By Kiara Mapp
Photojournalist and feminist activist, Donna Ferrato, is best known for her candid depiction of women’s entity — pregnancy, pleasure, and enticing men while unmasking the issue of domestic violence.
As a visual storyteller, Ferrato has been featured in almost every major news outlet in the country, and her photography has been showcased in more than “five hundred solo exhibitions in museums and galleries worldwide” including the Plattsburgh State Art Museum.
A Ferrato exhibition is on display at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh’s Plattsburgh State Art Museum from September 8 until December 9, 2022, in Feinberg Library 208. On entering the gallery, visitors meet survivors before moving on to the act itself and the systematic effects, bringing forth a spotlight on the pain, shame, and despair women and children suffer that have not been unmasked in enough depth until Donna Ferrato.
Upon moving to New York City (1979), Ferrato began photographing in nightclubs, and eventually, she was commissioned to photograph a swinger couple known as Garth and Lisa who appeared to be in perfect harmony until Ferrato witnessed “Garth viciously beating his wife.” The tragic encounter catalyzed Ferrato’s work to shift from love and lust to revealing what transpires behind closed doors.
Starting out photographing pleasure ended up confronting pain, in the ensuing decade, Ferrato slept in shelters, toured battered women’s homes, and rode in police cars to not only capture domestic violence photos but to showcase them in her seminal book Living with the Enemy (1991).
Living with the Enemy includes a narrative behind each black & white image, accompanied by texts drawn from interviews with victims and perpetrators of abuse. The chilling photos of women being beaten, locked in affairs, and jailed for protecting themselves are not easy to look at, yet Ferrato simultaneously celebrates their strength and coverage over and against all odds.
Since Ferrato composed these striking and difficult photographs with delicacy and awareness, no one has ever displayed them with more sympathy and comprehension viewers say. With this, several women have come forward and identified themselves as “defeated” victims while, in truth, they were “defiant.”.
Outside of publishing the stories of survivors and using her lens to honor the unabridged women’s lives, Ferrato has participated in numerous one-woman shows, received awards such as the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Humanistic Photography (1987), and launched a campaign called I am Unbeatable (2014) that features women who have left their abusers.
Ferrato’s works continue to spark national discussions on sexual violence and women’s rights as her printings, exhibitions, and lectures have been seen across the globe. Given such an outcome, Ferrato “refuses to capitulate” out of fear or loss of hope with the knowledge that the battle may take an eternity, the war is far from over, and the fight for women’s rights must be pursued.
As an artist who spent her career fighting for women’s rights, Donna Ferrato’s camera lens is what frankly broke the silence that trapped women in a continuous cycle of exploitation, and oppression.