‘Voices,’ found, heard and seen

By Dagney C. Ernest | Feb 13, 2019
“Finding Our Voices” participants, from left, Melanie Daigle, Patrisha McLean and Christine Buckley meet up in Camden Public Library’s Picker Room (Kate Chapman’s portrait can be seen behind them).

Camden — Domestic violence happens in all demographics, around the world ... and right here. February’s art exhibit at Camden Public Library fills the Picker Room with familiar faces, portraits that are accompanied by audio stories and a power and control wheel worksheet.

“We've got to get serious about this, because it's everywhere. It's everywhere and it's got to change,” said fine art photographer and photojournalist Patrisha McLean, who created the “Finding Our Voices” multimedia exhibit.

On Thursday, Feb. 14, a number of the women who participated in the project will join McLean for a slideshow presentation, discussion and Q&A opening reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Also on that day, a website created by local business consultant CJ Kenna and dedicated to the project will go live at findingourvoices.net. Kenna also created the show’s graphic elements.

Domestic violence thrives in secret, but McLean’s experience was made very public in January 2016. A day or two later, she found a hotline “wooden nickel” in her mailbox. She wasn’t ready to accept its implications.

“I thought, this doesn't pertain to me. First of all, I thought New Hope [for Women] was for women who had no resources. I don't know if I even really thought of myself as an abuse victim, so I didn't pay attention to it,” she said a few days after “Finding Our Voices” opened.

But trauma has a way of making us pay attention. After the dust had begun to settle, McLean found herself in emotional turmoil and went to visit her daughter in upstate New York. The town had a domestic abuse agency.

“I said, maybe I'll just talk to them, see what's going on. And it was just really illuminating, because they understood, so I think it was sort of an awakening in me,” she said.

On her return to Midcoast Maine, McLean found herself the recipient of community grace — bath salts tucked in her bag at Camden’s Glendarragh Lavender store; a cashier at Rite-Aid who “just leaned over and put her hand on my arm with just the most loving look in her eyes,” notes in her mailbox. People started coming up to her and sharing their own experiences. In March, she went to an appointment with her hairdresser, Kate Chapman. As is often the case, truth came out in the chair.

“She mentioned she was really sorry. Then she just said that she had been through that also and told me about how her abuser had taken her to the small island where he lived and how isolated she was,” McLean said. “She said it happened like 30 years ago to her, but she she's always thought that she wanted to tell her story.”

That was a sentiment that struck McLean to the core.

“My voice had been staunched in my throat for 29 years ... it was like I'd been given the power of sight,” she said. “Because it was so public with me that all of a sudden I saw clearly what's hidden everywhere, because people were revealing it to me. I wanted to do something.”

Her visit with Chapman planted a seed that has produced “Finding Our Voice.” McLean, whose work has focused on portraiture, began thinking about putting a face on the issue — literally.

“I'm a photojournalist, and I've done this with recovering addicts and the homeless, and I thought, I'm just going to do what I know,” she said.

The first handful of possible participants did not end up going forward with the project, aside from Chapman, but others comfortable sharing their experiences began to emerge. McLean put a call out for domestic abuse survivors via Facebook, as did the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. The exhibit is supported by that organization, as well as the Maine Arts Commission and a Deborah Pulliam Social Justice Grant. There also was a call-for-participation press release that ran in local papers.

One participant took McLean by surprise. Christine Buckley of Christina’s Gallery custom frame shop in Lincolnville has been framing her fine art photography for years and was four months into framing “Finding Our Voices” when she told McLean that she, too, was a survivor who had never told her story. Another is the daughter of McLean’s late best friend.

The show at the Camden library includes more than a dozen large-scale photographic portraits. Each participant also is represented by a power and control wheel, a standard tool used to understand overall patterns of abusive and violent behaviors.

“The more I dove into the dynamic of domestic abuse through reading and talking with women who have gone through it, I realized that, no matter the differences in age, income, education, etc., it all comes down to power and control ... someone has over someone else. So I asked each participant to customize a power and control wheel,” McLean said.

She also recorded each participant’s story and edited them down to three minutes or so each. The audio testimony is accessible by calling a dedicated phone line and choosing a specific number-plus-pound-sign sequence. The idea is to bear witness to these survivors’ experiences by listening to and reading their words and viewing their portraits.

One portrait that commands attention is that of “Johnnie.” She works at a domestic abuse agency in Auburn and lives in the same town as her 30-years-back abuser, who is prominent in their community.

“Look at the courage on this woman's face! He's living in her community and she doesn't give a damn, you know, she wants the truth,” said McLean. “It's all about getting the truth out.”

After its hometown debut, “Finding Our Voices” will travel, including upcoming stops in Castine and Augusta. McLean will present the project at April’s PechaKucha Night Midcoast at Belfast’s Crosby Center, as well as at domestic abuse-focused conventions around the country. She also will bring the project to Cape Cod, Mass., where leaders of the Mentors in Violence Prevention programs at two high schools organized a campaign to cancel a 2016 concert shortly after McLean’s situation became public.

“They were able to announce it during a White Ribbon Day, which is all about young men supporting women,” McLean said. “And that meant so much to me, just to be believed.”

Toll-free 24-hour domestic violence crisis hotlines available include, in Midcoast Maine, (800) 522-3304; and a national hotline at (800) 799-7233. Those in immediate danger should call 911.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Ananur Forma | Feb 13, 2019 19:41

This is fantastic!!!!

If you wish to comment, please login.