Photography has therapeutic benefits that can provide catharsis for those who need it. Photographer, Paige Megan Hawley writes for us on her healing process and taking back control through photography after a traumatic event.
Four years ago, I was raped. At the time, I was undertaking a degree in photography. Whilst studying, I battled through the court process and didn’t let that monster win and take over my life. Photography has been my healing process and since the traumatic event I have found myself as a photographer and activist. I turned to the camera, exposing myself and my story to the world. My photographs enabled me to bite back, to show my predator who caused me pain, that he hadn’t beaten me, that I was no longer his victim, that I had power over my own body.
My project ‘The Aftermath’ reflects on the moments after I was raped, including bathing myself, revealing a sense of cleanliness after being made to feel dirty. In some of the works I have used a slow shutter speed to express my anxiety. My aim and hope is that other victims will relate to the images and be inspired to speak out.
Photography and developing film was the beginning of my healing process, and lead to my projects “Process” and “STOP”. Developing the negatives by stopping the process, the development stages define my healing process of the after effects of rape. I created self-portraits using a 35mm film camera, I had forensic fingerprints on my body, giving indications of the violation which had taken place.
I also revisited the scene of the crime, an empty skate park. I went back and photographed the skate park to make peace, to see that place for all that it is, a place. Ambiguous and atmospheric, the photograph forces the viewer to look in on a crime scene, and I hope it communicates the dangers that women face at night.
I couldn’t keep re-living what had happened, so I decided to put the project to an end, by stopping the process. The series ‘STOP’ was the end to my healing process after the hearing.
I have continued to use the term “turning a negative into a positive” within my photography. My new project is inspired by the #MeToo movement and I have been helping other survivors gain a voice through photography. I share my healing process with them, they press the shutter release, expose their own story and take back control. The process starts with an open discussion, I talk about my own experience and I give them the opportunity to talk about theirs, but only if they want to. Having those one to ones, a photoshoot and being able to interact with another survivor, to me has revealed the importance of sharing the #metoo movement, beyond social media platforms and there are other ways of contributing.
I could never bear the thought of upsetting or making them re-live their experience, so I would send a short email the following day to see how they are doing, or if they would like to meet up again for a coffee or lunch. This has lead to the group and women’s only space ‘Me Too Meet-Ups’ which will be based in London’s Canvas Cafe. The meet-ups will take place once every few months. My aim is to create a group of activists who use their experience to express themselves through different creative projects. Giving this creative space for survivors has also helped me and has pushed me further into supporting the movement.
These images have been shot on medium format colour film, and have been created to promote positive social change. This is an ongoing project which will expand over time, but what I plan to do, is either showcase a large quantity of images to emphasize the huge impact of the issue, or place posters at every crime scene to raise awareness.
I think giving others a voice, using photography to heal and working together as survivors is a start to changing the world.
You can find out more about Paige’s work here.
Featured image: © Paige Hawley, The Aftermath