Anthrow Circus

Photography as a Medium for Showing Trauma’s Complexity

Photos by Lori Pasareno


Lori Pasareno’s “Unbreakable,” a portraiture series consisting of 40 photographs taken over three years, seeks to address the tension between the residual pain of a traumatic experience and the ongoing process of healing and restoration.

“I am curious about the human spirit and its capacity to bleed and break, and then rise and push

past the unspeakable to reach for hope and healing,” says the Canadian fine arts photographer’s artist statement.

“’Unbreakable’ was created to be a visual voice for the internal story of pain and suffering that often results from an experience that was imposed not invited. Such encounters leave the

innocent to pick up the fragmented pieces of their lives as they carry the burden of someone

else’s demons.”

The portraits by the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based photographer explore the interplay between light and dark. Pasareno chose to photograph in black and white, stripping the color away in order to get to the essence of the story within the photograph.

The darkness invites the viewer to explore emotions that are denied and buried, while the light reminds us to reach for truth and hope, according to Pasareno, whose work often explores the interplay between emotion, memory, and story.

Shadows fill the frame of each piece and descend onto the subject, expressing the heaviness one might experience from trauma. Yet, a gentle light also bathes a part of the figure, showing that the beauty of the self still exists amidst the pain.

The tension of dark versus light weaves throughout the series, calling the viewer to sit with that tension instead of ignoring it. Some of the figures appear in the photographs in hazy shapes, conveying the sense of living in two worlds: the everyday world in which one must function, and the world where one’s wounded spirit aches and heals, and aches and heals.

Indeed, the blurriness and graininess of the photographs also represent the space where reality and denial coexist and where seemingly unreachable or unexplored emotions and memories dwell in the subconscious.

“I used my camera to explore the complexity and fragility of such trauma, capturing the tension between dark and light, hidden and revealed, distortion and clarity. I wanted to capture the many layers of our human experiences that are often not spoken but lay buried alive within the deep recesses of our beings,” Pasareno said. “I sought to present a visual story of the struggle between what is seen and unseen with the intention of revealing both our vulnerability and our strength.”

One image is a woman who is sitting on a ledge with her legs dangling. A heavy darkness shrouds her and seeks to engulf her, and yet there is a light shining toward her, countering the dark.

Another image, “Unbreakable,” which is also the name of this series of photographs, shows a woman still struggling. She’s hiding her face as if in shame, but her fists are also up as if to show her strength. The image is meant to represent the strength of survivors.

Pasareno hopes that even viewers who have not experienced profound trauma will gain an understanding of the emotional complexity of healing from a traumatic experience.

“Art has a powerful voice able to communicate in ways that words may fail us. It is my hope that ‘Unbreakable’ can serve as a voice—a placeholder for the often unspoken experiences of trauma,” Pasareno said.

Photographer Lori Pasareno

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Joanna F. Marsh likes to fashion herself as a modern-day Renaissance woman. She still adheres to her high school motto, which is to “function in disaster and finish in style.” She lives near Washington, D.C., and has served as a writer and journalist for more than a decade.

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