Portfolio: Donna Ferrato

From the project "Living with the Enemy" - Photo by Donna Ferrato

From the project "Living with the Enemy" - Photo by Donna Ferrato

   Winner Of W. Eugene Smith Award 1985

Living with the Enemy

Donna Ferrato is a passionately committed photojournalist who has spent much of the last ten years documenting domestic violence. “Ten years ago, while on assignment doing a story on a family that epitomized American success….I saw something in their mansion I was not meant to see.”–Donna Ferrato. She was so haunted by the scene she witnessed (a self-made millionaire beating his wife) that she embarked on a decade-long project to look at the depth of domestic abuse of women. This project is the result of her search. “Donna Ferrato’s troubling images are bound to raise questions about what `domestic violence’ is and why it happens and what can be done to make it stop.”–Ann Jones.

Ferrato rode over 6,000 hours with police around the country to get some of the photographs in Living With the Enemy. In the introduction to Living With the Enemy, Ferrato writes, “Much of the project was born out of frustration — first, because I felt powerless in the face of the violence I had seen, and second, because for a long time no magazine would publish the pictures. It was only when I received the W. Eugene Smith Award in 1986 that magazine editors began to take the project seriously.” Ferrato felt the problem had been concealed from public view for too long and it was important to show as many aspects of the problem as she could. Some of the names in the project were changed, but all of the photographs and stories are real.

Donna Ferrato

“Donna Ferrato is the Anais Nin of contemporary photojournalism.” She is a gadfly, an activist, a mother, a provocateur, and foremost, an internationally recognized photojournalist who has created images that have documented and changed the world around her. American Photographer described Ferrato as “a photographer who emerged from – and goes beyond – the black and white documentary tradition.”

Ferrato’s attention has been consumed with two major projects, domestic violence and human sexual behavior. One might ask what these two seemingly disparate subjects have in common. For Ferrato, they are individual segments in her perpetual pursuit to visually explore and record the most intimate aspects of human behavior. Her images have challenged ignorant attitudes about love and violence promoted by society and brought attention to injustice, changed laws, and provoked people to ponder on behavior that usually remains behind closed doors.

In 1982, while on assignment about the libidos of a rich suburban couple, something occurred that changed Ferrato’s path as a photographer. She witnessed a husband beat his wife in a drug-induced rage. Her first instinct was to take a picture. Then she stopped him. She caught his rage on film. This event started Ferrato’s mission to stop the cycle of abuse with proof of its terrible toll on society through taking pictures.

Ms. Ferrato, with the help of the grant, completed a book on domestic violence, “Living with the Enemy.” It is a kind of violence that, since it occurs within the home, has remained largely unphotographed. She continues her work in this area through photography and the Domestic Abuse Awareness Project, an organization she founded to aid victims of domestic violence.

In 1991, Aperture published her decade-long investigation of families under siege in the book LIVING WITH THE ENEMY. Ferrato is presently working on a video about the children in the book. She will also have the world’s most comprehensive domestic abuse website online, www.AbuseAware.com, sponsored by WebMD in Fall 2007.

In order to achieve a sense of balance in her life and work, Ferrato searches for love in its many forms. Her two other books, AMORE (Motta Editions, 2002) and LOVE & LUST (Aperture, 2004) reflect her thoughts about love and the importance of being open and non-judgmental about the many ways to love.

Ferrato’s empathetic eye is a natural born tool that helps her look at lovers in a way that is not intrusive. She feels women have been misunderstood as men historically set up women in predictable male masturbation scenarios; Helmut Newton on one end of the stick, and Penthouse’s Bob Guccione at the other. Her photographs reveal the desire to understand where women’s fantasies come from, and how their sexual pleasure may be directly related to fantasy or corporal self-awareness. She resides in New York City.

  See This Portfolio

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