“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

Trigger warning: This post contains references to and descriptions of sexual assault.

A few months ago, we featured some images and stories of survivors of rape and sexual assault through the lens of the incredible photographer Lydia Billings’ series Trigger Warning, an ongoing body of work composed of portraits of survivors and their stories. Last week, I had the honor of discussing her process and incredible work. 

 

"I understand the importance of speaking out and talking about it, but how do I present it" "If I can't trust myself, how can other people understand?" Rochester, NY 2013

 

Through her portraits, Billings works to “craft [a] collective voice” for survivors, 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.

 

"Each afternoon, a young boy waits for his father to pick him up from school. At the end of each week, the boy is treated to an ice cream cone. One Friday, when he is 12, the tradition is broken, and instead of buying ice cream, his father drives to the back of the entrance of the school and molests his son in the car."



"A young high school student is excited about his new boyfriend. The two are ridiculed at school, and find it easiest to show affection elsewhere. During lunch period, they often drive to a nearby parking lot to talk and enjoy the view of the town below. Despite conversations about waiting until they’re both ready to start experimenting with sex, the boy’s boyfriend forces him to perform oral sex one afternoon in the car."



"an aging man repeatedly raped his wife after starting to feel less powerful. The crime did not happen at the house pictured"



 "A 30-year-old bartender took her usual walking route home one late night after work. She had never experienced or heard of violence in the neighborhood, but crossed the street when she sensed someone following her. About two blocks later, the stranger had caught up and grabbed her by the wrist. She struggled, but he forced her into the driveway between two homes. After raping her, he left her on the street. She stumbled the remaining half-block to her apartment and called the police."



 "On a crisp, summer evening, a teenage girl was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and left along the edge of a small river. Her body was found a number of days later, and her attacker remains unidentified."



"Though seemingly the home of an accepting and open community, two members of the clergy in a community church have been reported for sexual assault on young children. Parents of the children have pressed charges, and are waiting for court appearances scheduled within the month. Until a verdict is reached, the clergy continue their regular duties."



"The idea for me is not necessarily to be an example of hope and survival, but to show it's ok just to talk, and all of that other stuff will come in its own right... if you talk." Rochester, NY 2013

 


“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


"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



"Even though it was two years ago, it still hits me. I know that five, ten, fifteen years down the road it still will hit me"


“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

 

 

Trigger Warning is an ongoing project that continues to contribute to anti-rape activism. To get involved, please contact the artist here

 

Thanks to Huff Post and Daily Mail

Tagged in: trigger warning, sexual assault, sexual abuse, Rape Culture, rape, portraiture, Photography, lydia billings   

The opinions expressed on the BUST blog are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of BUST Magazine or its staff.




blog comments powered by Disqus
Facebook_websiteTwitter_websitePinterest_websiteRSS_websiteTumblr_websiteIG_website

Shop The BUSTShop

JCalPro Events

Show Full Calendar