Entry Title: "Weapon of Choice"
Name: Rich Johnson , United States
Category and Expertise: Photo Essay and Feature Story|Culture|Deeper Perspective, Professional

Entry Description: The Weapon of Choice Project was conceived to provide a graphic demonstration of the invisible pain caused by verbal abuse, It is meant to provoke a conversation about the problems of domestic violence, child abuse, and bullying.

Story: The idea behind the Weapon of Choice Project was to create a visual representation of the emotional damage words can do. World-class professional makeup artists generously donated their time to the project. The artists applied makeup to each participant to simulate an injury, and the hurtful word chosen by the participant was then incorporated. We chose the name “Weapon of Choice” for this project because, for the abuser, using words to harm is a choice. While listening to the stories from participants who had suffered abuse, we discovered how closely physical abuse followed verbal abuse. Where we found evidence of one, we found evidence of the other. When the abuser chose to inflict harm, verbal abuse was just one of the weapons in the arsenal. We presented each participant in the Weapon of Choice Project with a list of hurtful words, and we asked them to choose a word that had significance to them (some volunteered words we didn’t think of). At first, they were just words on list. But as each participant chose a word -- the word that would be painted on their body and captured in a photograph -- the words took on much more significance. The Weapon of Choice Project was not meant to be, exclusively, an anti-bullying campaign. Nonetheless, many of the children who participated in the project had been affected by bullying, and they told us about their experiences. Some of their stories surprised not only our project crew, but also the children’s parents, who in some cases had never heard about the experiences the children recalled. Some of us on the crew came to this project with a “sticks and stones” attitude about bullying, but after this experience, we’ve all come to recognize how hurtful and damaging bullying can really be.

About the Artist: