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Donna Ferrato’s Photos Empower Women

By: Claire Guo

Donna Ferrato, 73, is a photojournalist and feminist activist who is best known for her documentation of domestic violence. In her photos, the women, even with multiple bruises and blackened eyes, look defiant and strong, not defeated. She annotates the photographs with hand-written notes as captions, supporting the women. Besides these depictions of domestic violence, Ferrato has also depicted women giving birth, raising children, pursuing sexual pleasure, and enticing men.

In one of Ferrato’s best works, “Rita,” a woman who was beaten by her husband in front of her two children, poses in front of a camera with two black eyes. This photograph became the cover of a 1985 magazine. Her face shows up again nine years later on the cover of Times. Rita pressed charges and divorced her husband which explains her faint smile in the photograph. The portraits of Rita portray her strength and perseverance, not victimhood. When tracking a couple living in New Jersey, Ferrato was present when a husband, furious that he couldn’t find his cocaine stash, slapped his wife across the face. In the photograph, we can see the reflection of Ferrato kneeling on the ground and taking the picture. Ferrato reassures that she stopped the husband after the first hit.

Ferrato also depicts physical love as well as its pleasures in her photographs. In one of them, an exotic dancer wearing fishnet stockings, a bikini, and holding a feathered boa in the air is seen smiling at a man. In the caption of the photograph, Ferrato writes, “She said she was a Strip-o-Gram girl. After seeing her work, I say she was a savior the way she moved mankind.”

Ferrato’s photographs also depict stories. In one of them, a mother living in Mississippi is seen with a smile holding a small baby in her arm. What’s noticeable is that the woman is missing one arm. Minnie Evans says that she was diagnosed with bone cancer. She was advised by her doctor to get an abortion and get chemotherapy. However, Evans wanted the baby, so she got her arm sawed off. In the caption, she says, “I’m having this baby, and I’ll need at least a stump to hold my girl.”

One of Ferrato’s most well-known photographs depicts a boy standing on the left with a heartbroken and furious expression while a man, subdued by two officers on either side of him, stands on the right. A woman with a stricken expression stands behind the officers. According to the caption, Ferrato wrote, the boy is shouting, “I hate you for hitting my mother. Don’t come back to this house.”


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