A Portrait of Domestic Violence By Sara Lewkowicz


Historically, photography has raised awareness about society’s most damning and repugnant ills by capturing its symptoms, instead of its causes, putting a face to an issue to make the marginalized the focus of attention. Photographer Sara Lewkowicz offers a highly intimate portrait of domestic violence that is rarely seen, not only capturing the moments after the assault, but also bravely continued photographing while it was happening. As a first year graduate student at the University of Ohio Athens, Sara first met Shane, 31, and his girlfriend Maggie, 19, this past September at a regional festival in Ohio, where she was shooting her first assignment for an editorial photography class. She recalls, “I spotted a man covered in tattoos, including an enormous piece on his neck that read, “Maggie Mae.” He was holding a beautiful little girl with blonde curls. His gentle manner with her belied his intimidating ink, and I approached them to ask if I could take their portrait.” Learning about the couple’s troubled histories–Shane’s prison terms and Maggie raising her two children while their father is stationed in Afghanistan–Sara asked if she could continue documenting them for a project about ex-convicts.

Just two months later, in a single night, her photo series changed dramatically, after a visit to a bar. Sara describes, “Maggie had become incensed when another woman had flirted with Shane, and left. Back at the house, Maggie and Shane began fighting. Before long, their yelling escalated into physical violence.” Acting in the purest tradition of documentary photography, Sara continued photographing, even as Shane threw Maggie into chairs, pushed her up against a wall and choked her. While it never occurred to Sara to intervene, she believes her presence was a supportive gesture of solidarity, “if Maggie couldn’t leave, neither could I.”

The police arrived, and to Sara’s surprise, “the responding officers were well educated on First Amendment laws and did not try to stop me from taking pictures.” Shane is currently in an Ohio state prison, having pled guilty to a domestic violence felony. Not surprisingly, Sara’s photographs have raised harsh criticism, more so than awareness, from several anonymous internet commentators who believe Sara further endangered Maggie’s life by refusing to put down her camera. In her own defense, Sara says, “Their criticism counters what actual law enforcement officers have told me — that physically intervening would have likely only made the situation worse.”

Maggie has since moved to Alaska, where the father of her children is stationed in Anchorage. This March, at the request of Maggie, who feels that her story may be able to help someone else, Sara will travel to Alaska to continue photographing her newfound subject. “My goal is to examine the long-term effects of this incident on her current relationship, her children, and her own sense of self,” she explains.

Orginal article found here:

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