I AM ELISABETH
Bengt was a very successful engineer and designer: a self-made man. Elisabeth, his stunning wife, mother of five, was the envy of everyone who knew them. These were privileged people with all the happiness money could buy. Over the course of a year, I spent many nights and days with them, observing wild parties as well as private family moments. A sense of trust and ease was quickly established. However, the more I watched this family, the more I had the sense that, in fact, all was not well. There were underlying tensions that at first surfaced only occasionally. When I found that their freewheeling activities included cocaine, the problems became more visible. I was photographing a family living under incredible stress.
Bengt would force Elisabeth to behave in ways she didn’t like. He exploited her physical beauty as well as her nurturing instincts. Bengt relentlessly insisted that they stay out late, and that she have sex with his friends, promising that once the fun was over, she could go home to the children. Endless arguments began to break out between them. When I first saw Bengt hit Elisabeth, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Instinctively, I took a picture. But when he hit her again, I grabbed his arm and pleaded with him to stop. He hardly noticed my presence, nor did he seem to care that anyone was watching.
In time, Elisabeth’s bruises went away. Banners declaring Bengt’s eternal love were hung on the walls. It seemed like the honeymoon was just beginning. But soon enough, the abuse began again, even more brutally than before. Elisabeth hired a lawyer who helped her obtain a restraining order. She divorced him, gave him the house, and moved away with her children to a more modest home. Bengt did not provide child support. Through the help of friends during the transitional period, and after a long time studying to be a reflexologist and shiatsu practitioner, Elisabeth finally was able to bring a sense of order back into her family life. She now works as a massage therapist in New Jersey, and is a grandmother.
To learn more about Elisabeth’s story, see this video released by TIME Red Border Films.