The beginning of a movement....
Us project was born last year as a concept for me when I went through a remarkable education program, and in do so I had the epiphany that starting to use my work as a vehicle to express stories that were important in the world. For a long time I have been soullessly chasing work commercially and n the back of my mind I always knew that photography has proven over and over again that it has the power to change worlds. I started thinking for a while that I needed my work to have more meaning, and have place in the world, instead of being another pretty image of a another pretty girl. Don't get me wrong, I love fashion, I love women and I love making beautiful, evocative images of them. But I had a niggling feeling that my work could actually be a voice for something in the world, but I just didn't know what.
It was during the education program I did last year I became aware that something that was important to me was being a voice for rape and sexual abuse. Being a survivor myself I know all to well the damage that internalising that unspoken story can do. The longer we hold it in the more damaging it becomes. I became interested in the fact that 2 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been sexually violated in New Zealand. I realised that that is a lot of people for a situation to be so silent. Thats a whole lot of people who have the potential to be a potent and powerful community in the world, but there is no community, because everyone is silent and stands alone.
I want people to know that their story is important and it needs to be heard. I want people to feel that they are part of a community that doesn't have to live in silent shame but be strong and realise the beauty in their brokenness, and the power of their resilience as a human being.
This is a project where in the simple act of putting their hand up, we can start to see the beautiful community that lies beneath the surface of society. And in doing so we can give others the bravery to put their hand up also. Then people can see that their story isn't shameful, it is important and precious.
Even though I feel this way with all of my heart I understand the heavy restrictions we place on ourselves. Throughout my story collecting so far the most common thread has been "when it first happened I thought, what does this mean about me? Did i make this happen in some way? what are people going to think of me ?" and the same was said for me when I came to the realisation that to really truly execute this project properly I would have to be completely transparent with my own experience. From the conception of the project it took me 4 months to build up the confidence to the release of my first video. On my mind was the thought that once this happens, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE i have ever known was going to know what had happened to me. So I knew I was going to have to clear every last little niggling piece of self guilt and shame so that I could be that person.
When I posted my video asking for participants I had the most incredible outpouring of support it reduced me to tears, over and over. We have all heard the saying over and over to "live your truth" but I have never actually fully felt what that means until I posted that video. It was a very powerful moment and It makes me really proud that my project can give others the opportunity to feel that way. So many of the participants have expressed that this is a moment for them to take back the power and reclaim their lives and that makes me feel very proud to be living my truth.
The next step in my participation in Us was to have my portrait taken. I had a very short list of photographers I felt would be able to do this ( I'm fussy lol ) so imagine my surprise when the photographer at top of my list the amazing portrait artist Tracey Stevens messaged me to offer to do my portrait. Tracey's work is so unforgivingly raw and real and yet so beautiful and almost spiritual in my opinion. As a photographer I know when someone is photogenic and I know I am not one of those blessed people. Im not a great lover of the way I look so making the videos and having my portrait taken but in the case of this project how I feel about my appearance isn't important enough to stop me doing this.
So the gorgeous image above is my portrait from Tracey, I feel it captures me as I am, warts and all, which is poignant for this project. I also love the fact that my beautiful husband Nick, who is always by my side has been included. I love how he has let his vulnerable side show, and how Tracey somehow managed to bring that out in him. Thanks so much Tracey for becoming the first benchmark in my journey to creating the community of Us.
Click below to see more from Us Project: