There is a saying: ‘Presence in Absence’.
For this FOCUSED series, Meelie Mckay, a London based documentary photographer, aimed to document local women who discuss their experiences and encounters of gender-based violence and abuse. Throughout Meelie’s portraits, these women remain anonymous, drawing attention to and emphasizing the absence of understanding and widespread awareness around the global issue of gender based violence. Many cases of violence and abuse against women still largely remain undocumented, often due to feelings of shame felt by the victims, which in turn encourage women to remain silent. This silence is still kept by many women - these women are your friends, work colleagues or someone you pass by on the street. By capturing these portraits without the physical presence of these women, we can more broadly identify with this series, inserting personal encounters or experiences in the place of the absent women.
While these women’s stories are not explicitly told, the images in this series provide context to their experiences by bringing us to the areas where they individually first experienced their abuse, such as in the comfort of their home, a back garden, outside, or in the back seat of a car. These images draw attention to the fact that we may not always be aware of violence or abuse that those around us face and the places that they occur in, which we typically consider as safe. When discussing this with Meelie, she said: “The choice to remain anonymous gave me a photographic challenge, and one to embrace”, choosing to instead identify these women with orange hearts.
The orange hearts found throughout this series are crinkled, sometimes dirty and warped, speaking to the stigma surrounding abuse; shame, repression of the feelings surrounding the experienced trauma or distress and anxiety felt later in life due to the exposure to abuse and violence. These hearts reveal sorrow in their warped state, appearing used and slightly battered with their creases and folds, however, remain resilient with their bright colouring, symbolizing hope.
When I spoke to Meelie about why she chose to create this series she explained;
“As a woman, I don’t want to feel vulnerable [...] I never want to feel like I should fear for my safety [...] there are women who do fear for their lives, yet they may not be able to remove themselves from these situations [...] The objective of this, is to provoke conversation. [...] You may not know her face, but you may have sat next to her in her back garden. Or by a bus shelter. She may live next door to you. She might have given you a lift to work, yet she may not speak about it. It could be a current situation that she’s going through, but she hides it. She may now be a survivor, but she may not tell you.”
This series asks us all to remain vigilant and aware. Gender-based violence is an issue that afflicts women globally, with no discrimination between social class, culture or religion. Any act of gender-based violence, whether in the form of physical or psychological abuse is a basic human rights violation. While the victims of abuse and violence have been omitted from this series, their presence is still felt within every image, even in their absence.
"The ones that hurt the most always say the least." - Fannie Flagg