In 1991 photographer Angela Kelly visited Rainbow House, a Chicago shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Like most shelters, the temporary residence affords women, many who are mothers, a moment to collect themselves and figure out how to start over — which is not exactly a simple task with easy answers. Kelly became aware of the delicate nature of these women’s circumstances the moment she arrived at the shelter. “I couldn’t point my camera at a crowd because some women couldn’t be photographed — someone was after them.”
Abigail Foerstner, writing for the Chicago Tribune in January 1992, neatly encapsulated Kelly’s sobering Rainbow House photographs: “Kelly worked in color, allowing her to fill the sanitized dormitory environment of a shelter with the bright accents of children’s clothes and toys. This natural clutter of family life and the everyday activities of dining, grooming, dressing children and searching want ads gives a tense normalcy to the photographs. But the normalcy of the pictures, so at odds with other signals in them, tips the tension level to an awareness of the brutal realities just beyond.”
The “brutal realities,” of course, hints at the potential futures of the women and children depicted in these photographs. Were they each able to successfully break free from their abusive partners and start over? Or did some eventually return to the men who mistreated them? It’s unknown, of course, which is what makes a project like Kelly’s so hard to look at.
(Photograph: Angela Kelly. Caption: Halloween Party, Rainbow House, 1991.)