Photography Therapy | About

Ask questions - ask as many as you can - question everything until your heart is content.

My questions were neither asked nor answered. After the Second World War my parents and I returned from my father’s military placement to their native Brooklyn. We were a large family with extended relatives all of whom had left the Russian Empire, escaping pograms and Russian military conscription before and after the First World War. As a child my favorite Grandmother told me that her boyfriend was killed by Cossacks as he hid in a cellar, concealing himself from marauding soldiers fighting for and against the Czar. I never asked if my grandmothers or grandfathers, one a tailor and the other a man who drove a horse drawn seltzer wagon, if they left other relatives behind. Nor did they tell me. Only once when visitors knocked on my grandmother’s door did I hear my aunts and uncles talk in hushed tones, pointing to the numbers on the strangers’ arms. Years later I met cousins who worked in forced labor. My family knew. They explained nothing.

The American Dream

Like other returning G.I.’s my parents took advantage of a better life. With the U.S. Governments help they planted their hopes and two children in a development house in Valley Stream, N.Y. Our pink and white ranch house with a flamingo on the front door and crab apple tree on its manicured front lawn sat one among many three bedroom houses, all the same, all with bay windows facing the street. Life was good, clean and safe. I spent my time chairing an Elvis Presley Fan Club, learning to make apple crisp in The Hummingbirds 4H club, studied piano and went to sleep away 4-H camp where I starred in a reenactment of the crucifixion. My mother nixed this theatrical career. I was told we believed differently, except that I wasn’t taught what it was we believed. The Hebrew school only taught boys.

Life is about learning

I grew up, did my best, graduated from Central High School, where the guidance counselor told me I wasn’t college material. He was partially right. I was dyslexic, living with a disability before educators noticed and named it. How could he know that it took hours to read what my classmates read without effort. There was a dilemma. I was learning disabled and told I was smart. I suffered from PMS and lost myself emotionally for half each month. My middle class childhood was all very lovely. Unfortunately it lacked direction. I had no idea how to make my way in the world. My parents loved me and did all they could, providing dancing and piano lessons, even pretty clothes. Nevertheless, I had no preparation for how to get a job, how to locate my talents and or how to develop them.

My Greatest Accomplishments

My two sons because they grapple with courage and creativity with whatever life presents. Resettling Russian Jews by marshaling neighboring communities to provide jobs, apartments, English language training and money so that these families could start new lives. They came destitute, stripped of their jobs, money and possessions. We provided a doorway for them to succeed. Had my grandparents not emigrated I could have been them.

Transcendence

Getting past societal myths was the preeminent task of the 70’s. I joined consciousness and advocacy groups voluntarily. In early 1970 I was driving my car with my infant son safely belted in and realized I’d accomplished everything on my “To Do List” by 9:15. What was next? What life would I make for myself? What would I make of me? I went from career to career, first completing a graduate degree in special education, then fashioning myself into a radio reporter and talk show host, later making documentaries and finally creating a costume jewelry business. Nothing worked. The problem was me. I couldn’t get comfortable with me.

Emotional pain can be the touchstone of all growth. I learned what to ask for.

After my divorce I asked the universe to let me see what is beautiful about people and it showered me with images, seeing the beauty in everyone I looked at. I wanted to create. I meditated, intended, prayed to show the world what I was seeing. Photo Therapy came from these prayers. In retrospect I believe I asked the universe for what my soul had agreed- to be a vehicle for healing. My work with women uses photography as a way of showing women with negative body image or eating disorders the beauty in who they are, helping them see what they’re afraid to see. I have the good fortune of using my camera as a way to help these women heal. It’s ironic. I asked to see before I learned to use a camera. Over the years I’ve worked with scores of women, building a bridge through their images for them to see who they are instead of who they think they are. I’ve worked with anorexics to help them see how they’re starving themselves and then have courage to face their fear of being fat, with women who’ve been sexually abused, to help them see that they aren’t to blame for what they’ve experienced, with obese women, to see that there’s still beauty in who they are and with bulimics, to face the defeat of their cycle of eating and purging. The beauty I look for is their uniqueness, who they are, not who they think they should be.

Gratitude

When I’m not photographing I work with little children. I’ve worked with special children since the mid 70’s. For the past 15 years I’ve worked with children as a preschool special educator, going from child to child, in their homes or preschools. Sometimes they’re rich. Mostly they’re poor. My efforts center around helping non verbal, socially delayed children learn what their peers already know-how to speak, to play, to listen. I help children because no one knew how to help me learn. I am genuinely joyous when the child who doesn’t speak starts to talk, when the child who doesn’t play with other children finds a friend. Trust The soul surety I have comes from believing that my obligation in this life is to make meaning from my experiences, victories and defeats even when the answers I get are not what I requested. When the 17 month old boy taps his chest showing me he recognizes his name, I’m excited. Before he didn’t understand. When the woman I’ve photographed notices she likes her smile, then starts to see herself positively I’m showered with gratitude that my pictures help her. It’s taken a lifetime for me to find my path. These days I no longer worry about navigating the world because I have answers. If I’m honest with my efforts and give freely of myself to each child or woman something wonderful is always created.

Artist Statment

I remember photographing Camilla six years ago. When she called to set up an appointment, she said, "I must be crazy to do this, but my body image is terrible. I can’t keep getting up in the morning being disgusted with what I see."

The morning after we photographed, Camilla called to tell me that when we were photographing she looked in the mirror and saw that she was beautiful. She’d never noticed before.

I call my work PhotoTherapy. PhotoTherapy combines black and white photography and journal writing as tools for changing women’s negative self-image. Women start clothed and disrobe during the session. We look everywhere and retouched- THEY- look perfect! How should we feel?

I photograph all women. Some suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. Others are overweight. Some have negative feelings about their bodies caused by rape, incest, sexual abuse, or surgery. The rest are like you and I. I call my work PhotoTherapy. PhotoTherapy combines black and white photography and journal writing as tools for changing women’s negative self-image. Women start clothed and disrobe during the session. We look everywhere and retouched- THEY- look perfect! How should we feel?

During the past ten years, I have seen my use of photography transform the self-image of over 100 women and the way they perceive their bodies. It has also empowered their lives.

I photograph women as works of art. I see ordinary women as divinely inspired. They choose where they’ll be photographed and in what position. Many of them are nude — that vulnerability makes their sessions more powerful. They’re given contact sheets and are asked to keep journals of this experience and their thoughts about it. Through this process, they are able, many for the very first time in their lives, to experience their beauty as well as a sense of their potential, strength, individuality, and uniqueness. The “gaze” is now used by the “Object”.

None of these women are movie stars. All are ordinary women photographed as works of art. We are what we believe.

One woman, looking at her contacts, wrote,

"Some people have to hit rock bottom before they can begin to heal. I was one of those people. During the photo session, I felt my body transforming into the kinds of bodies I’ve seen in paintings. The more I started to like these photographs, the more I began to have positive conversations with myself. Now, rather than criticizing my body, I see a woman I value.

Ellen Fisher-Turk