But there’s a bigger, some might say more important, concern than how viewers receive or are offered troubling images. It’s that viewers don’t want to see pictures of domestic violence, period.
“Everybody thinks that it’s obscene, that somehow it’s ethically wrong to show the real face of a battered woman,” says Donna Ferrato, a photographer who’s been documenting domestic violence for 30 years. She rejects that taboo categorically, but she also thinks her photographs, and Lewkowicz’s, are a necessity. “Unless you have these pictures… nobody gives a damn what happens to these women. Nobody.”
Ann Jones, a writer who has also been working for decades on domestic violence, thinks viewers slough their discomfort viewing realities of domestic violence off onto photographers. “I think you tend to project your own horror or helplessness onto the person who was actually there, to say, ‘Well, why didn’t that photographer do something to stop it?’” she says. “If we had a photographer taking a picture in wartime of soldiers going at it, or even a bar fight between a couple of guys, you wouldn’t expect the photographer to intervene and stop it. That is not the photographer’s job.”
Meanwhile, the critics—there are more than 1,400 comments on the piece so far—who weren’t busy assailing Lewkowicz’s journalism ethics instead accosted Maggie. Time’s comments section features a rousing reprise of “blame the victim,” from insisting that Maggie should have seen it coming and left her boyfriend, to accusing her of liking it, to calling it punishment for cheating on her estranged husband.
Which means there’s one thing all the critics seem to agree on: The only adult in the house not responsible for the violence is the man committing it.