Eliza is a photojournalist and founder of ‘Cheer Up Luv’, a project which combines photography, activism and social media to highlight sexual harassment that women face on the street. Through her platform, women have shared their stories to raise awareness of the issue of sexual harassment. In June 2018, Eliza partnered with the United Nations Population Fund on a social campaign called ‘Don’t Look Away’ – a response to a study highlighting the issue of sexual harassment on public transport in Sri Lanka. Eliza was also a speaker at the TEDxUAL 2018 Conference on Perspective.
Eliza studied at the University of Brighton, has trained as a set designer and worked in the art department for TV and film.
"Two summers ago I was walking to a supermarket... A guy was getting out of his car and said to me, 'La pute c'est magnifique' as I walked past."
What are your best memories of Emanuel?
I think I was one of those rare people who actually loved school. I found it quite tricky in the early years but by sixth form I absolutely loved it and the friends I made in those years are still as close to me as ever. The whole of sixth form was so fun – doing the revues, being able to have more freedom and meeting new people.
I never really liked sports, but when I joined the choir in year 7 it made me feel like I was in a team of sorts and I stayed in choir right up until upper sixth. There were countless funny memories and the tours in particular were very memorable. I know it probably sounds lame but the choir was like a little family; we were all different ages but everyone got on so well.
Art was obviously my biggest passion and the teachers were amazing. My best friend and I were art scholars and most of my friends did art as well so it I think we just spent a lot of time being mischievous and getting on Miss Macmillan’s nerves.
Did any particular teachers at Emanuel influence you?
All of the art teachers – Miss Macmillan, Ms Burnett and Mr Swift. They were painfully honest about your work and also really encouraging. If your work was bad, they would tell you. But they would tell you how to make it better!
"I quickly stood up and he could tell I was uncomfortable when he dismissively said, 'No need to worry love, I'm a touchy person'."
Were you always interested in photography?
Not really to be honest. I was always creative and art was my passion. But photography never really came into my work when I was in school; it was always just a hobby. My creativity took on many forms and Emanuel was quite traditional in its practices so I mostly drew, painted and made sculptures. Photography came much later after I graduated from university.
What inspired you to start the ‘Cheer up Luv’ campaign?
The start of Cheer Up Luv was inspired by many things. It was a combination of experiencing harassment growing up in London and normalising it from a young age to being told to ‘Cheer up’ by a man in the street. But ultimately it was triggered by a conversation I had with my male friends in January 2017 after talking about a few of my experiences. They didn’t believe me, had never noticed harassment and were convinced it was ‘flattery’ or a ‘compliment’. So from that point I realised that there was a bigger problem. Harassment was happening all the time but there was this complete lack of awareness surrounding the topic. So I wanted to challenge that.
"I suddenly looked back, and I realised the man was following me for almost one mile."
Can you explain the campaign and its aims?
Cheer Up Luv is a photojournalism series I started in January 2017 which retells women’s accounts of street harassment. I interview the woman and we revisit the place where she experienced harassment, whether that is a tube carriage, a platform, a bus or a busy street. I then photograph them in that location and publish the stories and photo online and on my blog: cheerupluv.com / @cheerupluv. The aims of the campaign are to raise awareness and combat the normalisation of sexual harassment as well as empowering women to speak out and inspiring authorities to make changes.
What challenges did you face with the campaign?
There were many challenges, but not ones I was expecting. When the project picked up a lot of pace and was getting a lot of media attention, I would get sent hundreds of stories a week. At one point I was also photographing one woman every day and spending two hours with them talking about very sensitive and traumatic memories. By the end of the week I would be physically and mentally exhausted and have no idea why – then I realised it was taking a toll on me emotionally. After that I had to slow down and now I only do one shoot a week. Balance is key! The campaign has also faced backlash, like anything does. Whenever you get press, there will always be people trying to tear you down and paint you as a feminist man-hating witch.
The campaign I recently did with the United Nations in Sri Lanka was probably the most challenging and rewarding thing I have done in my career. Getting women to speak out was super tough, because there is so much shame, stigma and victim blaming associated with sexual harassment in Sri Lanka. The campaign also faced a lot of online backlash when it came out. There was a lot of trolls and hatred, which was really hard to deal with, especially for the women who had spoken out. But also many amazing things have come out of it that outweigh the bad, and make the challenge worth it.
"He kept moving closer... asking if he could come home with me, saying he couldn't let himself miss this opportunity."
Do you have any other projects on the horizon?
I am continuing my relationship with the UN this year, and I’m also taking the project to Mexico in a month.
How did you feel about being asked to speak at the TEDxUAL conference?
That was especially surreal. It was absolutely mortifying but I really enjoyed it. I have ended up doing a lot of public speaking since I started Cheer Up Luv, which is the last thing I would have ever thought I would do, especially since the mere concept of it made me want to vanish on the spot when I was at school.
For more details on the Cheer Up Luv campaign, go to @cheerupluv