"If You Knew Me You Would Care" by Zainab Salbi and Rennio Maifredi (Powerhouse Books)
"If You Knew Me You Would Care" is a collection of portraiture photography like none I've ever seen.
Maifredi is both a fashion photographer and a portrait photographer, who found himself looking for something different to shoot, something meaningful. Salbi and the organization Women For Women International gave him that by providing access to the women they represent, organize, help.
If you're unfamiliar with Women For Women, one of its most successful aid programs is a direct sponsorship for women in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Rwanda, and help them get the training and knowledge they need to start their own businesses, and provide a safe space for them to meet. The book concerns itself with women from these countries and their stories.
What unravels before you is a parade of these women, presented as glittering, vibrant, powerful and spiritually gorgeous. Some have faces of strength, others of weariness, all of experience, and at least several of joy.
What makes the book so harrowing are the first-hand accounts of many of these women's lives, the circumstance that brought them to the point that Women For Women could transform their lives.
It's no exaggeration to say that almost every woman in the book has been raped, many of them serially as sex slaves, often shunned by their communities and families after their ordeals -- the book pulls no punches as the women recount their horrors.
The personal degradation and violence is just a component of lives surrounded by poverty and war, even genocide and sex slavery, often fueled by male domination that is so ingrained that domestic abuse and child marriage become accepted parts in many of these cultures.
In other words, these women have noticeable odds they have to beat to even make the smallest something of their lives.
With their gleaming and proud eyes on display throughout, it's tough to claim this is a book about victimhood, and it really isn't. What is shown here is that within each victim is a survivor and a hero. This book is a tapestry of how not to be defeated by the unimaginable.
Says Zahida from Bosnia and Herzegovina "I know that I'm a fighter, but I can't believe that someone else recognizes me as a fighter."
That's really what the book is, a celebration of fighters and a refutation of our current trend against the idea of a handout. These women show that what they did to earn the charity they receive is to make it through impossible circumstances with the bravery of any solider who would be more typically lauded.
The way they pay you back for the charity is to make something of themselves and seize their own narrative, no longer victims of their history, becoming examples to follow in your darkest of times, proving that good things do happen even in the worst situations and brightening the world with their dignity and joy.