2013 — student winner
Domestic violence is a largely invisible crime. We usually only hear it muffled through walls, and we usually only see it manifested in the faded yellow and purple bruises of a woman who “walked into a wall” or “fell down the stairs.” It is rarely limited to one event, and it rarely stops. My project, “Shane and Maggie,” seeks to portray domestic abuse as a process, as opposed to a single incident, examining how a pattern of abuse develops and eventually crests, as well as its short- and long-term effects on victims, their families, and their abusers.
I had been photographing a couple, Shane and Maggie, since September. I had originally intended the story to focus on the difficulties felons face once being released from incarceration. My intention was to paint a portrait of the catch-22 many individuals find themselves in upon release, the metaphorical prison of stigma they can never seem to escape. The story changed dramatically when one night, Shane and Maggie got into a fight. Shane began to physically abuse Maggie, slamming her up against walls and choking her in front of her two-year-old daughter, Memphis. He had possession of our cellular phones, so I reached into his pocket and stole my phone back when he was distracted. I handed my phone to another adult who was in the house and instructed them to call the police. I then continued to document the abuse.
In that moment, my instincts as a photojournalist kicked in. I knew I had to stay with the story and document it in all of its ugly truth. If Maggie couldn't leave, neither could I. I documented the entire attack and its immediate aftermath. I have continued to follow Maggie since the abuse and am producing a multimedia piece as well as a still series.
While this story is, in part, about domestic violence, it is not a reportage on a domestic dispute—it is not a news event. It seeks to take a deeper, unflinching look into the circumstances that transform a relationship into a crucible and what happens before, during, immediately proceeding, and long after an episode of violence takes place. With this story, it is my goal to examine the effects of this type of violence on the couple, the abused, the abuser, and the children who serve as witnesses to the abuse. We typically only see victims of abuse in the hours or days after having been abused. I have been able to spend time with Maggie and her children before, during, and after the assault. Since the incident, Maggie has moved to Alaska to be with the father of her two children, a soldier in the army who is stationed in Anchorage. I will be spending my spring break in Alaska, documenting Maggie trying to put the pieces of her family and her life back together utilizing both still photographs and multimedia. My goal is to examine the long-term effects of this incident on her current relationship, on her children, and on her own sense of self. I am also in the process of attempting to contact Shane and photograph and interview him in jail to gain his perspective, as well as interviewing Maggie's friends and family, whom Shane isolated her from during their relationship.
The biggest part of this whole upsetting situation that has made the difference has truly been Maggie. Her courage through this whole ordeal, especially considering her age, is extraordinary. She has asked me to move forward with this project and to tell her story, because she feels that the photographs could potentially help someone escape from the same type of situation she was in. "Women need to understand this can happen to them. I never thought it could happen to me, but it could," she told me. "Shane was like a fast car. When you're driving it, you think 'I might get pulled over and get a ticket.' You never think that you're going to crash."