Local Photographer Recreates Saint John Paul II’s “Letter To Women” For Senior Photo Series

by on Jun 6, 2017

Photos and artwork by Nikayla Elizabeth Cecelia Snyder

Since she was young, Nikayla Elizabeth Cecelia Snyder couldn’t be found without paper, a pencil and paintbrushes.

“(I) have always had a drive for creativity in me,” she said.

A Furious Woman

“A Furious Woman” by Nikayla Elizabeth Cecelia Snyder

By her early high school years, she received her first digital camera and began pushing her creativity in a different medium and exploring the artistic possibilities of photography.

Hiding self-portrait

“Hiding,” self-portrait by Nikayla Elizabeth Cecelia Snyder

It started with Snyder taking self-portraits and photographing friends, and “it slowly turned into something that I got paid for and knew that I wanted to do for a career,” she said.


“Corrupted,” self-portrait by Nikayla Elizabeth Cecelia Snyder

As a senior of fine arts at Minnesota State University Moorhead, Snyder was able to immerse herself in portraiture and photographing beauty as it is present in life, nature, emotion, dignity and adventure through photography courses. She said she’s drawn to series that implement motion blur and movement within the pieces, along with color manipulation and bending reality through editing.

Nikayla Elizabeth Photography

By Nikayla Elizabeth Cecelia Snyder

“As of now, I am going to continue working in my freelance photography business, Nikayla Elizabeth Photography, doing weddings, engagements and other portrait sessions,” she said. “I would love to work for someone else and implement my skills into a business where I can share my creativity too. I am very open-minded about my future.”

Although she prefers to be behind the camera, she always finds herself going back to her artistic roots and continues to dip regularly into other mediums, such as drawing, painting, ceramics and printmaking.

"Her Trinity"

“Her Trinity” by Nikayla Elizabeth Cecelia Snyder

“My dream as an artist is to be a gateway for people to see love in its physical form of beauty and creativity,” Snyder said.


“Skeletons” by Nikayla Elizabeth Cecelia Snyder

Nikayla painting

Last semester at MSUM, Snyder was required to create a photo series for her senior exhibit. The focus of the series was of the student’s choosing.

“This series for me began as a deep love for and fascination with Catholicism and a very wonderful man named Saint John Paul II. In January, I heard a woman speak about a letter that he wrote to women in the mid-90s, ‘Letter to Women,’ calling women to be confident in their identity and dignity and telling us all that we are important and strong,” she said. “In this letter, he outlines some very key characteristics about women and how we supplement the world so intensely.”

Working hard on an upcoming photo exhibition based on JPII’s “Feminine Genius” #april6 #jpii

A post shared by N I K A Y L A ☁️ (@nikayla.e) on

Snyder photographed eight women that she felt strived to be their best in each of characteristics outlined by Saint John Paul II: strength, fidelity, acceptance, self-giving, generosity, sensitivity, beauty and receptivity.

“The images are soft, bright and powerful, especially as a series but individually as well,” she said. “Each of my photographs in this series, ‘The Feminine Genius,’ embodies one of these traits in a specific way. Each woman I chose to use in these photographs particularly seeks to exemplify this word in her life. Not only are these characteristics present in all women in a special and unique way, but they are crucial in the continuing of humanity itself.”



“I think particularly of those women who loved culture and art, and devoted their lives to them in spite of the fact that they were frequently at a disadvantage from the start, excluded from equal educational opportunities, underestimated, ignored and not given credit for their intellectual contributions…”



“…each [woman] reaches the final goal by fidelity to his or her own vocation; this goal provides meaning and direction for the earthly labors of men and women alike.”



“…women acknowledge [a] person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them.”

self giving


“…we can note that women are ever ready and willing to give themselves generously to others, especially in serving the weakest and most defenseless…”



“And how can we overlook the many women, inspired by faith, who were responsible for initiatives of extraordinary social importance, especially in serving the poorest of the poor?”



“Yet how many women have been and continue to be valued more for their physical appearance than for their skill, their professionalism, their intellectual abilities, their deep sensitivity; in a word, the very dignity of their being…”



“…there is constantly revealed in the variety of vocations that beauty —not merely physical, but above all spiritual —which God bestowed from the very beginning on all and in a particular way on women.”



“Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.”

“I originally created this series for my senior exhibition … but would love to share and display it in other shows whenever possible,” Snyder said.

As a recent graduate, she’s planning to move to St. Paul, Minnesota, to continue doing what she loves: photography. As a photographer, Snyder said the quote “beauty can change the world” has motivated her to keep moving forward with her artwork.

Nikayla Elizabeth Photography

Instagram: nikayla.e