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Donna Ferrato’s photography tells stories that words cannot

By: Ariana Liu

Despite their dark eyes, the women depicted in Donna Ferrato’s photographs

appear defiant, rather than defeated. Ferrato, now 73 is a photojournalist and

activist, well-known for her depictions of domestic violence. But that’s not all she

does her years of work have resulted in portrayals of sexual pursuit, childbirth, and

demonstrating in the streets. Her motif has always been women who control their

own bodies.

Her album of images, entitled Holy was intended to coincide with the Supreme

Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade. Ferrato’s photos all include hand-written

captions, sometimes on the photos themselves. Without this additional information,

no one would have known that the row of cots is meant to be reminiscent of a

Parisian clinic where her abortion took place, or that the sinks and shelves with

medical supplies was a photograph of an abortion clinic in San Antonio until Texas

legislature banned it.

In 1982, following the activities of a considerable wealthy couple, Ferrato was

present when the husband slapped his wife in the face when he couldn’t find his

stash of cocaine. Ferrato present in the background, simply documents the

interaction, she never intervenes.

The image, put in Time Magazine 1994, is captioned “...This is every woman’s

nightmare; when the man she thought she knew becomes her enemy.”

Like many of the best photographers, she still takes pictures that can stand on their

own without any captions. A prime example is Ferrato’s work, entitled Diamond,

Minneapolis, MN from 1987. In it, police officers enter a home, beckoned by a

young boy’s call to 911, reporting that his father was hitting his mother. While

there is a caption, it is ultimately unnecessary. Anyone can tell what is happening.

According to the captions, the young boy points, furious at his father and yells “I

hate you for hitting my mother. Don’t come back to this house.”

Some photographs are more than simple pictures, they too can represent defiance,

and show you to stand up for something you believe in can be more important than

anything else. Donna Ferrato’s work proves this most of all.

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