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Donna Ferrato’s Photos Powerfully Portray the Suffering of Domestic Violence Survivors

By: Sarah Wang

Donna Ferrato, a photojournalist and feminist activist, is known for her powerful photo documentation of domestic violence. Since 1975, she has photographed across the United States, trying to capture images of women taking control of their bodies. Even without the captions Ferrato writes on her photos, one would still be able to understand the raw emotion expressed in the image.

After the recent overturning of Roe v Wade, Ferrato published a series of photographs. She handwrites a caption on most of her photographs, giving context to the image. In one photo, several cots in a Parisian clinic show where Ferrato underwent an abortion in 1978. In another, two sinks in a women’s health clinic in Texas, where many women were provided with abortions until it was prohibited by the Texas Legislature.

Before publishing these photos, Ferrato must first have the consent and trust of the subjects depicted in each photo. One of her most well-known photos, Rita, portrayed a woman who was severely beaten by her husband while their sons were present. She had then had the courage to divorce her husband, pressing charges in the process.

In the photo, Rita is seen with two black eyes, but a faintly triumphant expression. The image was used on the cover of The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1985 and was the face of Time Magazine nine years later. Ferrato says the photo depicts perseverance, not victimhood.

In 1982, Ferrato tracked and documented the activities of a standard American couple in New Jersey. She had been present when the husband his wife’s cheek in rage after failing to find his stash of cocaine. In this image, Ferrato is seen in the reflection of the mirror, taking the picture. She is said to have stopped the violence after the first slap.

It is said that Ferrato’s most powerful picture is Diamond, Minneapolis, MN, taken in 1987. Multiple police officers crowd the cluttered entryway of a home in Minnesota. A boy had called the police on his abusive father, who took no remorse in ruthlessly beating the boy’s mother. The boy is seen hollering at his father as police place the father in handcuffs.

“I hate you for hitting my mother,” the boy shouts at his father. “Don’t come back to this house.” However, the evident outrage and pain on the boy’s face make it clear what he’s saying, even without reading the caption.

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