Donna Ferrato, Revolution, and the Photography That Has Continued to Challenge Violence
By Hillary Gyuras
Nearly thirty years after beginning her work on domestic violence, Donna Ferrato’s photography still inspires discussion about domestic violence, challenges stereotypes and beliefs about survivors of abuse, and empowers women.
© by Wendy R. Walter
Ferrato began her work in the early 1980’s after unexpectedly witnessing the abusive relationship of a couple she was photographing for a different project. That moment changed her career forever. She began riding along with police officers as they responded to domestic violence calls, risking her own safety, to document the pervasiveness of inter-relationship violence and its emotional, psychological and physical effects.
When I spoke with Ferrato, the 1993 winner of the Courage in Journalism Award, she was in Charlottesville, VA where she and her photography were being featured at the Look3 festival. A festival, she explained, that would allow her to share her stories with others and teach photographers about the powerful tool that photojournalism could be.
“It is about capturing the real moment, the real people, the real feelings, and then you preserve it on film. It is really the most extraordinary tool for communication that exists.” Ferrato believes that when you capture these moments in a photograph, the audience has an emotional reaction to the image. They cannot avoid the message the photograph is trying to tell them; messages, she thinks, that they will never forget.
“The pictures were so strong that they took on a life of their own.”
The images, found both in her book and collection titled Living with the Enemy, document the existence of domestic violence and are meant to be educational, offering people insight into violent relationships. In fact, she allows different domestic violence organizations to use her photographs, coupled with facts and statistics about relationship violence, to educate and raise awareness about partner abuse.
Ferrato also founded the Domestic Abuse Awareness Project in 1991 which raises funds for domestic violence shelters and further educates the public about relationship violence. She continues to travel with her collection and give lectures on the subject.
© by Wendy R. Walter
She believes that her photographs and work with the Domestic Abuse Awareness Project have cleared up a lot of myths about domestic violence relationships, particularly the myth that women who stay with their abuser enjoy being abused. Her work opened up people to discussions about abuse and allowed many people to understand the psychological nightmare that these women are trapped in. Yet, she acknowledges that many misperceptions about domestic violence still remain.
© by Wendy R. Walter
Because the media focus for the past decade has been almost entirely on terrorism and war, little attention has been paid to subjects such as domestic violence in the U.S. “Nobody wanted to talk about domestic terrorism,” she says, and this has severely limited progress made towards ending it.
But of course, she is tirelessly working to remedy this.
Ferrato is working on establishing another generation of fearless photographers. She mentors young photographers in order to teach them how to capture unexpected moments of violence and emotion. She wants them to continue telling these stories not only to break down misperceptions about domestic violence, but also to allow women in abusive situations to understand that they are not alone.
She recently put on a workshop in Mexico that worked with young photographers, and she is also currently planning workshops in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.
Ferrato hopes that these collective efforts will start a revolution in the United States, among other places. “The revolution has to begin with women,” she says, “Women standing up. Women saying we are not going to take this anymore. We are going to fight against it. We are going to fight for all women’s rights.”
And while her early photography still retains powerful messages about the harsh reality of violence within the family, her new work echoes this hopeful sentiment of revolution and healing.
Her newest project, I am Unbeatable, focuses on the joy, beauty, and hope found in women who have successfully left abusive relationships. This project, she says, makes her previous work worthwhile, and it also gives her motivation to continue working.
But Ferrato’s career is not limited to projects that are centered on domestic violence. She is currently photographing the Tribeca neighborhood, a project that allows her to create compositions that are more mysterious and questioning. She also continues her work on the subject of human sexuality.
Regardless of the subject matter, Ferrato believes that “You have to have the drama. You have to have the mystery. You have to have some kind of compelling visual evidence of what is going on. That’s what drives all photographers- to keep taking the kinds of pictures that make people pay attention.”
Undoubtedly, she and countless others will continue to work on domestic violence and its interconnection with women’s rights in the coming years. And if there is a revolution, Donna Ferrato will probably be there capturing the pain, joy, anger and excitement, preserving it forever and making people pay attention.
For more information about I am Unbeatable, visit:
Thursday, July 12, 2012