Mary Ellen Hawkins

Mary Ellen Hawkins was born in San Francisco, California in 1993, raised in Lafayette, California, and received a BFA in Photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2015. She currently lives and works in San Francisco and continually seeks to understand the world around her through photography and writing.


You Should Smile More

You Should Smile More is a series of images made primarily in the earthquake country of California. The series was made in response to my own tangles with anxiety and with the paranoia I see embedded in my community and in the land in which I was raised.

The core of my work stems from a fervent desire for safety, always just out of reach, and a fascination with how irrational fears influence our lives. My practice has become a mix of photography and writing. In writing, I work from memory, attempting to isolate images or events that reflect an anxious mind. With photographs, I search for anomalies, wandering the streets and neighborhoods for misalignments in the norm, for objects out of place, or evidence of the impossible. My goal is a project that sows uncertainty so that the persistence of fear can be felt as an undertone to daily life, a continual and curious presence.




We spend our days dreaming of disasters that haven’t happened yet. The locks on the doors turn under our anxious hands. The summer evenings wind down with talk of bedrock and emergency supplies stowed under porches. Here, I have learned to be wary of the ground under my feet.



Once when I was young, my smile was cut in half, the signals silenced on one side of my face. A paralysis of the nerves that doctors say is carried to the luckless on strong winds. I realized then that my body could break.

You should smile more, someone says. And still, a small bit of me believes I can only smile halfway.

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To view more of Mary Ellen’s work, please visit her website.