Besties Alex Haley and Katie Scharf never would have met if it wasn’t for their significant others. The American girls connected two years ago through their Canadian partners, and although Haley eventually split from her boyfriend, her relationship with Scharf is still going strong.
Sitting on a couch, wearing matching grey sweatshirts with rainbows on them, I asked the BFFs if they clicked right away. “Yeah,” they answered in unison.
“You get past a certain age in your life and friendship either sticks or it doesn’t, and it also becomes harder to make new friends when you’re not in school anymore… so when you find someone who really meshes on that level, it’s a different kind of feeling,” says Scharf. “You don’t have to be best friends for 10 years to know that you’re best friends.”
That feeling, where you are so connected to someone that you can communicate nearly telepathically, is exactly what Toronto-based photographer Natalia Dolan hoped to capture with her new photography series The Girl Friends Project. The colourful photo series showcases besties, from cancer patients turned friends to duos like Haley and Scharf who have known each other only for a short time, but already feel like family. “It’s about highlighting the strength and the immense power within these connections,” says Dolan of the project. “For me, female friendships are more intimate than others, and there’s a bit of magic to them that I am exploring in this series.”
That connection is one the 34-year-old photographer only came to appreciate later in life. Growing up, Dolan was “the girl that hung out in the boy’s group,” she says. It wasn’t until her 20s that she really began developing deep female friendships, the type of relationships where no matter if she had a good day or a bad day, she needed to share it with them. “Throughout all that I started to gain a bigger appreciation for my female connections—and this was before Me Too or Time’s Up or anything like that,” she says.
However, with The Girl Friends Project launching in January of this year, the impact of Me Too and Time’s Up on women and their friendships cannot be ignored. Haley and Scharf say that they’ve seen a shift in the conversations they’ve been having with their friends, and in some ways, conversations around Me Too have made their female friends feel more important to them. It’s similar in a way to the reason that Haley and Scharf became such fast friends in the first place. As two Americans who moved to Canada right after the election of Trump, and then subsequently navigated the loneliness that accompanies moving to a new place far from friends and family, they shared a common experience.
“There’s a depth of understanding there that you can’t necessarily explain to anyone who hasn’t gone through that before,” says Scharf.
Haley and Scharf’s completely ordinary, yet delightfully genuine, friendship is exactly what Dolan wanted to capture and bring to the Instagram space—a platform which she says is frequently filled with, as Trump would put it, “fake news.”
“On Instagram, there’s a lot of fabricated moments, especially with young people going to an event and posing like they’re having a fun, even though sometimes they aren’t,” says Dolan. With The Girl Friends Project, she wanted to punctuate social media feeds with images of true love between friends. “If you look at the photos, they’re very authentic and they’re real moments between these friends. I think there’s a societal need and craving for genuineness and truth these days,” she says.
Although Dolan just began the project in January, she has already photographed 30 friendships—and has no plans to slow down. She hopes to take the series international one day, sharing different perspectives on what female friendships look like around the world.
And while the project is getting a lot of attention now—especially in light of Me Too and increased media attention around various women’s movements—Dolan says that the headlines weren’t the reason she decided to focus on female friendships. She had been thinking about the idea for two years, and just this past New Year’s Eve she made it her resolution to turn her idea into an IG reality. “Seriously, it sounds cheesy, but it felt like I just needed to do it.”
Deqa and Ayat
“Nope, they are not sisters. If you can believe it, Deqa Gelle (right) met Ayat Musse (left) on her wedding day seven years ago. Ayat was Deqa’s cousin’s plus one, and Ayat says the moment she met Deqa (the bride) she knew she wanted to be friends.”
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