13 Portraits Show Domestic Violence Survivors Will Not Be Defined By Their Abuse

"It's amazing to sit in this chair, in front of the lights and camera and be proud that I am strong enough to share my story."
Unconventional Apology Project // Chantal Barlow

One woman is using her camera to "communicate the humanness of survivors to the world."

Created by artist Chantal Barlow, the Unconventional Apology Project features 13 portraits of domestic violence survivors or women who know someone who has experienced some form of abuse. Instead of shooting somber portraits of victims, Barlow took photos of survivors laughing and smiling to show that these women will not be defined by their abuse.

"My focus was to communicate the humanness of survivors to the world," Barlow told The Huffington Post. "Often times, their stories and life are confined to being a victim, if ever addressed at all. I, and these women, have much more life to live: a life that is not defined by our abusers; one with love, light and hope in our hearts."

“My focus was to communicate the humanness of survivors to the world.”

Barlow created the project to honor her grandmother, Mableine Nelson Barlow, who was murdered by her grandfather during a drunken rampage in 1975. She didn't know the role her grandfather had in her grandmother's death until she was a teenager.

When her grandfather died two years ago, he gave Barlow his camera which she said he used often. She described her grandfather as having a happy life, surrounded by loving family once he sobered up a few decades after the incident. Her grandmother however, was not afforded the same, with such a short life and a death that was rarely spoken about in the family.

"[My grandfather] loved taking photos with the family -- he is in thousands of pictures, while my grandmother is only in three." Unconventional Apology Project honors Mableine's memory and legacy simply by remembering her, which Barlow calls her "trail of existence."

The project, created in August of 2014, is currently ongoing until Barlow has 36 portraits to represent the age Mableine was when she was murdered.

Each image is candid, usually taken while the woman is telling her story. Barlow said most of the women reached out to her after she posted her own portrait on social media, while a few are part of the Unconventional Apology Project team.The participants were only required to do one thing: Wear blue, because it was Mableine's favorite color.

All the women are featured with their full names, which Barlow said she had a very clear discussions with each participant about. Everyone signed release forms with the knowledge that their full names would be included.

“This project is an apology to these women for how society has disregarded their stories and their lives. We care about them and we love them.”

Every participant's experience features tragic yet powerful narratives that include intimate partner violence, intergenerational violence and gas lighting. The women come from all walks of life, and are diverse in age, ethnicity and sexuality.

"[The women in the photos] aren't bruised and defeated. Showing them at their worst is not our purpose," Barlow said. "This project is an apology to these women for how society has disregarded their stories and their lives. We care about them and we love them. They deserve a Trail of Existence."

Scroll below to see Barlow's powerful portraits. Read a little about each survivor and her story to learn why these women are so much more than the abuse they've experienced.

Joquesse Eugenia Chambers
"If anyone is going through [some form of domestic violence] right now, it’s very important to try and find an outlet and know that you are loved... I don’t know you but, I love you."

Read the rest of Joquesse's story here.
Dr. Susan Hammoudeh
"This [experience] does not define me. It is part of my history. I can forgive because that’s the only way I can let go. And that’s what I did. And it’s very freeing."

Read the rest of Susan's story here.
Peggie Reyna in honor of herself and her daughter Dream Morse
"I no longer feel guilty or responsible either for the violence that happened in my life or for the violence that happened in my children’s life. But I feel free to be able to say that what happened wasn’t my fault."

Read the rest of Peggie's and her daughter's story here.
Tamieka Smith
“Sharing [my story] made me feel strong again. I didn’t feel worthless after that.”

Read the rest of Tamieka's story here.
Sharon Greene-Guidry in honor of her mother Edna Greene
"We don’t have to be defined by our circumstances, incidents, or situations that occur in our lives. I learned that through this journey."

Read the rest of Sharon's and her mother's story here.
Brittanie Renoj
"You can live a good life after having something very horrible happen to you... I’m a warrior. I’m a survivor. And I wanna move on.”

Read the rest of Brittanie's story here.
Isabel Flores
“To be able to tell my story without feeling that they’re accusing me of being a liar... That’s important to me.”

Read the rest of Isabel's story here.
Dr. CarolAnn Peterson
“Love is something that comes with knowing an individual good, bad or indifferent, but also loving yourself enough to know that you don’t have to accept things that are abusive.”

Read the rest of CarolAnn's story here.
Chantal Barlow
"It's amazing to sit in this chair, in front of the lights and camera and be proud that I am strong enough to share my story."

Read the rest of Chantal's story here.
Zoë La Placa
“I had NO idea how awesome I was. I swear to God. For 10 years. NONE. [Tears] And now I get it.”

Read the rest of Zoë's story here.
Tracee Augcomfar in honor of her sister Kimberly Augcomfar
“Healing has definitely opened up [after this experience]. I cry, but I haven’t felt this good about the promise of a healthy future, which is priceless. It’s just priceless to me.”

Read the rest of Tracee's and her sister's story here.
Misty Dawn Spicer
"I believe that the power of story is important in order to achieve justice."

Read the rest of Misty's story here.
Lisa Curlee
"Anger is gone. Hatred for him is gone. I know to just release it. Let it go and leave everything up to God and the Universe."

Read the rest of Lisa's story here.

Head over to Unconventional Apology's website to read more about the project.

Also on HuffPost:

Shocking Domestic Violence Statistics