Fremin Gallery, a popular Manhattan Art space, is celebrating its grand re-opening under New York's High Line (specifically, 520 West 23rd Street) with a Photography exhibition titled “Ink Stories” by photographer Reka Nyari. Reka’s name was mentioned in the news recently when she was accused of trying to entice men simply by breastfeeding her baby in public places. Reka, a self-proclaimed “lactivist,” responded to this by creating a series of artistic photographs depicting the natural act of breastfeeding which had immense health benefits for babies.

Reka Nyari was born in Helsinki and was raised in both Finland and Hungary. When she was seventeen, she moved to New York City where she studied at The School of Visual Arts. Reka began modeling, and that career sparked her interest in photography. Inspired by beauty, fashion, and artistically eccentric cinematography, Reka’s influences come from many places. Her subjects range from neons to nudes, to social commentaries and she has also worked with a number of professional brand clients such as Sally Hansen, DC Comics, and Makeup Forever.

Reka has won awards for her imagery, and her photographs have been displayed in galleries all over Europe and the United States as well as top-level magazines such as Vanity Fair, Esquire, and Vogue.

Reka discussed breastfeeding, her career, and her upcoming exhibition via an exclusive interview on February 21, 2019.

Modeling, breastfeeding, and series

Meagan Meehan (MM): You started as a model, so how did that career launch your love for photography?

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Reka Nyari (RN): I've always wanted to be an artist, and came to NYC at the age of 17 to study painting at SVA. After graduating, I lost my painting studio and started shooting a lot more photography with the intention of using them as reverences for my photorealistic oil paintings. At the same time, I also got scouted to model, which led me to travel all around the World for the next few years, with my camera in hand.

One day a successful photographer friend asked me why I was painting my photographs. They were powerful on their own. That was a total turning point for me. I realized photography suited my narrative style and my personality a lot better than the solitude of a painter. My first art project was a dark, edgy self-portrait project called "Late Night Sessions," and since then I have shot various subjects, but always keep coming back to capturing the female spirit.

MM: You have such a wide range of series and styles, so how do you think up all these unique concepts? Essentially, how did you train your eye to capture things other people might not see?

RN: I get inspired by everyday life. I guess I have always been a storyteller, and really enjoy digging a bit deeper than what the eye can see. My parents always joke that I could paint before I could walk. I have been taking art classes since being a toddler, and trainer as a classical oil painter.

Although I don't paint at the moment, this has taught me so much about anatomy, lighting, and composition. Being a model thought me a lot about what a good photographer should not do in order to connect with their subjects. There's also a sensitivity and connection I feel that i can achieve with my female subjects, being a woman myself.

MM: You feature a lot of nudes in some of your series so what interests you about the human body so much, especially the female form?

RN: Being originally from Finland, the land of Sauna, I grew up with nudity being a very normal thing. I don't always associate nudity with sexuality, and vice versa. I think the human body is a natural, beautiful, and strong instrument. We carry all our scars, triumphs, and experiences with us, in our pose and in our gaze. With my Ink Series, the stories are literally written in my subject's skin. I could not show my subjects journey without showing their skin.

MM: You are now doing a series about breastfeeding. What do you wish more people knew about this very healthy and natural practice?

RN: I call myself a lactivist. When I first casually posted a few images of myself breastfeeding my daughter, I was shocked to see the kind of uproar it produced online. I also had hundreds of women messaging me how amazing it was that I was posting these images, that they felt insecure and harassed to feed their babies in public and wish it was more normalized. There is nothing more natural than breastfeeding, and it's a shame that we have to deal with this kind of ignorance in 2019. Being a mother is hard enough; we should be supporting and not criticizing.

MM: Why do you think there is so much controversy surrounding breastfeeding in public?

RN: Female bodies are over-sexualized, which is very limiting and repressive.

Exhibitions, photography, and Vogue

MM: How did you get in contact with the Fremin Gallery and what are you most looking forward to regarding your forthcoming show there?

RN: I've known Emmanuel since 2007. We've always stayed in touch, and I was a part of a group show with him in 2012. I am really excited about this exhibition; Fremin gallery is opening a gorgeous new ground floor space in the iconic Chelsea art district, and this will be their inaugural exhibition. It will be my largest NYC solo show so far, and I have two new series I'm thrilled to share. Mother In tells the story of a breastfeeding mother Leah, who is raising her son as a single parent. Reaper Ink, which I shot just a month ago, is a story of Julie, who's dealt with death all of her life, and uses tattoos to heal and transform herself and others. I am also working on a performance art piece which will be shown at the gallery on March 8.

MM: You grew up in Europe and have exhibited there too, so what are the biggest differences you’ve noticed between the American art scene and the European scene?

RN: The nipple doesn't quite have the same stigma in Europe as it has here! It is interesting and rather disturbing that lots of people see the breast more threatening than violence and guns.

MM: You have also worked with big clients and had your work featured in prestigious magazines like Vogue—what was that like?

RN: I've been working with the Human Rights Foundation for years, shooting portraits of some of the most courageous human rights activists in the World. Vogue (South America) wanted to do a feature on some of the women, I was honored to have my photography be a part of it.

MM: What are the best experiences that your life as a photographer has afforded you and would you like to mention anything else?

RN: My husband Ian always jokes that I have the best job in the world. It's true. I get to meet and work with amazing people, travel, experience wondrous places, be creative, and bring my ideas to life. I work hard, but I'm also extremely fortunate and thankful for the opportunities I have had. It's not always easy being an artist but, in the end, there is nothing else in the world that I'd rather do.

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