Saturday, January 7, 2017

Behind Closed Doors: Photographer Captured a Physically Abusive Husband Beating His Wife in 1982, That Moment Also Turned Her Into an Activist

There was nothing particularly special about Garth and Lisa or the violence that happened in the bathroom of their suburban New Jersey home one night in 1982. Enraged by a perceived slight, Garth beat his wife while she cowered in a corner. Such acts of intimate-­partner violence are not uncommon, but they usually happen in private. This time another person was in the room, photographer Donna ­Ferrato.


In 1982, photographer Donna Ferrato was commissioned by Playboy Japan to document the lives of a polyamorous couple in New Jersey. Though they appeared to have successfully balanced raising a family and owning a home with their open marriage, Ferrato soon discovered—and photographed—a physically abusive husband who routinely beat his wife.

“I heard Lisa screaming and things breaking. As soon as I entered the bathroom Garth raised his hand to slap his wife in the face...” she remembered.

As he pulled back his right arm, Ferrato raised her camera and took a picture. As he slapped his wife in the face, she closed her eyes — and took another frame.

She saw herself in the mirrors as she kept photographing. But when he hauled off to strike her again, Ferrato grabbed the man’s arm and told him to stop.

“I said: ‘What are you doing? You are really going to hurt her,’” she said. “He threw me down and said: ‘I’m not going to hurt her — she’s my wife. I know what my strength is but I have to teach her that she can’t lie to me.’”

“The contact sheet shows every frame of the first fight I witnessed between Garth and Lisa. The most important thing on my mind was to take pictures to prove that what I was seeing really happened. Without a photograph there would be no evidence.”



That moment changed Ferrato’s life, leading to a decade photographing domestic violence and culminating in the book Living With the Enemy, which was published in 1991. Equally important, it set her on a long career as an advocate for battered women, helping to change how abuse is viewed and how it is handled by doctors and law enforcement officers.








(Images © Donna ­Ferrato)

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