The process is this: First, we meet and the woman tells me her story. Then, we discuss how we might be able to communicate that story, or an important part of it, in a photgraph. Some women are very precise in what they want to do. But with most, it takes a bit of discussion before she discovers her photograph. Usually, I notice a theme that keeps emerging as they tell their story and we use that as a starting point for ideas. But, not always. The important thing is to come up with a visual idea that is deep and true to the woman. It should have nothing to do with me.
As a photographer, I've found this to be by far my most challenging project. It's challenging to find subjects. So far, I've had more agree to do it and changed their mind than have completed the process. It's emotionally challenging because the stories I hear are so heart-wrenching. Almost all of these women have gone through intense physical and/or emotional suffering and many of the details are grisly. I really do not enjoy thinking deeply about it and the act of writing it up can be excruciating. It's technically challenging because some of the women come up with very difficult to photograph scenarios. I've really had to raise my skill level to get some of these shots.
So far, "Survivors" has not only been my most challenging project, but my most rewarding as well. It's hard to come up with a non-kumbaya way of phasing it, but the strength and bravery these women demonstrate is inspiring, and on many levels. Although I always have grave doubts that any photo project is going to have positive results in the larger world, I know that these photographs, and everything that went into them, have been a positive in the life of these women.