‘When Butterflies Die’ has been as much about creating a body of work as it has been about taking the opportunity to tell my story, and gain the therapeutic benefits of doing so.

The consideration of using my rape as a subject for my project began during another module, ‘Photography and Narrative’. During this I told my story for the first time to an audience, and felt empowered in doing so. In explaining the narrative of my experience to people, I also understood it more myself.

The interest in continuing this subject was strengthened by our Symposium, in which I discussed Rape Culture and its relationship with photography. I was introduced to different critical photographic studies, the most influential for my work being Ariella Azoulay’s ‘The Civil Contract of Photography’. I was able to critically analyse the relationship between rape and photography, and the wider impact it has on society.

After the symposium, I decided to take my Final Major Project back too a more personal place. I wanted to explore my emotions surrounding my trauma, and try to translate something so intensely personal and abstract into a physical creation that could be interpreted and understood by an audience.

As the subject of my own rape is something I am intimately familiar with, it didn’t require research. Instead, I focused my efforts on researching photographers and artists who had translated their own experiences into pieces of work. Sally Mann’s, ‘Proud Flesh’, and Sara Davidmann’s, ‘Ken. To Be Destroyed’, set me on the path of physically ‘attacking’ my photographs, creating a physical representation of my trauma and emotions, something usually invisible the eye.

Briony Campbell’s, ‘Dad Project’, made me consider a combination of multiple photographs, not necessarily immediately translatable, but all connected by the same narrative.

Through my varied research and constant experimentation, I came to the decision to create a book. It would contain a mixture of self-portraits, still lives and landscapes. Each would have personal significance to the subject of my abuse at fourteen, and the seven years of recovery leading to the present day.

I chose a book for a multiple reasons. Firstly, this project is incredibly intimate, and I wanted to be able to translate that into something the viewer would have to physically touch and get close to, so they can become immersed in the narrative and have an empathetic response. Secondly, because of the nature of the project, I was intent on having control over how my narrative was revealed to my audience. This is also why I chose to use manual photography, so I could hand print all of my photographs and be in control of every possible point of my works development.

The creation of my book was a slightly arduous journey. My desire to distress the pictures left me with the only option of sticking my photographs into the book, which was terrifying, as it could of appeared unprofessional. I made and bound the book myself; further reinforcing my control over the narrative, and creating the photo-album ‘feeling’ I was hoping for.

My desire for my book to appear like a photo-album stemmed from my research of Sara Davidmann’s work. I found the juxta-position of placing a story that had gone untold and hidden out of shame and trauma in an environment usually reserved for proud, happy moments that are immortalised for future viewing absolutely fascinating. I felt that, considering how I wanted to create an emotional connection with the viewer in the hopes of them understanding and empathising with my experiences, this would translate well through this medium. It shows how precious this narrative is to me, as it is such an intrinsic part of my life. However, it also shows my wish to no longer feel shame for what was done to me, and the strength I can now show through telling my own narrative.

The addition of a 16x20inch-framed photograph in my final submission comes from a desire for a ‘flagship’ image that draws the viewer in. The choice of photograph was a careful one, and in the end I settled on a print of my ‘safe place’. I felt that this represents the recovery I have gone through over the years, and gives the viewer an image that can act as a safe place for them, from the narrative that they might find potentially difficult to experience.

It has been a long journey for me regarding this project. I feel I could of potentially experimented more with different presentation styles instead of becoming intent on one specific choice. However, overall, I am incredibly pleased with the work I have created. I believe it succeeds in creating an emotional connection with the audience, and I know for a fact that it has been incredibly positive for me through creating it.