Bailey’s photos put a face on the healing process of sexual assault survivors
Moved by an article last fall in a local newspaper about a sexual assault victim who wanted to remain anonymous, photographer Alice Bailey decided to raise awareness about sexual assault and address the anonymity that many survivors choose through an exhibit of portraits. Out of the 25 self-selected women and men from the University and Charlottesville communities who responded to her call for project participants, Bailey compiled portraits to open a dialogue on the topic often stigmatized by silence and to show how far along the individuals are in their healing journey.
“I want to raise awareness, to help the healing process,” Bailey said. “Putting a face on each survivor will help break that anonymity and get people to feel comfortable … talking about it.”
Bailey shot the portraits in color using a large-format view camera that produces images with exceptional clarity and directness.
“I wanted each portrait to be very real, to have a direct experience with the person,” Bailey said. “The colors are vibrant. These people are alive.”
The intention, Bailey said, was to use portraiture to convey a sense of dignity that is associated with the genre and to focus not on the event, but on the person themselves and the healing process.
Prior to taking each portrait, Bailey spent time with the participants, discussing their experiences, often meeting two or three times before the photography session. Using the view camera also played a part in assuring each person would be comfortable with having his or her picture taken. The camera takes a long time to set up and after she makes all the adjustments, Bailey comes out from under the drape and engages the subject. Not having the camera as a barrier between the artist and subject, the vulnerability that many people feel in front of a camera is abated, Bailey said.
“It’s exciting to see people take their experience and do something with it,” Bailey said. “A number are already involved in counseling others. It’s inspiring that they are coming to terms with their experiences and moving on.”
The portraits represent a spectrum of where people are on the healing journey. In the finished portraits, the participants furthest along in this journey are looking straight at the camera, taking a stance, and confronting the world, the incident and themselves. In most, the subject’s eyes are focused and directly engage the viewer. Other portraits only show the back of the head, a hand or arm — these subjects are not as far along in their healing journey.
“The focus of the project is on healing and the perspective of the survivor, not on the politics or bureaucracy,” Bailey said. “Three or four people in the project have gone from wanting to be anonymous to being willing to show their faces.”
In an early April exhibit, the 18- by 22-inch portraits were displayed in a line, closely touching, so they were not isolated as they stretched around the room. Interspersed were panels of text that placed the project in a larger context — focusing on the individual and the issues of sexual assault, which have a far-reaching impact on society. The opening coincided with Take Back the Night, an annual international rally and march organized locally with the purpose of unifying communities in an awareness of violence against women, children and families.
The text panels in the exhibit, which were provided by the Charlottesville Sexual Assault Resource Agency, U.Va.’s Women’s Center and a University student writing a dissertation on sexual assault, included statistics and descriptions of the range and types of behaviors that make up sexual assault. Bailey also included a sound element that incorpor-
ated fragments from her initial conversations with each participant.
The public often has blinders on when it comes to sexual assault issues, but the statistic that estimates one in four women report incidences of sexual assault shows “it’s really much closer to home,” Bailey said. The exhibit “revealed the importance of dialogue as a healing process, solidified a community of survivors, and made a powerful and lasting visual impact about the immediacy of this issue,” she said.
2005 by the Rector and Visitors