Ever since I was little, I've always wanted to help people. When I was younger, this desire took the form of carrying a medicine bag with me everywhere to help anyone in pain, being listed as the class or bunk "psychiatrist" in multiple yearbooks, etc. By the age of 9, I was determined to be a child psychologist, and although I went on to earn a degree in psychology, I realized soon afterward that I wanted to help enact social change on a larger scale than my degree would readily facilitate. I had recently gotten back into photography after nearly a decade away, and although I was thrilled as one of my biggest passions soon became my career, I felt that something was missing. I spent the better part of three years trying to figure out the best way to use my photography as a tool for positive social change.
Although I had many powerful ideas for photo series addressing various social justice issues, I have always had trouble with art that capitalizes on an issue without helping to ameliorate said issue in a meaningful way. I was thrilled when I finally came up with a framework for photographic series that give back: photographing people impacted by an issue, using their input to help shape how they and the issue are portrayed, and utilizing partnerships with related organizations in conjunction with gallery openings, media features, etc., to raise money and awareness to help combat the issue.
For my first photo series utilizing this framework, I decided to address a topic that I am all too familiar with: Emotionally abusive romantic relationships. For nearly all of my life, I have been in emotionally abusive relationships with family members, romantic partners, and even occasionally friends. Of course I never thought that I was entering into yet another toxic relationship; one of the hallmarks of emotional abusers is that they are almost always extremely loving and promise you the world when they're trying to win your love, and then start putting you down and threatening to rescind their love once they see that they've gained your trust, adoration, and have managed to control you in some way, which is all part of a power play that temporarily shores up their low self-confidence. The cycle continues, with extreme highs and lows of overwhelming love and cruelty, until you feel your grip on reality slipping, and you start believing the bad things that are being said to/about you, you fear your abuser and also fear losing the person who convinces you that you would be lost without them, and you believe your abuser when they say that the way they treat you and any failings in your relationship are entirely your fault. Although emotional abuse doesn't leave physical scars, its deep, transformational, and lasting emotional scars silently impact an immeasurable number of people every day; this series is for them.
The goals of this series are to give closure and a voice to victims of emotional abuse, to offer hope and help to people currently in emotionally abusive relationships, to raise awareness about emotional abuse, and to raise money for organization(s) dedicated to assisting victims of emotional abuse. Although there has been a huge outpouring of support and excitement as people have heard about the series, I spent months writing to hundreds of galleries, many of which didn't even respond to my emails. I started to think that there wasn't currently a place in the art world for this kind of exhibit, but because I feel indebted to the series' participants and dedicated to helping as many people as possible with this series (and because I can be quite stubborn when I'm passionate about something), I decided to write to a few more galleries (after which I was planning on applying for grants and just building a temporary space myself).
When the Piano Craft Gallery expressed interest and arranged a meeting to discuss a potential exhibition, I was so used to hearing "no" or nothing at all that I wasn't expecting much. However, within a few minutes of walking through the door, Pares Mallis (the gallery manager at Piano Craft) said that she'd be thrilled to host my exhibition, and we spent the next two hours discussing exciting possibilities for the show. (As a side note, it is very fitting for the Piano Craft Gallery to be the home of my first official solo gallery show, as the adjacent Piano Craft Guild was the home of my first photo gig of note, back when I was 16 years old and photographing the Dresden Dolls).
Since my goal for this project is for it to reach as many people as possible, hopefully ending up in multiple cities (and possibly countries), I am aiming to pack the 2/3/17 opening (which might stretch into a second night) with lots of good people. Thankfully Lord Hobo Brewing Company and Emma's Pizza (which has been my home to my favorite pizzas in the world since I was 16) have agreed to sponsor the event with their delicious wares, which I'm sure won't hurt attendance. :)
I received yet more amazing sponsorship news yesterday: Casa Myrna, Boston’s largest provider of shelter and supportive services to survivors of domestic violence (including emotional abuse) has enthusiastically agreed to sponsor this exhibition! Casa Myrna will be celebrating their 40th anniversary next year, and as their organization was founded by an artist/abuse victim, this partnership couldn't be more fitting. There will be multiple opportunities at the gallery opening to donate to Casa Myrna in order to provide real assistance to victims of emotional abuse (and other kinds of domestic violence). I am super stoked about this partnership and all of the awesome ideas that we already have in store for the opening!
Now that I'm officially partnered with an anti-domestic violence organization and food and drink are covered, it's time to focus on filling the massive, beautiful walls of the Piano Craft Gallery by February! I already have many images and audio recordings of emotional abuse survivors for this series, but I'm aiming to create many, many more, and I'd especially like to include men, trans people, and middle-aged and elderly individuals (if you don't fit into one of these categories but have been in an emotionally abusive relationship, please still contact me!!). If you're interested in being a part of this empowering project, please be sure to shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org, and know that identifying features and voices can be masked and names will never be used unless adamantly requested by you.
I hope that you'll join me on 2/3/17 at the Piano Craft Gallery for an emotional, charitable, and tasty evening; don't forget to mark your calendar!