Sunday 2 December 2018

More Than The Sum...

“Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection.
It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”
- Parker Palmer, Quaker Philosopher and Teacher

Now that “Heart & Soul: Two Men Tell Their Stories” has closed, it’s time to reflect on the exhibit and the impact it has had on my photography. Sharing this exhibit with my husband’s quilts was a peak experience – how gratifying it was to observe the show’s impact on dear friends and new acquaintances alike. It was not unusual to see people in tears, especially as they were contemplating Bill’s quilts.

Susan Holland, the gifted curator of the John M. Parrott Art Gallery, did a superb job of hanging the show. Her sense of colour, flow, and theme never ceases to impress me. She made the collection of Bill’s quilts and my photos look both simultaneously convergent and divergent.

Not too shabby at all.

The photo above, “More Than The Sum...”, garnered attention from adults and students alike. The image haunts me and compels me.

Here is the story behind the photo:

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a fascination with mannequins. My collection of mannequin photos continues to grow.

Which brings me to Labour Day Sunday of this year. Bill and I were driving in Prince Edward County and were just leaving Consecon. Suddenly, Bill stopped and turned the car around. “Just saw something you’ll want to check out.”

And indeed I was a yard filled with female mannequin parts, all spread out randomly. A woman was sitting in the middle of the mannequins, washing them.

The impact of seeing these mannequins was a gut punch. I teared up immediately – they reminded me of the haunting photos from Nazi concentration camps – grotesquely dismembered bodies, obscenely angled limbs, blankly vacant faces. I could barely speak.

Bill, thank goodness, had the presence of mind to start talking to the woman who was washing the mannequins. It turns out she is Janet Battaglio, a talented Consecon artist who had bought the mannequins with an eye to using them in her art. She is also a fabric dyer, so she and Bill adjourned to her studio while I photographed the mannequins, with Janet’s permission.

My tears continued, as did the eerie silence that had fallen over the yard. I don’t know how long I spent photographing that afternoon, but the experience felt sacred – as if by recording these images, I had been given the responsibility of witnessing. Because for me, these mannequins were symbolic of women’s suffering in our culture: the hateful violence; the literal and figurative dismemberment; the profound anguish.

I dedicated 24 years of my teaching career to the education of young women, during which time my awareness of the brutalization of women in our culture became embedded in my soul. Photographing these mannequins became an act of testimony for me – my way of saying, “Look at this! It must stop!”

And then I saw her – the mannequin pictured above. One of the few that was actually sitting up. The look on her face told me she would prevail. Yes, she was wounded. Yes – unlike so many others – she had survived. And, yes, she would never let what had happened be forgotten.

This photograph takes my breath away. I am gratified it has found a home in Toronto, where its impact will continue.

Below, I’ve included more photos from that September day. They are troubling images, but they need to be seen. The camera as witness is a powerful tool for social change.

Many thanks to Janet Battaglio for allowing me to photograph her very special collection of mannequins.


  1. Larry I am crying as I write this. I have seen these images before, but not with your written word. I am sitting in Sendai Japan at the conclusion of training support workers and counsellors who work with survivors of violence. The survivors?, mostly women, many children. It is a global pandemic, supported by institutions and individuals who cannot envision wholeness for all. Thank you for knowing and witnessing

  2. Thank you, my friend. Your comments humble me.
    Thank you again.