Concealed Healing Portfolio

I live in a very small town in rural Michigan where everybody knows everybody. Or, at least we think we do. Throughout my years at high school I have met some very empowering women that have gone through some very difficult times and come out stronger than ever. But their stories are not apparent to the world around them. They have all hidden their struggles from the world around them as much as possible, like society believes all women must do. I was inspired by their stories and I knew I wanted to talk to some strong women about their hardships and emulate them through photography. Each person went through something completely different: cancer, losing a loved one, a hard divorce, etc.


I decided to combine photography with my other artistic passion, embroidering. Embroidering is branded as an “old ladies’ hobby” or a demeaning woman’s job throughout the centuries but I want to rebrand that as a new way to express my art. By combining photography and embroidering I am able to manipulate a realistic portrait into a surrealist work of art. By physically stitching each photo I am translating each of the woman’s pain and what they went through, as well as how they healed. As a result of this portfolio, I was able to heal along with them, and I included myself as one of the portraits.


Before I photographed each subject, I talked with them about their experience, focusing on what it felt like during the time they were affected and how they have changed because of it and healed. Having intimate conversations with with subjects was my priority in this portfolio. Details from our conversations was how I determined what I would embroider on each of their portraits. Each piece has a specific element in nature that reflects how they felt or how they healed. Madilynn, one of the subjects is one of my dear friends, has had an awful relationship with her father. In one notable argument, he called her a snake. For the embroidery, I used three snakes representing her, her mother, and sister. The process of embroidery on her portrait I used as a means of helping her reclaim the “snake” by showing how strong she is. Stitching onto their portraits, makes each photo a unique piece of art that can never be exactly replicated: just like the women in them.


The photos are done in black and white to enhance the bright colors of the embroidery on top of them. The strong contrast of the black and white also highlighted every natural curve and crevice of the subjects. The subjects were completely natural, the photo is of them in a raw, vulnerable environment. The black and white of each photo unifies each person and the color of the thread stitched on top of them is what makes each one unique. Talking with these empowering women and exploring their experiences through photographing them then embroidering to manipulate their portraits was an eye-opening journey for me. Through this artistic process I learned about their strength and how to discover my own.