New York photographer Lydia Billings grew up understanding rape from a distance, knowing its irreversibly damaging effects without actually feeling them. That is until a close friend of hers was raped herself, leaving Billings feeling powerless to help in any way.
To help deal with the feelings of horror and helplessness she felt as a result of the tragedy, Billings embarked on a photographic journey, collecting stories and images of inspirational sexual assault survivors who were friends and strangers alike. "At first, my images were timid and fearful," Billings explained to Feature Shoot. "I had no knowledge about the affects of surviving a rape."
Billings shared the process of her project, revealing how she gained her subject's trust to more fully capture their emotions through the photographic lens. "I always schedule two meetings with each survivor," she explained. "First, we meet just to talk. I invite each person to share their story at their own level of comfort. I often ask questions along the way. We meet a second time to make photographs, always outside, and at a location where they feel safe. The photographic process never takes more than an hour, and we talk along the way. Though the portraits end up looking very formalized, our time together remains as casual and comfortable as possible."
Some of Billings' subjects were eager to share experiences, a few using humor as a coping mechanism. Others were more hesitant to revisit the events, or, understandably, seemed numb to the pain. "This work serves as the beginning of a conversation, a much needed community dialogue about rape and its prevalence," Billings wrote in an email to The Huffington Post. "Through this work, I hope to create opportunities for viewers to safely become more aware of rape as individualized trauma and a societal epidemic. I employ the photographs and writings to ignite a desire in others to foster dialogue and anti-rape works in their own networks and world-wide."
Accompanying the portraits, Billings also includes landscape photographs symbolic of specific sites of sexual violence. Although originally she wished to photograph the exact locations of certain occurrences, much of the necessary information was kept confidential by the police. So Billings embarked on a more metaphorical project, capturing similar settings and aligning them with particular stories, though with a more poetic connection. The portraits and the landscapes thus influence and affect each other, expanding to tell the untold stories that never made it to Billings' ears.
Billings began her bold project in 2011, and reports the endeavor is only beginning. After receiving positive feedback from both her subjects as well as others who have suffered from sexual assault, Billings is devoted to expanding her work and its message far and wide. She told Feature Shoot: "We need to be doing a better job at educating young men and women about respecting others’ bodies, not simply about protecting their own."
See the powerful photos below and let us know your thoughts in the comments..