Picks and Pans Review: Living with the Enemy

by Donna Ferrato

Photographer Ferrato took her first photo of a man striking his wife in 1981 while on a magazine assignment covering glamorous lifestyles of successful Americans. She became, she writes, so “obsessed” by what she had she committed herself to exploring and documenting domestic violence.

For 10 years she camped out in shelters, hospital emergency rooms, women’s prisons, courtrooms and people’s homes. She learned that when a man is determined to beat his wife, he will do so in front of anyone, even a photojournalism As Ann Jones, author of Women Who Kill, writes in her profound introduction: “To such men, one more witness makes little difference.” Ferrato’s stark black-and-white images of these bloodied, tearful women and these domestic nightmares are difficult to look at, and her accompanying text is equally chilling.

The photographer’s straight-on style never exaggerates or sensationalizes. Her pictures are not solely about helplessness but also about the rage and reflection that often follow victimization. Ferrato also dramatically observes abusive men struggling, not always successfully, to confront their behavior in counseling programs.

But justice, as Ferrato’s text observes, “is erratic.” Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women in the U.S. This year between 2 and 4 million women will be severely assaulted by their male partners. At least 2,000 women will be killed. Yet among the saddest pictures in this powerful book are those of women serving time for killing their abusive husbands. “These women appear resigned,” she writes, “more like prisoners of war than violent criminals.” (Aperture, $24.95)

Related Articles