I Am...define yourself.
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I'm compelled to make work about social injustice, patriarchy, study transformations and to seek beauty. There is not one narrative arc when we explore domestic crimes and toxic relationships. Each person asks me to bear witness to their truth. It is a complex and hidden crime, and this visual narrative gives many people the space to reclaim their face or body. They ask us to confront their gaze, to pay attention to their trauma and survival, to note their resilience and vulnerability. A face opens the conversation, it is powerful. Some people are in places of transition and growth, we are all on a journey without a fixed destination, transitions are multi layered.
The work is political for we challenge the values of a society that tolerates violence and turns a blind eye. This is a crime that happens to your friends and in your street. Behind closed doors we call it "domestic abuse" to minimise it, yet if it happened outside of the home we would call it rape, assault, murder. We must recognise coercive control as a crime too. All of this darkness is hidden inside the home and transcends gender, social class or ethnicity. It is an epidemic. The UN calls it the shadow pandemic.
Below: an old family photograph of my mother, I grew up with domestic abuse. I was abused as a child by my maternal grand parents, some of their friends and a doctor, raped, beaten and suffocated, knocked unconscious. I am not sure why their rage did not kill me. I knew how to keep secrets (or tell and receive punishments) and I knew broken bones, depression, and the longing to escape and build a new life. This became a photography project that has lasted over two years and will exhibit. This also became a personal journey for me. In December 2019 my father died violently and I began to look at my childhood home, the hospital visit my mum had where she said it was "an accident", the violent arguments where I sat at the top of the stairs to scared to sleep. I discovered that the line between a perpetrator and victim may be clear cut or blurred, My parents decided I was invisible, they were too busy building their negative drama, they would not listen when I asked for help.
The survivors I photographed made me face my fears, they were gentle, they had suffered a great deal. In the end I too understood that I needed to forgive, or at least learn how to let go of my pain and anger. I began to explore how, I began to find some relief. I found new growth, for many of us here have post traumatic growth, the people who risk all to begin again. They may lose a home, family, a social standing, a job. They walk out on their beliefs and values. There is often a breakdown. They rise. The unlucky fall back into old patterns and the comfort of old habits. Some though attain a healing after trauma. Many speak of the work they put into transition, I am drawn to these people, the alchemists who speak of a journey but see no ending just a work in progress. A few feel trapped and unable to move on though they long to. We chose different destinations. When a person knows desolation and suffering they have an opportunity to learn compassion. Even when we heal and transform, the shadows stay hidden in our bodies. The body keeps the score, the heart may be torn, the shoulder burdened. Once we have known fear we can never unknow it. Seek the light to carry the darkness with ease.
My images are a showcase of moments, life and emotion distilled into one frame. Each image expresses many things, each has a surface story yet is also open and ambiguous, to be read differently by each viewer. To depict a person's breakages and make something wonderful from fracture. Honouring transitions and allowing change and growth to exist in the frame. Breakage and repair are part of the history of a person, rather than something to disguise. The repair is literally illuminated. A visual record of mends and seams, a photograph celebrating repair or rebirth.
I want my tribe to challenge the viewer, create discomfort. This is the female gaze. To refuse to be objectified and to take agency. To confront the viewer, demand space, consideration and take a brave stance. A warrior.
This work is our story, the aim is to look at an issue and promote debate and social change through art. I like to be embedded in a project and I work with people who are also survivors of trauma. Trauma is generational, at some point it must stop. In partnership with SafeLives, the national domestic abuse charity, and their Pioneers, (women bringing the voice, expertise and power of lived experience to create change for everyone), I have a large team and mentors to shape the narrative, my childhood experience is merely my doorway in.
Laura Noble painted the oil on canvas backdrops.
Celia Peachy is a writer and activist. Her mother was murdered and she also turned to Eastern philosophy to seek healing. She is mentored by writer and critic Dominic Walsh, who worked with me on "You Brought Your Own Light".
Gaynor Stoddard brings the skills to sew the backdrops together and embroider them with the words of Kathryn, a Pioneer from SafeLives.
Many women are in too much danger to show their faces but have worked with me behind the scenes.
My timeframe is up to two years photographing the participants.
For many the first part of the photographic portrait sitting involves me listening to which part of your story is important to you. Then we photograph this. Your story is held within your face and body, your eyes are the window to your soul and this makes the portrait powerful. You may choose a space to be captured in, a place meaningful to you. You choose what to wear and if you wish to include any symbolic objects within the frame. You have probably never had a portrait sitting before, I guide you through the process. An artist is the conduit who empowers you.
We will use your home or a private space you choose. This is the scene of many crimes or the space you created afterwards. Perhaps you have not made it special yet, maybe this not important to you at all. I have fabric embroidered backdrops and hand painted ones. They were all created especially for this project by women who are talented and who share this story.
We will only see the room in shadow and all I need is a window with a curtain or blind and daylight. This is your safe space. We usually begin with me finding the light I want whilst you put the kettle on. When I'm happy with my set we sit and have a chat. Some people are very nervous or emotional, that's normal and fine with me.
You maybe thinking of the trauma, or your healing, transformation and growth. This is a journey but not a linear one. How we live after abuse is complex. Some of you will ask to sit for political reasons - to speak for the women murdered during lockdown or to challenge the government to offer more support to this sector.
You are sitting for a portrait to be visible and authentic. I will ask you to sign a model release and later I will show you some of the images and check if you are happy for the work to be public. I win awards, make books and hang in galleries. This series is about changing how the world views domestic crime.
Some people like to write a part of their story - to have their say. Maybe you feel strongly about:
- the healing, transformation and personal growth that may come after you left the violent partnership
- the lack of funding to shelters or other political issues within this area
- the recent issue of covid creating a situation of 5 deaths a week from domestic abuse
- coercive and economic control as it is not always physical violence.
- your trauma or toxic relationships
I'm using the covid guidelines of my professional body. I may enter your home to work and I carry a mask, hand gel and my own cup. Do excuse me if I avoid touch points!
I will be with you for up to an hour. This is not a rushed "hit and run" way of working and I care about you having time to process the shoot. If you wish to wear make up please do, but avoid a party look. I want the real you. Clothing wise - lets stay simple. I love a vest top or T shirt. Though sometimes I get kind of obsessed with a colour! No logos and no writing. We can always plan what you wear together. Together we can style this to create art.
We are collaborating in this work, it's my vision and your story.
Make sure we can work privately for an hour. The shoot can be emotional as we need to create authenticity. I will ask you to show something in your face, to be brave. You do not have to return to your dark place, you can just "be" in this moment.