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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
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.