I've been a photojournalist for several years, and currently am in my first year of graduate school at Ohio University. My first semester at Ohio University has been one of the single most challenging periods of my career, and I can safely say I have worked harder than I have ever worked in my life. One of my biggest challenges came in November, when a story I had been documenting for several months took a very dark turn.
I had been photographing a couple, Shane and Maggie, since September. I had originally intended the story to focus on the difficulties felons face once being released from incarceration. My intention was to paint a portrait of the catch-22 many individuals find themselves in upon release, the metaphorical prison of a stigma they can never seem to escape. The story changed dramatically when one night, Shane and Maggie got into a fight. Shane began to physically abuse Maggie, slamming her up against walls and choking her in front of her two-year-old daughter, Memphis. He had possession of our cellular phones, so I reached into his pocket and steal my phone back when he was distracted. I handed my phone to another adult who was in the house,and instructed them to call the police. I then continued to document the abuse.
In that moment, my instincts as a photojournalist kicked in. I knew I had to stay with the story and document it in all of its ugly truth. I have continued to follow Maggie since the abuse, and am producing a multimedia piece as well as a still series. I plan on applying for several grants to continue working on this project and broadening its scope. I've also begun working closely with Donna Ferrato, who will be including my piece in Unbeatable, a project that spans her three-decade career documenting domestic violence.
The biggest part of this whole upsetting situation that has made the difference has truly been Maggie. Her courage through this whole ordeal, especially considering her age, is extraordinary. She has asked me to move forward with this project and to tell her story, because she feels that the photographs could potentially help someone escape from the same type of situation she was in. "Women need to understand this can happen to them. I never thought it could happen to me, but it could," she told me. "Shane was like a fast car. When you're driving it, you think 'I might get pulled over and get a ticket.' You never think that you're going to crash."
While this story is, in part, about domestic violence, it is not a reportage on a domestic dispute—it is not a news event. It seeks to take a deeper, unflinching look into the circumstances that transform a relationship into a crucible, and what happens before, during, immediately proceeding and long after an episode of violence takes place. With this story, it is my goal to examine the effects of this type of violence on the couple, the absued, the abuser, and the children who serve as witnesses to the abuse. We typically only see victims of abuse in the hours or days after having been abused. I have been able to spend time with Maggie and her children before, during, and after the assault. My next step is to travel to Alaska, where Maggie currently resides with her husband and the father of her children, and examine the long-term effects of this incident on her current relationship, on her children, and on her own sense of self. - Sara Naomi Lewkowicz