Last December, a young photographer from Ohio, Sara Naomi Lewkowicz, wrote me an email:
Date: Fri, Dec 14, 2012 at 8:38 PM
Subject: From an Ohio U Grad Student…documenting domestic abuse
My name is Sara Naomi Lewkowicz, I’m a first-year grad student at Ohio University in Athens. I wanted to reach out to you because, firstly, you’re one of my favorite photographers, and I saw you speak at Look3 and it was incredible, but also because I had an experience this year that I wanted to share with someone who I know has been through something similar.
I had been documenting a couple for several months, and one night, the male half of the equation began beating his girlfriend in front of me. I photographed the attack, and it’s been something I’ve been sitting with trying to process for some time now. I have very mixed feelings about the whole situation. I guess I was wondering, if you weren’t incredibly busy and had the time, if you would mind discussing it a bit with me, via e-mail or phone. I’m home in NYC on break for the next month, and I would love a chance to talk with you, if you were inclined.
Again, I’ve admired your work for some time now, and I thought I would take a chance and reach out to you, since there are few out there who would understand the experience I just had the way I know you would.
Thanks in advance, have a wonderful weekend.
It seemed like a simple request: aspiring photographer wants to connect with a veteran photojournalist. But Sara’s photographs were different, something I had been waiting to see realized for thirty years. She had done what the Director of Photography at LIFE magazine told me when he looked at my photographs of a couple fighting the bathroom . I had done the impossible, he said, because he thought domestic violence was an unphotographable subject. And I said, “nothing is unphotographable”. Sara was for real. She had taken pictures with power that could shake the world out of a stupor about violence against women. I called a team of magical thinkers: Jim Estrin, NY Times Lens Blog, and, photography director, Karen Mullarkey. Together we helped birth Sara’s story about a battered woman who didn’t go back.
Sara did not set out to document domestic violence although she had read my book, Living with the Enemy, in school. But she was shooting Shane and his girlfriend, Maggie, to document his attempt to overcome a previous prison stint.
After several weeks Sara saw the moody and controlling side of Shane. When tension reached its peak, Sara was already shooting. When she realized Shane’s plan to get Maggie in the basement and beat her without interference, Sara reached into Shane’s pocket for her own cell phone which he’d taken earlier that night. Then she passed it to a room mate silently mouthing instructions to call 911.
With the police on the way, Sara showed the instincts of a combat photographer. Without these images taken during Shane’s meltdown there would be no proof. Most likely, Shane would have gotten away with his assault on his woman. Bolstered by Sara’s presence and knowing that she could prove the assault had happened Maggie pressed charges in spite of Shane pleading with her for another chance. Already Maggie had learned the biggest lessons from her first time as a battered woman: press charges; never go back. In one night, Maggie became unbeatable.
If every battered woman had a brave photographer like Sara beside her there would be far fewer men getting away with terrorizing the women who love them. These photographs make it impossible to deny the horror of domestic violence.
Sara came to me for guidance. After our first meeting, I was truly inspired.
It is an honor to present the story of Maggie through the eyes of Sara Naomi Lewkowitz.
Then I encourage you to read the hard hitting journalist, Ann Jones‘ story in Tom’s Dispatch. Nobody says it better than Ann Jones, this is really important journalism. Watch Sara’s powerful real life video on Time Magazine LIGHTBOX and absorb the deeper meaning of why men who beat women must be held accountable.
-Donna Ferrato NYC 3.30.13
Photos copyright Sara Naomi Lewkowicz