“Why does photojournalism matter?” is a common question. As photojournalists or those who support photojournalism, we must contemplate and answer this. Donna Ferrato, more perhaps anyone else in the world, is able to speak about why documenting domestic violence is important and what sort of impact this documentation can have. Ferrato has spent the past three decades documenting domestic violence and disseminating her images.
As Ferrato notes in her “I Am Unbeatable” project description she has “worked with governors, senators, police chiefs, the U.S. Army, numerous foreign governments including the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Bolivia, Portugal, Peru, the American Medical Association, and, hundreds more grassroots groups to galvanize people across the world to take a stand against domestic violence.” Her work has had a phenomenal reach and changed thinking.
We spoke to her to learn how her work has effected change.
Alexia Foundation: Why is documentary photographic work on violence against women important?
Donna Ferrato: Until 1982, even though the battered women’s activism was starting to blast off, domestic violence was condoned, even promoted culturally, religiously and amorously on every level as something that was part of a woman’s legacy. That it happens – it’s a man’s world, etc… My photographs changed all those misconceptions.
Alexia Foundation: What kind of effect did your work have on this theme? What kind of change did it help bring about?
Donna Ferrato: My photographs were made into a book, a visual journey into the dark heart of domestic violence in 1991. The photographs have been printed and there have been more than 500 exhibitions on domestic violence worldwide. They have appeared in the press in every part of the world. This gives me the ability to raise discussion on these various issues.
People who see the pictures feel the veracity of the moments and they are impelled to acknowledge the feelings the images evoke.
I feel myself to be the fox in the chicken coop through the decades. I cause a stir. I instigate interest because of the power and validity of my images. Because they were shot on film in the 1980′s and 1990′s before digital was alive, the photographs are a kind of cinema verite, showing the world as it really is.
The books sits on shelves in prisons, shelters, homes, and doctor offices. They are even in some Supreme Court judges houses. Joe Biden said he loved my book and kept it in a prominent place in his house! Michael Imperioli, of the Sopranos, said the pictures caused him to think and ask questions…
People who see the pictures whether or not they are in the book feel the veracity of the moments and they are impelled to acknowledge the feelings the images evoke. And now, it’s been been going on for 20 years. The images have been everywhere – in newspaper, magazines, TV shows like Oprah & Nancy Grace. The work has been featured on NPR, and used by politicians like Bill Clinton, Rudolph Guilliani and Mario Cuomo. The reach is phenomenal.
And, I’m not ready to stop yet. I might never.
Alexia Foundation: How many people would you say your work has reached? Why is reach important?
Donna Ferrato: My work has reached 100′s of millions – as many people who are living with registered weapons in the homes, as many as that, every year. My photographs are completely controlled by me and I have made sure that they were used well. They are used for educational and public awareness purposes and to raise money for the organizations that endeavor to bring relief to the harrowing situations people find themselves in the middle of.
One of my pictures alone changed the way the world thinks about domestic violence
My work opened eyes in a variety of ways. It showed the victims that they were not as isolated as they were being lead to perceive. The victims saw how seriously readers/outsiders took their stories. The ideas went viral. There were TV talk shows and movies. Even Hollywood started to take seriously the fact that domestic violence is a major part of women’s lives. They saw they could make money because the regular housewives were hungry for these stories. Especially when women were the winners in the end by turning the tables on their tormentors. (Some examples are “Burning Bed,” “Enough,” “Sleeping with the Enemy,” and my personal favorite, “In the Bedroom.”)
Life Magazine said in 1993 that one of my pictures alone (Diamond shouting at his father during a 911 call in 1987 – image at top) changed the way the world thinks about domestic violence.
The more people Ferrato’s images reach, the more she is able to change perceptions, help raise awareness and funding. Ferrato’s next project will show women who have left their abusive situations. The idea is that other women will see these individuals and be inspired to leave their own dangerous situations.
Images cause change and give greater opportunities for women in violent situations. The way images work, changing minds and inspiring, is the reason why we are funding the Women’s Initiative grant to document violence against women. This is also why the images created with the grant will be made into a multimedia project and why the Foundation will be sponsoring a symposium in New York in 2013. Each of these components will give greater visibility to the images and amplify their effects.
You can learn more about Ferrato’s work in Helping the People Beyond the Pain and Leaving Abuse Behind, two Lens blog posts about Ferrato’s work. See also her latest project, “I Am Unbeatable,” as well as Abuse Aware, a website featuring her numerous stories on Domestic Violence.