Weapon of Choice

'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me' is an old playground response to insults, and yet verbal abuse can leave invisible scars on their victim. Photographer Rich Johnson collaborated with make-up artists and victims of both verbal and physical abuse, to create portraits that reveal words that harm in the same way as bruising would. The images imply that verbal abuse is inextricably linked to physical abuse. Johnson explained how the project was carefully orchestrated:

We presented each participant...with a list of hurtful words, and we asked them to choose a word that had significance to them...
At first, they were just words on a 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. 

This method has resulted in some quite graphic, powerful imagery. Portraits usually intend to capture their subjects in the best possible light, whereby the photographer is able to skilfully pose the sitter. The fact that the victim is in control of the word used, and that it is painted on them, unusually presents the subject with a greater control in the creation of the image than the photographer. 

© Rich Johnson (Image permission granted)


The words appear bruise-like on the subject, creating powerful images that enable the viewer to connect with the image, especially if they have experienced something similar.

Rich Johnson's Weapon of Choice can be found here.


Burgett, G. (2014) Powerful Photos Illustrate the Real Damage Done by Verbal Abuse [online] Available from: http://petapixel.com/2014/05/16/powerful-photos-illustrate-real-damage-done-verbal-abuse/ [Accessed 24/5/14]