WOMEN
12/21/2015 03:58 pm ET

13 Portraits Show Domestic Violence Survivors Will Not Be Defined By Their Abuse

"It's amazing to sit in this chair, in front of the lights and camera and be proud that I am strong enough to share my story."
Unconventional Apology Project // Chantal Barlow

One woman is using her camera to "communicate the humanness of survivors to the world." 

Created by artist Chantal Barlow, the Unconventional Apology Project features 13 portraits of domestic violence survivors or women who know someone who has experienced some form of abuse. Instead of shooting somber portraits of victims, Barlow took photos of survivors laughing and smiling to show that these women will not be defined by their abuse.

"My focus was to communicate the humanness of survivors to the world," Barlow told The Huffington Post. "Often times, their stories and life are confined to being a victim, if ever addressed at all. I, and these women, have much more life to live: a life that is not defined by our abusers; one with love, light and hope in our hearts."

My focus was to communicate the humanness of survivors to the world.

Barlow created the project to honor her grandmother, Mableine Nelson Barlow, who was murdered by her grandfather during a drunken rampage in 1975. She didn't know the role her grandfather had in her grandmother's death until she was a teenager. 

When her grandfather died two years ago, he gave Barlow his camera which she said he used often. She described her grandfather as having a happy life, surrounded by loving family once he sobered up a few decades after the incident. Her grandmother however, was not afforded the same, with such a short life and a death that was rarely spoken about in the family.

"[My grandfather] loved taking photos with the family -- he is in thousands of pictures, while my grandmother is only in three." Unconventional Apology Project honors Mableine's memory and legacy simply by remembering her, which Barlow calls her "trail of existence."

The project, created in August of 2014, is currently ongoing until Barlow has 36 portraits to represent the age Mableine was when she was murdered. 

Each image is candid, usually taken while the woman is telling her story. Barlow said most of the women reached out to her after she posted her own portrait on social media, while a few are part of the Unconventional Apology Project team.The participants were only required to do one thing: Wear blue, because it was Mableine's favorite color. 

All the women are featured with their full names, which Barlow said she had a very clear discussions with each participant about. Everyone signed release forms with the knowledge that their full names would be included. 

This project is an apology to these women for how society has disregarded their stories and their lives. We care about them and we love them.

Every participant's experience features tragic yet powerful narratives that include intimate partner violence, intergenerational violence and gas lighting. The women come from all walks of life, and are diverse in age, ethnicity and sexuality.  

"[The women in the photos] aren't bruised and defeated. Showing them at their worst is not our purpose," Barlow said. "This project is an apology to these women for how society has disregarded their stories and their lives. We care about them and we love them. They deserve a Trail of Existence." 

Scroll below to see Barlow's powerful portraits. Read a little about each survivor and her story to learn why these women are so much more than the abuse they've experienced. 

Head over to Unconventional Apology's website to read more about the project. 

Also on HuffPost: 

PHOTO GALLERY
Shocking Domestic Violence Statistics
CONVERSATIONS