My Art as Communication on Domestic Violence

I want to push the conversation forward on how to stop domestic violence. I’ve been searching for a photographic project that was more than just pretty pictures for some time. This blog and website are dedicated to that project. I hope to find brave volunteers, male and female, that have suffered from domestic violence and abuse and are willing to step into the light so that others may learn from their experiences and, maybe, find the courage, strength and resources to get out of abusive relationships. I hope these photos and stories will help others that are still suffering to realize they are not alone, and maybe help them find some relief.

Why Does This Project Matter to Me?

More than twenty years ago I discovered that someone I thought I knew reasonably well was being regularly physically attacked by her husband. It came to light when I asked her how her weekend went and she told me she had visited her sister in the hospital. When I asked her why she was in the hospital, my friend said her sister’s boyfriend had shot her! I was shocked. I said “She’s going to dump him, right?” and my friend said “oh, no, she loves him!”  I knew enough about domestic violence to tell my friend this situation wasn’t normal, and that the next time her sister’s boyfriend would probably kill her.

Later on my friend got my wife alone and asked if I had ever hit my wife. My wife jokingly said “Well, I’m sure he’s wanted to, but,no….” I later found out that my friend’s father had regularly abused her mother, and my friend’s father in law had done the same to her mother in law. She had no idea it wasn’t the norm. My friend told me that her husband had been hitting her about three times per week for most of their marriage of many years. I helped her get out of that marriage at about the same time I moved away from that town. I got a card a few years later from my friend saying she had found a new husband who treated her like a princess. I’m still proud of being able to help her to this day.

Since then, I’ve talked to many women who have revealed they too had been abused in their relationships. I recently found out that statistics show about one woman in four will be physically attacked or abused by a domestic partner in her lifetime. This is mind boggling to me. Those same statistics also show that men are claimed as victims for about 15% of domestic violence cases,


What Do I Have Planned?

My current plan is to publish one or two photos of these folks (probably in black and white) and their answers to a few simple questions on this blog, with an initial goal of 100 people stepping forward. I hope to do local and national gallery shows and a book when the time is right with these stories. I plan to take photos of the subjects in their everyday clothing in locations that are nearby to them. Ideally, the photos should only take 10 or 15 minutes to take.

I won’t be surprised if the project takes some twists and turns. I’ve had one lady suggest that I offer to photograph the subject from behind so that their children won’t know what their abusive parent did. I’m open to making changes like that in order to move the project forward. I had another suggest that I make clear that the stories will be but one side of the story, which is true of any story. The last suggestion was that I go beyond physical abuse to include mental abuse. All three suggestions are good ones.

Who May Participate, and How?

If you would like to participate in the project and are within two hours travel of Dover, Delaware, or can come to me,  please email me and let’s set a photo session up.

To be clear, there is no charge for me to do the photos. You will have to sign a release for me to use the photos on this blog, in the gallery show and book, and answer three questions:

  1. For the purposes of the 1:4 Project, please share what happened to you.  If you need to talk about someone who did something to you, please do not use names .
  2. How are you doing now?
  3. Is there anything  about domestic violence you’d like to tell the world?

If you would rather not answer any of the questions, that’s a valid response too.

When I publish the photos and answers, I currently plan to use the format “1:4 # 1 The Doctor” and “1:4 #2 The Housewife” or possibly “1:4 #34 Rather not say”. I may use initials or some other incomplete identifier like “Ms. H.” or “Jane D.” if needed, but, I’ll get your permission first in the release.

My goal here is to follow the doctor’s primary rule : First, do no harm. If stepping forward is going to cause you more emotional pain, please wait until you’re ready.

Please email me if you would like to participate, have suggestions on the project, or have any questions.

Dave Wolanski

January 2015

Thank you to my friend Andy Karol, for helping wordsmith and polish this page.





2 Responses

  1. I was really moved by your bio in the current issue of The Sun Magazine. I went to your website and read one of the stories, which really moved me. I live in Sausalito, CA and find myself wandering around with my rangefinder looking for light and shadow in people’s lives. My favorite pastime is to shoot in black and white, go wide and in close and just try and make a connection. Your work takes it to the next level and inspires me to try something similar to what you are doing. I don’t even know where to start. I am a retired floor trader at the stock exchange, segued into becoming a marriage and family therapist, retired, and now just catching a wave with family, friends, and camera.
    Congratulations on publication of your photo on the back page of the current issue. I usually read The Sun from back to front and it looks like there is a lot to enjoy in this issue, can’t wait. All my best, John.

    1. Thanks for the kind words John! I’m super excited about the Sun publishing my photo!

      After you’ve developed some portrait taking confidence, you may want to consider contacting a local shelter to see if they have any folks that want nice portraits of themselves and their families. Many victims have no photos after leaving with almost nothing from their prior life.


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