Petra Collins is a stalwart for girls. The 18 year old photographer from Toronto first picked up a camera at age 15 and since then has dedicated herself to capturing intimate images of blossoming adolescence and explorative young women with skill and maturity beyond her years. She’s also the founder of The Ardorous, a web space that showcases the works of other young, female artists as a cohesive collective.

“I started the site about a year ago,” Petra told us of its beginnings. “I wanted to create a platform for talented female artists to get their work seen—which I felt our world was lacking…I look for girls/women with work that is not only beautiful but is inspiring and has a message, also someone who is doing something new, something that catches my eye.”

While her exploration into femininity has earned her many fans—among them Richard Kern and Rookie editor Tavi Gevinson, who enlisted Petra to create a series of themed shoots each month—it’s not been without controversy. In a recent MTV news piece, Petra discusses the irony of shooting provocative and assertive images for stylized erotic photography publication Jacques. At the time she was just 17 and therefore not legally permitted to purchase the magazine that featured her images.

“I think people aren’t comfortable with feminine sexuality,” Petra explained to us when we asked about the oft-used “controversial” description attached to her work. “I find people get uncomfortable when a women is expressing her sexuality instead of repressing it or conforming to the male gaze (objectification). In our society, I think nude or sexually suggestive images of women are automatically seen as negative and objectifying. We need to make room for the female view of sex and accept it. Until then we are going to be uncomfortable with photos like mine.”

While sexuality plays such an important role in her work, what Petra is really focussed on is using her camera to represent something within all teenage girls.

“They are so interesting and at the peak of discovery,” she told us of her preferred, adolescent subjects. “They are so beautifully awkward. I like to shoot girls that can tell a story instead of just look pretty.”