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In August 2014, Chantal Barlow set out to honor female survivors of domestic violence. But she didn’t want to photograph them in the same way many DV art projects portray them—battered, bruised and downtrodden. Barlow, instead, wanted to celebrate survivors and show the world that they would not be seen merely as abused women.
The photographer’s endeavor, which she named the Unconventional Apology Project, currently features the portraits of 13 smiling, laughing women paired with their intimate stories of abuse. The only stipulations to participation are that they had to agree to use their full names in order to put real faces on domestic violence, and to wear blue in the photographs.
“My focus was to communicate the humanness of survivors to the world,” Barlow told The Huffington Post. “Often times, their stories and life are confined to being a victim, if ever addressed at all. I, and these women, have much more life to live: a life that is not defined by our abusers; one with love, light and hope in our hearts.”
Donning blue is a nod to Barlow’s grandmother, Mableine Nelson Barlow, who was murdered by Barlow’s grandfather in a drunken rage in 1975. It was her favorite color. Mableine was shot in the back while fleeing with Chantal’s then-teenaged father two days after her divorce to Chantal’s grandfather was final. He was never jailed for the crime. Never tried. Never even arrested.
Chantal’s grandfather eventually sobered up and his family welcomed him back into the fold, refusing to speak of his dastardly crime. Chantal was a teenager before she learned the truth about how her grandmother died. On her grandfather’s deathbed in 2013, he willed her his beloved camera. He was a passionate photographer and took thousands of pictures of the family, including himself, over the years. But Chantal only ever found two photographs of Mableine.
Chantal decided no woman should be defined by, or worse, remembered only because of the abuse bestowed upon her. So she started the Unconventional Apology Project to showcase women who are not afraid to be happy after abuse. Heartbreaking stories accompany simple yet beautiful portraits of each woman. All hope their stories help or inspire other women. The experience also helped them heal.
“Healing has definitely opened up [after this experience],” Tracee Augcomfar told the project. “I cry, but I haven’t felt this good about the promise of a healthy future, which is priceless. It’s just priceless to me.”
Chantal has photographed 13 women thus far, herself included, and shares their stories on the Unconventional Apology website. Her goal is to feature 36 women in all. Thirty-six is the age Mableine was when she was killed.
The women Chantal has photographed are not only surviving after abuse; they’re thriving. Discover how you can get started on the path to thriving, too, by clicking here.
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