Donna Ferrato: Selections from “Living with the Enemy”

Curated by Dr. Francine Weiss and Megan Horn

February 6, 2021 - June 6, 2021

Cushing Gallery

Content Advisory:  A number of photographs taken by Donna Ferrato depict domestic violence that some viewers may find upsetting, and a specific instance of domestic violence is described in the exhibition description below.

For over three decades documentary photographer Donna Ferrato has been advocating for survivors of domestic abuse and women’s rights. Ferrato found herself working with this issue by chance. In 1982, while staying with a family she was photographing for an assignment, Ferrato heard a commotion in the night. That evening Ferrato became witness to a moment, unfortunately not uncommon in the United States, in which a husband, Bength, hit his wife, Elisabeth. Instinctually, Ferrato took a picture knowing that Elisabeth’s story would likely not be taken seriously and also hoping that Bength would change his behavior in the presence of a witness. This encounter served as a catalyst for her career-long photographic work documenting women’s stories and the impacts of domestic abuse. In 1991, Ferrato published many of these photographs in Living with the Enemy, which has been reprinted four times. More importantly, Ferrato’s work has ignited decades of advocacy work for survivors of domestic abuse and women’s rights that has helped to attract funding for domestic violence shelters nationwide and educated people on the warning signs of abuse, as well as the obstacles survivors face when trying to leave their abusers. Donna Ferrato’s ongoing work captures the individual strength of the women she comes to know while confronting viewers with the undeniability of the very real human dimension to a far-reaching problem. The Newport Art Museum recently received a generous gift of photographs by Ferrato for its permanent collection. This exhibition features a selection of these photographs.

About Donna Ferrato

Photojournalist, activist, and advocate Donna Ferrato has been photographing since the 1970s. At the Art Institute of California – San Francisco she studied photography and sociology. From the late 1970s on Ferrato has landed assignments photographing in New York City. For ten years in the 1980s, Ferrrato traveled staying in women’s shelters, riding with law enforcement exposing the hidden stories of domestic violence, resulting in the Aperture publication, Living with the Enemy (1991) and she has served as president and founder of the nonprofit, Domestic Abuse Awareness, Inc and, as of 2014 the campaign, I AM UNBEATABLE, which features women who have left their abusers and seeks to make Ferrato’s work available to inspire fundraising, educate, and raise awareness . Her other books include, The Honeymoon Killers (FOTOGRAPHIA 1986), Amore (Federico Motta Editore S.p.A, 2001), Love & Lust (Aperture FOundation, 2004), Tribeca 9/11/01-9/11/11 (Grafiche dell’Artiere 2011) and forthcoming in 2021, Holy (powerHouse Books). Her work has been featured in over 500 exhibitions and she has been the recipient of awards and honors including the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Humanistic Photography in 1987, the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism, recognition from the New York State Supreme Court Judges for her work to encourage gender equality (2009), and the NPPA Humanitarian Award as well as having one of her photographs listed in TIME’s 2016 “100 Most Influential Photographs of All Time.”