“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me.” But words do harm, and can leave emotional scars that have lasting affects. It’s not easy to see the impact of verbal abuse, which is what inspired photographer Rich Johnson’s Weapon of Choice Project, a visual demonstration of the power of verbal abuse, intended to provoke a conversation about the problems of domestic violence, child abuse, and bullying.
Johnson explains on the project’s website, “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; verbal abuse was just one of the weapons in the arsenal.”
Each participant in the Weapon of Choice Project was presented with a list of hurtful words to choose from, but many of the participants chose their own words, words that were used against them. Once they chose a word, a team of professional makeup artists simulated an injury on their body, incorporating the hateful word. Then Johnson captured it with a photograph.
“The project was not meant to be 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 words can really be,” Johnson recalls.
All images © Weapon of Choice