By Steven Powell / Arlington Times
ARLINGTON — Tina Tang is concerned about her image. The one in her camera, anyway.
A photographer, Tang, 50, tries to capture one thing through her images — the empowerment of women.
Her latest project, “Working Class Women,” is a collection of women who work in male-dominated fields.
“It’s a good time for women in America,” Tang said, referring to women’s marches and other movements. “It’s like the women’s lib movement (in the 1960s). It’s come full circle.”
The Arlington resident said the #MeToo movement to end sexual harassment is one example. “People are now aware how common it is. This goes on all the time.”
Inspired by Annie Leibovitz of celebrity portrait fame, Tang said more people should know that women are working jobs traditionally held by men and “they’re killing it.”
“It’s an important time for this particular project,” she said. “We can be out there in these kinds of jobs.”
She said men in blue-collar jobs are accepting the change. “Men are more respectful; not what you used to see.”
Tang said the work doesn’t take anything away from a woman’s femininity.
“You can still be a mom. You can still be lots of things. But you can still be a woman,” she said.
The pendulum has swung so far, Tang said she actually feels sorry for guys, especially shy ones.
“They’re oversensitized,” she said. “They’re afraid to talk to women.”
Tang, who works out of her Parris Blue studio, at 13714 103rd Ave. NE in Arlington, has been a professional photographer for the past 10 years. She got her start photographing survivors of domestic violence. “It was difficult for them to feel good about themselves,” she said.
One of her recent projects was called “Beauty in the Raw,” where women posed for portraits without makeup. She said it sends a good message.
“It’s about self love. ‘This is who I am. I don’t need it (makeup). I like every line, every wrinkle,’ ” she said.
Tang said it’s a cultural thing. The beauty industry tells women they have to wear makeup to be beautiful, she said. “(They tell us) we’re not enough — we need that mask on every day.
“That shoot was very therapeutic for me because I wear makeup every day, and I had a friend take pictures of me without makeup as well.”
When she’s not doing documentary-style photojournalism, Tang likes to have fun with her pictures. Though she specializes in photographing women and girls, Tang also shoots family, children and pet portraits. Most of her work is in professional head shots.
Through her specialty, Tang does a lot of glamour, boudoir and pinup photo shoots.
“You get to play somebody else, other than yourself,” Tang said of the pinup-costume era from the 1940s and ’50s. “You get to play a character. It’s a confidence boost.”
As for her working-class women, she posted the idea to the Snohomish County Moms Group on Facebook and quickly received 100 responses. She’s already shot Ashley Underhill, a warehouse worker from Arlington; Cheyanne Baker, a general laborer of Arlington; Stephanie Libby, a groundskeeper from Seattle; Randi Miles, a diesel mechanic in Marysville; and Victoria Garrett, a sheet metal worker of Snohomish. She has plans to also photograph an electrician and welder.
A friend told Baker about the shoot after seeing the ad online, and she decided to do it for fun.
“It’s admirable people want to recognize women in the workforce,” she said.
Baker said she comes from a long line of union workers, with her grandma being in a union for 45 years and her dad a union carpenter. She chose to be a laborer because of the good pay, and she likes doing physical work that changes every day.
“I do a little bit of everything,” she said. She said she wouldn’t want to do the same thing every day.
She also likes that she can work weekends when her husband can be home with the kids. “They realize family comes first, which is nice,” she said of the union.
She said she’s becoming somewhat of a celebrity, at least at her union hall, which has posted Tang’s photos of her on Facebook. Baker said the other workers are great. “I’ve never had an issue with anyone. We’re all treated the same.”
Underhill, who is the only woman working in her warehouse, said the same thing.
“They treat me like one of the guys, essentially,” she said. “They tease me. You can’t be super sensitive. If you can dish out what they serve you, then you’re good.”
Underhill said she grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of guys, so she played football and wrestled more than she played with Barbies. “I don’t mind getting down and dirty,” she said. Underhill said her parents were hard workers so she’s been around that her entire life.
“I love being in the back room helping unload trucks,” she said. She worked in retail for a while, but wasn’t fond of customer service.
“In the warehouse I move stuff around all day, listen to my music, do my own thing,” she said.
When she goes home she’s a mom of two kids, cleans and cooks dinner. She doesn’t have time to go to the gym.
“Running around a big warehouse is my workout for the day,” she said.
It’s a physical job that requires her to carry up to 50-pound boxes up and down ladders. The only time she asks the guys for help is if something is too tall for her to reach.
Underhill said she’s “pretty stoked” about Tang’s project. “There are not a lot of females who do the job I do. There are a lot of jobs women do that they don’t get recognized for,” she said. “It’s a powerful message.”