Grace Brown travels the US to photograph survivors of sexual abuse, holding signs bearing their attackers' words. Her website also accepts submissions, and many have sent in blurry webcam snapshots to tell their own story.
But Project Unbreakable isn't a pity-fest. However excruciating most of these are to read, what comes of browsing Brown's work is an incredible feeling of empowerment. Posing for her certainly takes much courage; but beyond that, writing the words, holding them, is a declaration of ownership that stands as a magnificent symbol of survival - one that also belittles the abuser.
I have a weakness for photography that gives a voice to the silent and wounded. It's not the photography that I would put on my walls, alight with beauty and subjectivity, but it is the one that dips deep into my heart to find my favorite emotion : compassion. Not the demeaning type; the admiring one.
Brown has circumvented all artistic gimmicks to focus on the only thing that matters : her subject, the person. It takes great modesty to subtract your own creativity from your art in order to serve a higher purpose, and she does it splendidly. Her portraits are lovely, nicely composed, and professional; but she doesn't play with lighting, filters or post-treatment to augment reality. There are no scars, no apparent wounds, and no staged visions of the plight.
This is what makes her work so powerful : it is all about faces, every day faces. They could be a friend's, a sister's, or even your own - resonating with a hundred recognizable emotions, from stunned to strong, from fearful to determined. Brown has a real talent for capturing the unsaid in her subjects' eyes. Each of them is a story of sadness and fear, but also renewal, and liberation - and in the end, you feel joy at what the victims have taken back : themselves. Project Unbreakable is about more than survival; it's about standing tall, brave and whole. How gratifying to know that photography can also achieve that.
Project Unbreakable can be found here.