Photographer John F. Russell: Keeping your eyes open
As part of my job, I’m asked to take photographs every day that reflect life in the Yampa Valley from the breathtaking views of Mount Werner and Elk Mountain to children jumping in the puddles left behind by spring’s melting snow.
I not only try to create stunning images each day, but as a photojournalist, I see my work as a reflection of the things that are important to the people who live here. I view my photographs as a record of the people, the events and the history of our town. My hope is that someday down the road, when people look back, my images will remind them of what life was like in Steamboat.
Not everything in our mountain valley is beautiful, but that doesn’t mean we can close our eyes, or in my case put down my camera, when we don’t want to see something.
Sexual assault is one of those things. When we first began talking about this series and the stories we wanted to tell, I knew that we would need art to go alongside the words. The photojournalist in me wanted to follow someone who had been affected by sexual assault and make images that reflected its devastating impacts.
But creating those images is hard thing to do without putting those who have been touched by sexual assault in the spotlight, without bringing to the surface the experiences many have buried or without asking them to re-live the trauma of sexual assault.
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To tell this important story we needed a main photograph that could carry the front page each week.
In the end, we chose to use volunteers from our office, from Advocates of Routt County and a few others. I kept the photographs tight focusing on hands and eyes and feet.
I wanted to the photographs to be generic — not to protect the subjects but because in a strange way those anonymous images tell a part of the story.
The thing I learned from this series is that sexual assault can happen to anybody no matter if you’re a man or a women, straight or gay, young or old. It can happen anywhere including at school or work, while hanging out with friends at a barbecue or after a few drinks in a bar.
My goal with the photographs in this series was to help start a conversation, so that we can shed light on sexual assault in our community. And while I love to take photographs of all the beauty that surrounds me in Steamboat, I also realized there are some things that need to captured in a photo that are not as easy to look at and things that are dark. And we should never close our eyes to that.
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