I first read about Megan through Facebook – and I wanted to ask her some questions.
I have left this verbatim, only taken out a few sentences for length. This is not my story this is Megan’s and her photos – as well as the story of those she has photographed.
Megan’s courage is mind boggling. I am privileged to host her story. And thank you, Megan, for allowing all of our voices to strengthen just a little bit more, because of your courage and strength.
What is the ‘Us’ project and what motivated you to begin the ‘Us’ Project?
The Us project shares the portraits and stories of men and women who have experienced sexual assault. The stories will be shared as an exhibition, book and online on the Us website: www.usproject.online
I was motivated to start the project when I was trying to decide how to bring more purpose to my work practice. I myself was abused and after sharing my story at a conference last year, I was overwhelmed by the response I was given afterward from the women in the crowd. One of them said to me that when she listened to me, it was the first time she ever let herself admit to herself what had happened to her. I got me wondering, why don’t we speak? Why don’t we admit we have been abused, even to ourselves? It made me realise that this is what I have to give the world. I could bring a bit of beauty and balance and illuminate a situation that rarely would be described as beautiful or balanced.
‘Us’ aims to give voice to the survivors of Sexual Assault, why do you think people are silent when it comes to the subject of Sexual Assault and what have you learned by hearing other people’s stories?
I have learned so much, it would be impossible to list it all, with everyone I interviewed, I have not only found out a lot about the societal situation [with regard to abuse] but also about myself. It was like finding pieces to a puzzle that I didn’t even know existed. Working through the project has been a major spiritual journey for me.
To answer your other question, why don’t experiences speak? In my case, as a seven year old, it was because I didn’t have the language to articulate what was happening to me. I think for the most part, experiences don’t speak because of self-blame. It can take years for someone to realise the assault wasn’t their fault. When we do speak, the majority of those don’t really want to hear. I can confirm the guilt that comes with self-blame. Guilt can be one of the hardest emotions to deal with, and it’s the main emotion that is associated with sexual assault.
The way people have continued to sacrifice in order to create a safe world for their children, in the hope that the cycle can be broken. That has really touched me. The stories I have collected are so beautiful in that way.
Vice recently covered your project, what was that experience like for you – what did it mean for your project?
I am a regular Vice reader so I was quite stoked they featured me. The article was written by the NZ office, but it got shared to the international site and Facebook page, that has 6 million followers.
Once you are on a page with that kind of following you have to be prepared for all the comments. People saying I was a bad photographer and dissing the project. It got me quite excited, to be honest. I was like woohoo! Internet Haters! How awesome is that? Haha. It was kinda cool.
You know that people only comment negatively because they are miserable, and to have comments like that made me feel pretty good like hater comments are the measure of internet success.
There were a few comments that I had to hold myself back from replying to. There was one comment that really got to me, it showed the mentality of the general view of the importance of a woman. She has value – because she is pretty. This is a mentality we have to break down.
What began your photography career?
I have always loved art but have a very short attention span. So painting and drawing didn’t really give me satisfaction. When I took photography in high school I knew I had found the medium I wanted to work in. Even though I have worked as a photographer for 20 years, I have never had the level of job satisfaction as I have had since starting this project.
What do you want an audience member to take away from the ‘Us’ project? And what do you want a survivor to take from the ‘Us’ project?
For experiences, I think sometimes we are so scared of what it means about us [to identify as surviours]. We don’t hear anyone tell their story and it teaches you to stay quiet. There have been so, so many people who have already used the project to open up. Every couple of days I get told of someone who has seen what I am doing and either used it to talk to someone they care about or open up to someone about what has happened to them. It makes me feel pretty good that something I can do can really help people to be themselves, fully embracing the sides of themselves they are too scared to acknowledge. For others, I just want them to understand the truth about what it’s like to have your life defined by the actions of another. To understand how the actions of those around them can amplify that guilt and how to properly communicate with someone who has been assaulted.
For more about Us:
If you or someone you know is struggling:
http://helpauckland.org.nz/ provides a 24/7 helpline and information about what to do and where to go if you’re in need.