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Donna Ferrato : What’s In The Basement?


Donna Ferrato is an American photojournalist living in New York. Born in 1949 in Waltham, Massachusetts, she learnt  photography in 1975 after meandering on American roads, following a divorce. Her wanderings took her to San Francisco. She studied photography at the Art Institute of California. In 1977, after another trip across European roads, she began a series on bread-making in Parisian bakeries.

In 1979, she moved to New York and became interested in nightclubs, strip clubs and other night places , like the cultissimo Studio 54 and Mudd Club. Commissionned by the New York Magazine, she portrayed the swingers’ club Plato’s Retreat and soon after, for Playboy, she documented the daily life of Garth and Lisa, a swingers’ couple. Understanding the couple led her to a primal thinking on domestic violence and its psychological motivation. “I was there for the orgies as well as the typical family moments,” Ferrato writes in Love & Lust. “As time passed, however, I began to realize that Garth was not the benign, devoted husband he had first appeared to be…and one night, I witnessed a horrific scene: Garth attacked Lisa and beat her mercilessly as she cowered in the master bathroom. That night changed me forever, and also altered the direction of my work for the next ten years…I was now driven to reveal the unspeakable things that were happening behind closed doors. I took the picture because without it I knew no one would ever believe it happened,” declared Ferrato to Time Magazine in 2012.

This project inaugurated a long-term engagement on documenting domestic violence. In 1991, Living with the Enemy was published by the Aperture Foundation, exposing the daily springs, the banality of the physical, psychological and obsessive logics of domestic violence. Twenty years later, Donna Ferrato initiated the I Am Unbeatable campaign, documenting the individual trajectories of victims of domestic violence through historical archives, photographs and videos.

Some of her more recent work are focused on her New York neighborhood, Tribeca. Donna Ferrato has lived there since the 1990s. The following video, entitled What’s in the basement, is part of this documentary will, showing a facet of New York, questioning the passers-by left to their own, unravelling the New York mess in this period of crisis.

“The heat of the city is oppressive. The streets in the night are dead. Driving uptown or downtown is more or less lawless. Uber is useless. Cabs are dependable. Trains are good too.
Police don’t care what we do anymore. Or, maybe they are afraid of us.
Some say it will be a long time before New York City recovers from the loss of confidence in the markets. Fear is contagious.
Homeowners are running to the quiet country enclaves.
While the homeless are digging in for cover on the streets.

It’s as edgy as I’ve seen it since Ed Koch was mayor. What happens next is what I want to see.
Walking, watching, making peace with what is inevitable. I want to be strong and ready for what is coming this way.
That’s why I am a photographer.”


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