Petra Collins on embracing her inner darkness

The photographer and director is renowned for defining the last decade’s pastel-hued, coming of age aesthetic, but is now returning to her roots with a book of subversive, erotic fairytales

While many creatives are able to carve out a distinctive aesthetic for themselves, it is rare to find someone who has wielded as much influence over our contemporary visual consciousness as Petra Collins. The Canadian photographer’s early work – which typically explored the lives of teenage girls against soft-lift, pastel-coloured backdrops – earned her an array big-name clients such as Gucci and editorial commissions to shoot the likes of Zendaya and Cardi B. It also gave birth to the defining aesthetic of the social media era in the 2010s, gradually spilling over into everything from pink-hued Instagram filters to millennial-friendly brand campaigns.

The coming of age experience has been an enduring source of fascination for Collins, partly because she never truly lived through it herself. Growing up in Toronto in what she describes as a “chaotic” family environment, she originally thought she was going to be a ballet dancer, before a knee injury put a stop to such ambitions when she was 15. She switched to taking photographs of friends and family, in particular her sister Anna, and the camera quickly became her personal form of escapism.

Top and above: Fairy Tales by Petra Collins and Alexa Demie, published by Rizzoli. All images © Petra Collins