The Duty to Share
(Content Warning - Domestic Abuse)
I've been exploring the idea of motivation when it comes to why we take photographs in the first place. I've talked about the photographs we take specifically to share, and those that we take for ourselves, perhaps never to be seen by others.
There are some photographs that need to be taken, and that need to be shared. They might deal with difficult topics, such as death, sexuality, violence, and other challenging concepts that we often try to avoid in our day-to-day lives.
Sometimes, you might take a photograph that captures something personal, like sadness, joy, grief, despair. Is it okay to share those photographs? If so, does the “when and where” matter?
Michelle Bogre's book, Photography as Activism: Images for Social Change is a very thoughtful exploration of how important some images are, despite being challenging or difficult to take or to view.
It began when she captured images of violence between a husband and wife with whom she was friends. Despite being shocked when she first witnessed the husband (Garth) hitting his wife (Lisa), Donna instinctively took a photograph. She was not merely a passive observer, however. When he went to hit Lisa again, Donna grabbed Garth's arm and pleaded with him to stop. He told her, "I know my own strength and I'm not going to hurt her -- I'm only going to teach her a lesson."
Ferrato became an advocate for the men and women who suffered domestic violence. For the next 15 years, she spent over 6,000 hours riding with the police, visiting families, shelters, prisons, and documenting the real people involved in domestic violence on all sides. Her book Living With the Enemy helped to change the landscape, shining a light on something that had been very difficult to talk about. Based upon her images, several states increased the penalties for men convicted of domestic violence.
It’s important to note that Ferrato wasn’t just standing back watching. Her instinct as a photographer was to capture what was happening. Not because she was thinking of how powerful the photographs would be later, or because she had some idea about publishing a book on domestic violence, but because it was who she was, and what she did. She formed a non-profit called Domestic Abuse Awareness, Inc. and used her photographs to raise money for women's shelters.
"When people let you into their lives to photograph and what you see is hardcore, how can you not want to help them? Photographers should not be afraid to get their hands dirty. We have to stop thinking like dilettante photographers -- you know, the "my job is just to take the pictures" -- I don't buy it when you are photographing in tough complex situations." - Donna Ferrato