Photographers will tell you that the camera can be a powerful tool. An Aberdeen photographer uses her camera to produce works that get attention and highlight the issues of child abuse and neglect.
Crystal Harper clicks through dozens of folders on a computer. There are disturbing portraits of children with black eyes and cuts. But the injuries aren’t real, they’re makeup.
“This image is a little boy in a dark dingy room with lots of graffiti and monsters on the wall.”
The boy in the image is sitting on a broken bed frame in an empty room. Harper creates these images to draw attention to child maltreatment. She says she’s seen many examples of it during her time volunteering with you children.
Child abuse is also the subject of the her senior exhibit at Northern State University. The 32 year old artist says not every child who faces abuse or neglect is covered in bruises, but the makeup she uses in her photos gets a reaction.
“I want it to bother people. I want the images to tug at your heart strings to make you realize that not everything’s ok.”
Harper describes her art style as pop surrealism, or lowbrow. The scenes she created for this series live up to the genre and her goal is for them to feel unsettling. The mother of three says she was inspired to start taking the photos after doing research on the issue of child abuse.
“The data that I found, it was sickening to realize that so many kids faced that that I wanted to continue on to do something. To do my part, to try to help.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a number of statistics on child abuse. The nations Child Protective Service agencies report nearly 700 thousand cases of child abuse and neglect in 2015. Other studies estimate that as many as one in four children are mistreated.
“And as soon as you experience that trauma in your life, from that moment on the trauma is like a parasite and it never leaves you and you're never going to be the same since it happened.”
Harper’s own three kids serve as models as well as some of her friend’s children. She talks with the children to explain the theme before each photoshoot.
“I explain to them that sometimes these situations occur where children have to face that they don’t have enough food so they don’t have enough nourishment. They don’t go to the doctor when they need to or they get hit for no good reason. And I explain how it’s possible with these images to bring light to the subject.”
Harper says the kids upset to hear that others their age are facing these situations. She says it’s not always apparent that children are facing maltreatment, but believes people should watch for little signs.
“I want people to be more observant of the children in their life and watch for signs. Watch for changes in their demor. Keep that in their mind that and certain small changes there could a very big reason behind it.”
Harper says she plans to continue work on the series as long as she feels it can help. She wants her photos to shock people into paying attention.