My senior year of college my final Communications Degree project was a thesis of my choosing. I decided to research the theory of trauma being helped through the telling of it. And how photos can help powerfully tell people’s stories of trauma they have endured.
I was personally drawn to this as I myself had experienced deep trauma. I was after all in a car accident at 19 that killed my father and permanently disabled my mother. Was it healing when I told my story I wondered? And then I had all those years of sitting next to my grandmother as she recounted her traumas of surviving WWII in Germany. She must of told my sister and I the same stories of her war years 100 times. Years later I realized it was her way to deal with it. To help herself heal and move on. It is interesting to note that my grandfather was the opposite. He refused to talk about it. To this day I don’t know how he survived his years as a prisoner of war, or how it felt when he finally made it to America for good. His healing was silence I suppose.
So with my project set, I first how to figure out how I was going to get people to tell me their deepest secrets. Pain is something we all endure but how many truly want to tell it and then be photographed and remembered for it? So I posted in the college newspaper that I was looking for trauma stories and people could either anonymously submit or contact me to talk.
Within two weeks my mailbox was flooded. You would think to yourself, how much trauma could college age kids endure? Apparently, a lot. I was amazed at the abuse I read about. Parents, siblings, extended family. I chose a friend of mine as her abuse story really stood out to me. She would be locked in her room, sometimes for days at a time, with nothing to eat. She endured emotional and physical abuse for years. For her photos, we took them outside in the sun, portrait style. To show the freedom to open spaces she now had.
One day a girl contacted me about her eating disorder. She was recovering from anorexia. She felt it would help for her to talk about it and agreed to be photographed. When I photographed her I just told her to stand natural and smile or not smile, whatever she felt like. Ironic that most of the photos I took that day had her arms crossed around her midsection, almost as if in protection. Afterwards she did mention to me that it helped her to come forward. She had suffered for years from anorexia and was finally feeling like she was moving forward.
There was one story though that rocked me to my core. It was anonymously sent to me with no contact information. She had sent me pages upon pages from her journal. As I read her story I learned that she had been raped in high school by two guys at the restaurant she worked at. One night after work, in the basement. She then admitted that she had never told anyone. I was the first person she had confided this to. She was in college! She had been keeping this trauma to herself for years!
I was floored. With no contact information to her, I felt powerless. Here I was, with this massive trauma of hers sitting in my hands, and I had no way to help her. I decided I would help her be silent no longer. I ended up using her story and the pictures I used to represent her was a shower. She had mentioned that no matter how many showers she took, she still didn’t feel clean. To this day I think of her and hope she has found peace.
My project ended up being a success and I got an A. I graduated with my communications degree and a few months later met Brian. But this project is something I still think about.
The secrets we keep.