Haunting Portraits Of Rape Survivors Bravely Confront Sexual Abuse

article-2522955-1a08ca1900000578-148_634x844“Before it happened, I thought about going to the Peace Corps. I wanted to be somewhere, get somewhere bigger. I wanted to grow.” “Every part of me was altered.” Rochester, NY – 2013

article-2522955-1a08ca5600000578-790_634x844“The officer asked me if I could describe my rapist. When I told him it was my husband, he dropped his notebook on the table and asked me, ‘Why are you wasting my time?’ They never did anything” “Once we have a place to talk about it, it’s like releasing a poison from inside us.” Rochester, NY- 2013

article-2522955-1a08ca5100000578-667_634x879“Imagine if someone erased your personality at age twenty. You have to figure out what kind of person you are without the first twenty years.” Ithaca, NY – 2012

article-2522955-1a08ca3500000578-18_634x843“I’m no longer afraid of what it means to be me. I refuse to let fear turn to regret. I am strong, and will be stronger.” Rochester, NY 2013

With her stunning series Trigger Warning, the photographer Lydia Billings works to “craft [a] collective voice” for survivors of rape and sexual abuse, and in doing so, she creates a complex visual and narrative mapping of diverse stages of human coping, healing, and experience. She powerfully avoids any impulse to re-victimize her subjects, granting them the power to speak out and to reveal only what they are ready to share. She first meets with each subject without a camera, allowing organic and intimate conversations to flow for as long as three hours. When she returns with her camera, she gets her shot in as little as ten minutes to one hour.

She cherishes her connection to her subjects and aims simply to make all “feel like they’re being seen honestly.” She explains, “I can celebrate every day the strength […] and beauty of survivors.” And her intent resounds throughout each piece; her sharp focus on the individual highlights steady tears, streaming locks of hair, set wrinkled brows, and unrelentingly magnificent eyes that stare straight ahead. With the focus on her subject, the various backgrounds take a back seat, becoming blurred and out of focus, and ultimately resting in peaceful deference to the details of the human face.

Trigger Warning also features a complimentary series of third person stories of assault alongside topographical shots of places in which rape could conceivably occur (note: none of the locations photographed are actual reported sites of rape or abuse). Sprinkled amidst the emotionally charged human portraits, the jarringly objective images are evocative of the work of 1970s New Topographics photographers, who shot man-made industrial structures and landscapes without the sentimentality or emotionality of early landscape photography. The power of this chapter of Billing’s work lies in an elegant slippage between fact and very real possibility, between emotional impulses and objective aesthetics; the dizzying relationship between neutral and candidly seen places familiar to us all—a wood, a church, a home— and simply told yet harrowing stories of very real traumas forces viewers to acknowledge the faces before us, to enter into dialogue with their experience, and ultimately, to applaud their courage. (via Bust, Daily Mail, and Huff Post)

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