Donna Ferrato. Womanhood.


The photographer has been on the frontlines for women’s rights over the last 50 years, using her camera to document the world’s most momentous political battles.

Donna Ferrato started out photographing pleasure and ended up confronting pain. It was 1981, and she was working on a photography project for Japanese Playboy about wealthy swingers in New York. One evening, while documenting a young, attractive, and apparently happy straight couple in their home, Ferrato witnessed something that changed her life forever. The man screamed at his wife. As he pulled back his right arm, Ms. Ferrato raised her camera and took a picture. As he slapped his wife in the face, she closed her eyes — and took another frame. She saw herself in the mirrors as she kept photographing. But when he hauled off to strike her again, Ms. Ferrato grabbed the man’s arm and told him to stop.

Originally from Ohio, Ferrato has been working as a photojournalist for close to five decades. During that time, she has established herself as a pioneering force for women’s rights. Her black and white photographs have captured everyone, from activists and artists to migrants and survivors of domestic abuse. Her latest book, HOLY, is a 176-page collection of her most blistering photography, annotated with handwritten notes and blood-red splashes of colour (a visual representation, she says, of a “woman’s heart”).

‘I started making HOLY four years ago, because I was so distraught with the election of Donald Trump. I couldn’t believe that we’d put the future of America into the hands of a man who had no respect for women or people of colour. I knew we were going into a very dark period, and I realised that, to survive the next four years with him, women were going to have to be bold, out there, and angry. So what I tried to do with this book was take the stories of all the women who’d made the greatest impression on me since I was a teenager and put their stories and their photographs together. It became like a journey – a woman’s journey.’