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Donna Ferrato’s Camera is a Weapon for Women

By: Grace Zhang

Pictures taken by photojournalist Donna Ferrato show women with encouraging and defiant eyes. The women’s eyes are not beaten or weary.

Ferrato is known for her documentation of domestic violence. At the age of 73, her photos continue to display women pursuing sexual pleasure such as having and raising children, or alluring men. She’s mainly focused on women taking care of their bodies, and in her empathetic mission she even turns the camera towards herself.

The opening of "Holy," a collection of pictures from a book released the previous year at Daniel Cooney Fine Art, was timed to coincide with the expected overturning of Roe v. Wade. Ferrato adds handwritten explanations to her images, frequently inscribed directly onto the prints. Without that additional information, you wouldn't know that a photograph of cots in a stark room commemorates a Parisian clinic where she had an abortion in 1978 or that a San Antonio center had a few sinks and a shelf containing medical supplies before the Texas Legislature crippled it (and most other facilities in the state) by imposing unreasonable requirements, leading to a legal challenge and an earlier favorable ruling.

Her most well-known story is about "Rita," whose husband beat her in front of their sons. Rita's image with her two black eyes appeared in 1985 on the cover of the Philadelphia Inquirer magazine while Ferrato was covering domestic violence on assignment for the newspaper. On the cover of Time nine years later, her face was back. This time, she was smiling. She had filed a domestic abuse complaint to the court and gotten a divorce. Rita filed a complaint and got a divorce.

Ferrato brings her Leica to swinger’s parties as well as women's shelters to study the benefits and occasional drawbacks of physical love. Although many of these images are amusing, others are erotic. At a resort where clothing is optional, a dance leader protrudes her butt provocatively, taking up much of Ferrato's picture. An exotic dancer in a bikini extends a feathered boa with a smile as she performs for a gathering of male spectators. Ferrato writes, "She said she was a Strip-o-Gram gal."

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