The Story Behind the Story

I love stories. That’s why I decided to study journalism; it’s a mixture of the art and science of storytelling. So, whenever College Photographer of the Year comes around, I take some time to look through the stories for inspiration.

We’re looking at the best of the best here. Honestly, it’s a little intimidating to know that these are college students, but my jealousy for their talent is matched with admiration and appreciation. I’m glad to see that our generation of journalists has the capability to inspire people with their photography and reporting, and to bring awareness to important issues such as domestic violence, drug addictions, financial instability, and the relationship between them.

One of the stories that really captured me is titled A Portrait of Domestic Violence, by Sara Naomi Lewkowicz. She documents the story of Shane and Maggie, a couple she met at a county fair. I couldn’t believe the access she had to their private relationship, and the trust she gained. One night, she was at their home when Shane became physically abusive with Maggie. She continued photographing during the attack, up until the police came to arrest him. Seeing these photos, so many questions went through my mind!

How could Shane hit maggie with Lewkowicz there watching with her camera? How did she manage to become invisible? Why was her reaction to take photos instead of intervening? Where do you draw the line between observing as a journalist and taking action as a normal human being? Did her presence affect Shane or Maggie’s behavior during the attack? Was there a subconscious motivation of the self-fulfilling prophesy? Did they know Lewkowicz was doing a story about domestic violence, and feel the need to perform for the camera? Was there a moment when Lewkowicz should have left?

Viewing these photos, I felt as if I was looking at stills from a movie. Did Shane and

Maggie really behave naturally, as if there was no one watching them? Did the photographer’s presence possibly establish the sense of a stage on which the couple felt expected to act?

There is an audio interview with Lewkowicz on thestory.org, that provides some insight into the story behind this story. However, some of my questions still remain unanswered. If you’ve read up to this point, I’m curious about what you think! Please, feel free to comment below (or on Facebook).

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4 thoughts on “The Story Behind the Story

  1. it’s sad to think what’s important is to capture and share violence, when maybe, at least this time, there was an opportunity to intervene for peace, for compassion for the child.

    • After listening to the interview, it sounds like Lewkowicz was just reacting with a journalistic instinct. It’s hard to blame her, because I honestly don’t know what I would have done in the situation. However, I think you’re right about the child. Maybe one of the other friends at the house was taking care of her? I guess intervening could have put her at risk, but I don’t know if continuing to take photos made the situation any better. It’s a tough ethical decision.

  2. As a survivor of domestic violence, the first time I came across these photos, I was offended. While I understand that the police were called, the fact that it was more important to pursue the photos versus getting those children removed from danger — because you never know how far the abuser will go during a fit of rage — was vile to me. Also, these are not images that many of us like to see repeatedly put in our faces. For many of us, they immediately invoke memories that occurred in moments of sheer terror… and with them can come triggers.. often times resulting in life-threatening events of PTSD.

    While many of us are able to overcome the overwhelmingly negative emotional response we have to these types of images, it is only achieved over time, and seeing images of another woman backed up against the kitchen counter much like I found myself dozens of times brings back things that happened immediately after that I would truly rather forget. Many of us have come forward and started blogs with the intent on helping ourselves construct a support group but have since moved forward to begin reaching out and offering assistance to those who are either preparing to leave or who have just left and need that critical support to help them regain their footing and begin to heal… whatever their circumstances.

    Some of us do post resources for them and fellow survivors in the form of photos, links, and videos. However, out of respect and concern for each other, we always preface images, videos, and even graphic text portraying any type of violence, whether it be physical, emotional, or sexual with a conspicuous trigger warning for the content. While we do want to get the information out there and make resources available, the intent must be to uplift, encourage, and support rather than just disseminate volumes of information. We always want to give the victim / survivor the option of viewing or not viewing the material… instead of putting them in a position where they are thrust into a trigger because they may have been caught unaware.

    This said, I think I find it almost unfortunate that it would take something like this.. capturing a woman’s painful, private moments on film in such a manner to expose the fear we feel in the moment… to capture the attention of those who perhaps have never had to endure suffering like this.

    And I thank you for centering your post around this topic in particular.

  3. I am also a survivor of domestic violence, and though I can see the need for your questions, I see this in a somewhat different light. First off, consent was given for the photo-journalistic endeavor in the beginning. Second, these final pictures are solid evidence. They are viable proof that yes, this event took place, and I bet these photos were used as evidence in the criminal proceedings. From my perspective, I only WISH that someone else had witnessed/ documented what my abuser did to me. Lastly, think of all the people seeing this story who are NOT victims, survivors, perpetrators etc. people who may still hold very naive and uninformed opinions about domestic violence. This would have to be a real eye opener, and may very well have been a successful exercise in raising public awareness. Unlike a movie that portrays gratuitous violence against women, this is the real deal and serves an entirely different purpose. Yes, trigger warnings are respectful and expected. Yes, intervention should be top priority, both on behalf of the victim and the children who were in danger. BUT, none of us were there, so we should not make assumptions and question the character of the involved parties based on those assumptions.

    I do hope everyone understands that I certainly do not intend to be abrasive, but that I simply feel the need to focus on this somewhat objectively. Things like this invoke a wide range of emotional response for various reasons, and I believe all responses are certainly as valid as the next. Thank you for sharing the story and your thoughts on the subject!

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