“So they can love again…/Find peace again…/And be whole again…” “Because we are human.” “For the children.”
Emma Redden ’15 and Jeffrey From ’15 received these answers to the question, “Why is it important to support victims of domestic violence?”
Last summer, the two juniors—Redden, an international studies major from Vermont, and From, a film major from New York City— took a 10,000 mile road trip across the United States and posed this question to people as part of their project, “Peace Bound: Portraits for Non-Violence.”
Redden took pictures of the people they approached and had them write down their answers. She then photoshopped the pictures so each responder’s words, in his or her own handwriting, overlaid his or her portrait. She and From then posted the portraits on their blog, www.peacebound.wordpress.com.
Redden and From’s work culminated in a book launched on Wednesday, Jan. 29. Additionally, a local support group of women survivors of abuse came to the event, and some of them shared their experiences with domestic violence.
The first 125 books will go out to the domestic violence programs and coalitions that Redden and From worked with this summer. The pair will sell copies to their friends and family, with the profits donated to agencies devoted to support work.
“We are hoping to start promoting the book on different websites, writing essays, ideally, that we will try to publish online. We also plan on working again with the national domestic violence hotline as a way to sell and promote the book,” noted Redden.
At the beginning of the summer, the friends set off in Vermont and drove through 25 states. They stopped in over 12 cities, including Poughkeepsie, Nashville, Austin, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Boise.
Redden and From came to the idea in October 2012 after deciding to spend the summer doing meaningful work together. At the time, Redden worked at Domestic Violence Services as a counselor in Poughkeepsie. “As I became more involved and invested in my work at Domestic Violence Services, the idea of pursuing this type of peace-work became very formative in our summer planning,” said Redden.
The two then came across and applied to the Davis Foundation’s 100 Projects for Peace, a program that gives $10,000 grants for students to execute a project during their summer break that promotes peace and addresses the root causes of conflict. Recently deceased philanthropist and activist Kathryn Davis founded the organization in Feb. 2007, upon her 100th birthday.
A statement from Davis on the organization’s website reads, “I want to use my 100th birthday to help young people launch some immediate initiatives—things that they can do during the summer of 2007—that will bring new thinking to the prospects of peace in the world.”
And every summer since, students have pioneered various Projects for Peace. Following in the footsteps of the other grantees, From and Redden decided to use visual language to create an accessible message of solidarity and support for victims of domestic violence.
“A big thing shaping the decisions that we made in terms of how we conducted our project was that we wanted to create something visual,” From noted. “Because of the unbelievable range of people that this issue affects, we wanted our final project to be an understandable and accessible resource.”
“Photography speaks to people in a different way,” said Redden after recently receiving an email from a woman working at a shelter in Texas. That woman noted that having the book of photos around is a great alternative to pamphlets or pieces of writing.
Furthermore, From and Redden wanted to represent support in an artistic way beyond simply transcribing the answers provided to them. “We wanted to capture this idea of real intimate support, and having that support be personally connected with the responder’s identity,” From said. “Our project is about raising voices from all over the country and ways to visualize that are not only through distinctions in what responders look like and the location and backgrounds of the photo but differences in handwriting.”
As they traveled from city to city, Redden and From fine-tuned just how to go about creating these personalized portraits in a way that promoted peace and equality. They ultimately canvassed on busy street corners. Initially they approached individuals arbitrarily, but that often proved alienating. So, when they stood on the street corner, they made it clear that they were talking to everyone—and that the project was ultimately one for peace.
“We felt that sometimes when people heard the term domestic violence, they initially felt that they were labeled as a part of the issue, regardless of how clearly we thought we explained that we were talking to anyone and everyone regardless of one’s own experience,” Redden noted. “Because really the project is about engaging people who don’t identify as survivors and may even believe intimate partner violence doesn’t affect them at all.”
Redden described one memorable moment. “One day I walked into a fireworks store in Tennessee, went up to two women sitting at the counter, explained the project, and asked if they were interested in participating. Their response read to me as one of hurt,” Redden said. “At that moment we realized that approaching people individually, no matter what language we used to explain the project, reinforced the very feeling of isolation we were trying to address. It was at this point that we only approached strangers on a sidewalk where it was very clear we were talking to everyone who passed.”
By the summer’s end, Redden and From had collected a range of voices from across the country. “Our book acts as a piece of art that can stand in solidarity with incredible women that overcome unthinkable challenges, and remind advocates and survivors alike that support exists,” said From.