Each of the faces gazing down from Alice Di Certo’s photographs, whether showing an expression of reproachful solemnity or uninhibited joy, have one thing in common: they are young, sometimes shockingly so.
The narratives of the children and youth whose faces appear in Di Certo’s work all tell a similar story of having suffered, and survived, terrorizing by their peers.
The stories of the children shed light on a disturbingly widespread and seemingly commonplace practice of peer bullying, harassment and abuse.
Di Certo felt compelled to bring awareness to the subject of peer bullying after hearing personal accounts of it from her friends’ children.
The notion that children were bringing suffering to other children seemed to her unnecessary. She wanted to show not only what victims experience when bullied, but also how they are able to overcome the pain brought on by their perpetrators.
“I wanted the accent to be on their strength”, Di Certo says of the subjects in her photographs. “Even in what appears to be weakness, they are stronger.”
Di Certo was awarded a grant through the City of Tacoma which allowed her to develop the “Stronger” project over several years. She first took photos of the children, and then had them tell her their stories, which she describes as devastating.
One such story is that of James Becker, now 13. At the time he sat for Di Certo, he was eight years old, and went by the name of Jamey. He stopped by the exhibit with his mother to view the photograph of his eight-year-old self.
When asked about his experience getting bullied as a child, Becker replied that he has blocked most of it out. He says he remembers thinking he was alone in the bullying. Years later, he learned that several friends had all experienced similar things.
An important part of Di Certo’s exhibit is what she calls the resolution portion of the children’s narratives. Each resolution, told in the words of the children themselves, speaks to lessons learned and strength gained through their experiences.
One fairly common aspect of the resolutions is the unmistakable fact that in many cases, situations were not actually resolved – at least not in a way that brings a sense of justice having been served. Instead, kids simply learned on their own the many different ways one can, indeed, show strength.
“Stronger” will be available for viewing in the Arts and Allied Health building through November 28. Di Certo’s work can also be explored on her website, alicedicerto.weebly.com.
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