"No one wants to stand on a soapbox to be heard,” says photographer Sarah Isaacs.
If a picture tells a thousand words, her photographs tell stories that are begging to be heard. They are the silent witnesses to the power of love and empathy prevailing over pain and sadness.
The Cape Town-born portrait and documentary photographer, who was shortlisted for a prestigious Travel Photographer of the Year award recently, embarked on a massive social media campaign at the beginning of the year, called Speaking Our Truth.
Isaacs’s story and her journey to self-discovery resonates with so many of us. I asked her about her campaign and how she, unwittingly, became a warrior for feminism.
Your images provoke a certain emotion. Is this your intention?
I think all photographers strive to evoke emotion with their work. No one is likely to be interested in what you say if it doesn’t make them feel something.
Tell us more about Speaking Our Truth
At the start of 2017 I fell unexpectedly in love with portraiture as a way of celebrating the everyday woman - imperfect and beautiful. Then the #MeToo movement was born and for the first time in my life I felt as though I was part of an army... and saw a real opportunity to speak freely about a violation that (crazily!) I’ve always shouldered blame for. When I shared my story on social media and asked other women to step forward and do the same, my greatest fear was not victim-blaming.
My greatest fear was that no one would step forward and stand alongside me. I respect deeply each of the women who did, for I would have been totally crushed without them. My only wish is that more men would engage with these stories and join the conversation.
You speak about your personal experience in your Speaking Our Truth campaign. Did you find it cathartic when photographing these women?
The short answer is yes, but it was not the life-changing shift I had anticipated and it was considerably more taxing than I’d prepared myself for. Once I’d processed each of the stories and tried to capture the woman behind each one, I felt a sense of community and joint strength.... But I also felt completely detached from myself, as if the project was steering me .... Slowly I am finding my way back to myself, whilst realising that the healing process is slow and never ending.
How did you convince these women to come forward? It’s such a personal experience.
The decision by each woman to step forward and be seen was their own. They put themselves, courageously and knowingly, on the line to create something that others might take notice of.
Do you consider yourself a feminist; and will you be embarking on similar campaigns in the future?
I believe that women's safety is more important than men's feelings?
I don’t believe we should have to lessen ourselves to fit nice and neatly into a skewed system. I find it both bizarre and heart-breaking that more of us don’t identify as feminists. It’s the straightforward belief in equality and the right to live a life free of fear.
I would like to continue doing work that supports feminism and its ideals, that encourages open conversation and a willingness to step into the other’s shoes. Just like being a feminist, creating social change doesn’t have to be rocket science - it starts with the small stuff.
* Visit Sarah Isaacs Photography at http://sarahisaacsphotography.com and her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/sarahisaacsphotography/ to find out more about Speaking Our Truth.