Behind The Photos That Changed How America Saw Domestic Violence

It was 1981 and Donna Ferrato wanted to photograph people in love. More precisely, she was interested in swingers who frequented New York’s sex clubs. And so, she found the perfect polyamorous couple to focus her lens on. They were happy, wealthy and fashionable, and welcomed her into their New Jersey home for weeks at a time so she could intimately document their lives.  But one night, she witnessed something entirely unexpected: The husband brutally attacked his wife, striking her in the face. Ferrato snapped a photo thinking it would make him stop. It didn’t. She sat on the undeveloped film for months, weighing what to do. Then, she began what has come to define her life’s work: documenting the horrors of domestic violence.

One of the most difficult aspects of policing domesticviolence—and reporting on it—is that it is almost always hidden from view. Allegations of abuse, especially in an era of trial by social media, can be stigmatizing for both parties, and all too often the result is no more than a he-said-she-said stalemate. Donna Ferrato was the first photographer to document domestic violence in the moment, capturing the abuse as it happened. Her photographs of “Garth” beating “Lisa” in their suburban New Jersey home in 1982 inspired a years-long project to photograph acts of violence that are among the most common and the least well-documented.

Armed with her camera, she crossed the country visiting domestic violence shelters, emergency rooms, batterers’ programs, police stations and prisons. In 1991, she published Living with the Enemy, a book that, for the very first time, revealed in shocking detail the private violence that went on inside American homes. A few years later, her iconic photo of a woman with two black eyes appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Now, in a new documentary by Time Red Border Film, Ferrato explains the trajectory of her career, and the woman from the couple in those very first photos opens up about that night.

Click here for the full interview.

Free Yourself Global 

Transcendent Media Capital develops its own global campaigns which combine a range of media assets and grass roots action as well as collaborations with NGO’s globally to inform, educate, challenge myths and stereotypes and to create practical projects that contribute resources to solving issues globally. Much like this photography exhibition, our global domestic violence campaign Free Yourself Global aims to  shed light on this pervasive issue as well as challenge the narrow and outdated two-dimensional stereotypes that either vilify the perpetrators as “monsters” or glorify them to the point where their crimes become unthinkable.  It is our contention that in order for people to better understand this type of abuse, they need a three-dimensional view of all those involved.  That is why this initiative hopes to bring together all of the voices of the participants of domestic violence, including recovering abusers, victims, children, educators, support agencies and health professionals, law enforcement agencies, politicians, celebrities and social entrepreneurs who work to aid in this cause. It is in this aim that “Free Yourself” inspires us. You can share your story with us on social media using the hashtag #FreeYourselfGlobal or anonymously here, via our website. 

For more info on how you can choose to tell story and how it will be used to help other people in need, or to learn how to become involved in other ways with this breakthrough campaign, email info@freeyourselfglobal.comTo simply keep up to date on our campaign and the latest news pertaining to domestic violence worldwide make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram

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