museum of Natural History in Puebla, Mexico building sets and photographing their vast collection of specimens which ultimately became the catalyst for my most recent series discussing consumerism and humanity’s relationship with the environment.

How did you become involved with the first 33 portraits?

Looking back now it’s incredible how serendipitous life can be. Rachel and I worked together a decade ago at a part time job during our university years. We were forging very different career paths but our frequent late night phone calls ranting our individual challenges (and how often they overlapped) had always ended with us racking our brains at how we could collaborate in some way. When LNFB was born and Rachel asked me to participate it was an obvious yes.

What inspired you to become involved in the first place? And to take the initial portraits the way you did?

Every person deserves equal opportunity, pay, and respect in the workplace. Until those upholding the law are living by these standards then there is obvious work to be done. I’m grateful for the people around me that have provided me with a strong foundation and the fire to fight when I feel undervalued. To be part of LNFB, a growing voice that can be that foundation where it’s needed… I can’t imagine anything more important.

Those first portraits were shot with the hope that we’d have many more to come. I created an undramatic lighting scenario to keep the focus on the words and participants. No false smiles or dramatic poses, I wanted everyone involved to feel empowered and that they could emote in an honest way. I treat portraits like collaborations between myself and the person in front of my lens. I certainly hope that comes through in the final images. 

How have you been involved in LNFB since?

Since the first 33 portraits I’ve been back again to do a second shoot at Mcgill. We did two full days of portraits and the participation was incredible, I think we photographed about 70 people. I continued portraits with the LNFB team at the University of Ottawa. 

When the portraits launched, did you have any idea the campaign would grow as much as it has?

I could never never have pictured the impact and reach it would have. Obviously there is a need for LNFB and the conversations it has started. I can’t imagine it slowing down any time soon. 

What are you up to now? Any other feminist projects on the horizon?

Yes! I’m currently shooting my upcoming solo show, Biophilia, in Mexico City. My team and I have just created the largest heliogravure photo etching on copper in photographic history, which I still can’t believe. I’m also finishing up shooting for a group show opening in Ottawa in June about transgender awareness. A close friend of mine has transitioned from female to male and a small group of artists have photographed him over the last two years through all stages of the transition. 


the scoop behind LNFB's first photo campaign

Curious about how the first LNFB photo campaign came to be?

Here is the scoop from the duo behind it all—Rachel Kohut & Vanita Sachdeva

It was fall 2015. The Feminist Collective of the McGill Faculty of Law hastily called their budget meeting a few days before funding submissions were due for the fall semester. The members of the student club went through a list of possible events to fund and figured out what to keep and what to axe. At the top was the “Law Needs Feminism Because” portraits – it was deemed too passé. But without having even spoken before, we both saw some potential and signed up. Rachel agreed to spearhead the campaign and Vanita offered to help support. We left the meeting with a $250 budget allocation and admittedly didn’t connect again until the spring.

March rolled around and the end of the semester was looming. Rachel and Vanita kicked into high gear and called in favours to pull it all off – friends to take photos (Whitney Lewis-Smith), friends to edit the photos (Log Creative Bureau), friends to take photos of (our classmates). But it didn’t end up being as hard as we thought. Turns out people had things to say and jumped at the chance to be part of the project. Before we knew it, we had too many portraits scheduled and a full waitlist. And that was just the beginning.

On April 1, 2016, the photo campaign launched and it garnered over 500 likes on Facebook in under 24 hours. Needless to say, the portraits were a hit and resonated with those even beyond the walls of our own faculty. Every day, our inbox would fill up with students from other schools and organizations asking how they could be involved. We were getting phone calls from law firms and reporters. Apparently, we had turned heads. We quickly realized that Law Needs Feminism Because caught fire because turns out the conversation wasn’t fading as we might have initially thought. People wanted to have this conversation. They just needed a microphone and LNFB provided the stage—but neither of us ever anticipated this conversation would become this loud.


 Whitney Lewis-Smith taking Jeansil Bruyère's portrait during the first LNFB photoshoot, with Rachel Kohut assisting. Photo Credit: Maya Soren.

Whitney Lewis-Smith taking Jeansil Bruyère's portrait during the first LNFB photoshoot, with Rachel Kohut assisting. Photo Credit: Maya Soren.

Sachdeva Vanita.jpg
 Photo Credit: Alex Tran.

Photo Credit: Alex Tran.

Turns out the conversation wasn’t as passé as we thought – students were yearning for a venue to talk about their experiences, wanting to show their support, and students looking for mentors.
- Vanita Sachdeva
People always laugh when I tell them that I was not Facebook-savvy when I first launched the photo campaign on social media. In fact, I vividly remember asking a classmate during my Common Law Property class how to share the first posts through McGill Law’s social media channels (sorry Professor Anker). Other than the beautifully executed photography and graphic design by my dear friends Whitney Lewis-Smith and Log Creative Bureau, this wasn’t calculated. In my opinion, this behind the scenes story just further illustrates how much organic momentum is behind this initiative.
- Rachel Kohut