Photographer Captures the Invisible Pain of Verbal Abuse (NSFW)

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Weapons of Choice is a powerful visual series that demonstrates, through painfully jaw-dropping imagery, the damage verbal abuse has on a person. I found myself saddened yet amazed while looking through the photos. Richard Johnson takes the power of a photo to a whole new level by eloquently illustrating the invisible and eternal scars victims of emotional, sexual and verbal abuse endure.

The name of the series "Weapons of Choice" presents the relationship between physical and verbal abuse which often occur simultaneously. When interviewing subjects about the pain they suffered, Johnson found that in general, physical abuse and emotional abuse were both weapons that the offender chose to use. However, when it came to verbal abuse and bullying, Johnson explained that many people have a "sticks and stones" attitude, not paying tribute to the actual harm that it does to a person. Johnson felt that if people could see these photographs and see the "emotional abuse" in the physical form, more people may take this issue more seriously.

Johnson has been a photographer for 9 years. Only recently, he has stopped “chasing the dollar.” He decided to allow his vision and voice shine through, deleting all his past work from his website. He set a goal:to exclusively shoot projects that assist him in accessing his inner power of story-telling and extracting his artistic vision. This project was especially meaningful to Johnson who has personally experienced physical and emotional abuse. The message of this project was to capture the ever-growing nature of the human and the impact of being told their lack of worth. How can one "erase" that mark on their soul? They can't.

According to Johnson, one thing became apparent while shooting the series; there are three people involved in abuse: the abuser, the abused, and the witness. Society often stands idly by, passive in helping our fellow human beings in need. Arguably doing nothing is just as bad as inflicting the pain. Photographers, Johnson says, often play the role of the witness. “But I’ve been motivated now,” he says, "to share this work with as many people as I can. I’m motivated to find a way to make a difference with my photographs.” Photographers CAN do something through their lens.

The Weapons of Choice (WOC) project forces the viewer to take a second look at something so often dismissed. Victims are not quick to share their stories of abuse, and this project gives them a voice - a chilling look at the hidden reality. Photos frequently share what we hope or want society to look like: happy, beautiful and perfect. WOC acts as a lens to what we cannot keep a blind eye too. WOC tries to show the tragically beautiful, perfect imperfections of humanity.

These weapons of choice have so often infamously made their debut in countless news stories of suicide after cyber bullying, slut-shaming, harassment, etc. They have destroyed families, promoted perpetual dysfunctional relationships and been accepted as the norm among partners. Despite this, the eyes of WOCs subjects and photographs eerily portrays that humanity has persevered. The photos speak for themselves.

 

All images were taken using a Nikon D600 & 85mm f1.8

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30 Comments

Very cool idea

Great, albeit painful concept. Hurts to think how much people really can wear these words for a lifetime, just not as visibly as it's shown here. So well done, how much it conveys.

Neil Holloman's picture

Very powerful. Does anyone know what software was used to do the lighting diagram at the bottom?

Moe Osama's picture

PhotoLight Pro

Poignant and on target. Thanks for the post.

I don't know.

I feel like the recipe gets old and uninteresting after 2-3 pictures. No emotion in most of the subjects eyes and the only thing changing is the words...

Great idea but it seems as if at one point the photographer got on autopilot....

Richard Johnson's picture

My original approach would have had more of an auto pilot feel. The original concept was to ask the subject to stand straight and make no expression at all. But then I thought I would take a back seat approach and let the subject and subject matter be the focus. Good photography is in the details and I think as photographers we try to control everything, perfect every detail, make sure every hair is right. I made the decision to not control anything but the light.

"I made the decision to not control anything but the light."

I guess you take it on the wrong side, dude. If your mark was to be imprinted, like the words on their bodies suggest, I think you should have taken another approach, because it was intended to show damage, not the subjects' character.

Talking about art, I think you made it too direct, too lazy. Yep, you "got on autopilot."

Hugo Chikamori,

You take it personal. You don't know me and you don't know if I've been abused. I'm against child abuse or any kind of physical, verbal or emotional abuse, don't matter the age, gender or status. Shut up.

They might be "impactful" and they might hit an audience, which is good, but, these photos are being pretentious about being art, that's what I criticise.

Again, you don't know me. Do not take it personal.

I can respect that point of view and approach, but I don't think it lends itself well to the subject here.

One of them even seems to be smiling!! ("Useless" one...).

By focusing on the lighting (which is the same through the 10 pictures....) you forgot that it's the body langage and visual emotions that sells your story. Not the flash power....

I don't think it works here...

indeed should be more emotion to the story

Very bad idea this post on the abused, Of course in America you can say and show just about anything, So no bad here on First Amendment stuff. This kind of work, in my view, trivializes the kind or pain these folks endured. I assume these photos are not talent, but the real deal. And I think the style, capture, and composition are lacking. Using words, lowers the threshold of reality. The shooter unfolds a weak and minimal portrayal, a project that only skips the surface of trauma.
Ken

Please don't assume, you already know what that does. I know the photographer and some of the talent, yes they are indeed talent. Now does this change your perspective or do you still not appreciate photography?

I just said in my post our first amendment rights, Lets assume you do not know what your are doing. I hope this clears up your fog about the tyranny of "don't"

Richard Johnson's picture

Ken, Thanks for your suggestion!

Your are welcome.
Ken

Ken everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I just tend to disagree with you, could be because I know the one subject... I see the pain in his eyes ...

I appreciate your honesty. Well said, however, I will stick with my view,
Ken

Can tell you that one of these is my grandchild and that the abuse which was suffered was heartbreaking not only to him but to those who love him. IMO this captures the hurt, the torment, and I think the composition is amazing. The subjects have emotion its called HURT!

Carol, my heart goes out to your grandchild. As I said above. Each spoken word is as injuring as a body blow. And the ones who get away with it are the ones who are smart enough not to lay a finger on their child. Absolutely sickening and disgusting that your grandchild had to suffer this kind of treatment. No child should have to go through that.

The idea is great though the execution is a bit lacking.
I' missing some coherence among the images. eg. Models are looking from left to right and vice-verse without any systematic.

Poorly executed project. These portraits look too clean. The photographer just took regular portraits then photoshopped words on their faces. A better execution would be to interview and photograph actual abuse victims.

Richard Johnson's picture

Peter, sorry you feel that way. The subjects selected the word they wanted, then a make up artist applied the word. When they stepped in front of my camera I took 5 shots and then they were interviewed. I never thought that an image looking "too clean" would be a bad thing, but thanks for the suggestions!

Did you read the title of the article? "VERBAL ABUSE" victims. Where are the scars to show where they were wounded? Think again. I think the photographer did a good job conveying the physically invisible blows to the psyche that these abuse victims took. Unless you've walked in these victims shoes. Don't criticize the manner in which the photographer has chosen to illuminate "verbal abuse".

Yes I did. As being a victim of child abuse myself I disagree. Being a victim of abuse is more than just words tattooed on my face and "invisible blows" to my psyche.

That's where you and I disagree then.

Claudia Loeber's picture

Hmm... I think the idea is great, but I think it could be pushed further. The series of images is somewhat repetitive because the lighting is the same for all of them and the poses are all really similar. They're really impactful on their own, but grouped together that repetitiveness takes away from your concept.

What if you tried doing the portrait on a completely black background, with minimal lighting so as to speak to the aloneness and suffering these people feel? Maybe try some back lighting on the children for a halo effect that emphasizes that they're losing their innocence too soon? I think that showing a range of images that are lit in a way specific to the subject would give you a much more dynamic, impactful group of images.

Everyone is crazy dude, haha. These are awesome, and your work is great, as always.

Verbal abuse does scar. And the sad thing is that it's all held internally where it can't be seen. The abuser gets away with it unless he's dumb enough to lay a hand on the victim. I've had that experience where my abuser was smart enough not to lay a finger on me. It's a daily fight to prove that I'm worth it. And that's when I pick up my camera. For me photography is a salve, a balm to heal both internal wounds and to create something. Thanks, Richard for pointing out that each harsh word is a blow that is just as harsh and injurious as a physical punch..and much easier to get away with.

I found this really powerful. One of the things I heard a lot growing up was the statement "you goddamn brat, I wish you'd never been born". And now, as an adult who has healed a lot, I can feel how painful these words were and recognize how they were connected to my own sense of worthlessness and despair that I felt throughout my teens and my 20s. I spent a lot of years feeling hopeless and suicidal, but I was lucky and got a lot of help, and never tried to kill myself.

In my 30s I started training to become a therapist, and now I've been in practice for about 10 years. I work with a lot of people who experienced similar things. Sometimes it's really hard to get them to believe that they were actually hurt by the horrible things that were said to them. We build up such a strong defense against it. But breaking through to recognize what we experienced is an essential step on the path to healing.

I'm currently working with one man who was consistently called worthless and a failure from the age at least of three. I imagine it happened before that too, but he has no memories of before that. His first memory of this is when he was trying to get out of a little wading pool at the age of three, and as he climbed out the side sort of collapsed and he fell and hurt himself and started crying. His father shouted him to stop crying and called him a wimp and pathetic. This was of course just the beginning of years of this kind of treatment. To this day he says his failures in life are his own fault, that he is worthless. He can't quite buy that he was convinced he was worthless. It's a struggle for me to help him see that he was trained in this belief and that it's not true. He has actually said isn't it a chicken and egg thing, and maybe his dad called him worthless because he actually was. Even though this started when he was a tiny child.

At this point in our work together, I'm really trying to help him not kill himself. He's been so depressed and suicidal for so many years, and is so full of self-hate, that he really sees no future for himself. I have a group of people helping me, but with all our interventions, still his sense of worthlessness is so deep, it's hard to break through. The closest we've ever gotten is to him feeling sympathy for other children who experienced abuse. But he has no sympathy for his three-year-old self being mocked and called worthless. This is how deep the hurt goes. I really hope we can help him. He's a really lovely person, and actually very well loved. But he can't feel it at all. If I fail in my work, I do think he'll kill himself. It's a hard path to walk.

So yes I found this really powerful, and I think it's a really important thing to communicate just how damaging verbal abuse can be.