When Brock Turner, the rapist involved in the Stanford assault case, was released early after three months in jail, a flurry of reactions exploded online and in conversations around the world. One college student’s response has recently gone viral, attracting the attention of social media users and major media outlets. Yana Mazurkevich, a junior at Ithaca College, created a photo series titled “It Happens.” Partnered with the organization Current Solutions, the series consists of nine images paired with anonymous testimonies from victims. The project aims to spread awareness and show that sexual assault “can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime, without warning and without reason.” I spoke with the artist to learn more about the project.
The series began as the final project of an Introduction to Photography class. For the assignment, students were given freedom to choose their own subject matter. “I wanted to go outside of my comfort zone and tackle a subject that isn’t done a lot,” Mazurkevich explained. As a survivor of sexual assault herself, her own experience and the experiences her friends faced with sexual assault and harassment inspired her to create her first photo series titled “Dear Brock Turner.” The project shed light on the way society treats sexual assault victims through six images of women holding common victim blaming phrases while arms wrap around and silence them, accented by vibrant colored powder. Mazurkevibh wasn’t satisfied, however, disappointed by the lack of diversity in her first series.
Her desire for more diversity led her to create “It Happens.” Though statistically the majority of sexual assault victims are female, the truth is that sexual assault happens to people of all backgrounds. Mazurkevich wanted to address this by including a diverse group of subjects from different genders, race, and sexual orientation. She also specifically avoided depicting stereotypes of certain races being perpetrators. The anonymous victim testimonies additionally reflect the variation in which sexual assault can manifest.
“It Happens” is much more raw and real look at sexual assault. “It’s a lot more in your face, showing you how sexual assault happens and the fact that it does happen,” Mazurkevich expressed. “I didn’t want to fake anything, I didn’t want to make it look comfortable. I wanted to depict it in the ugly way that it does happen.”
The images were shot around a college campus in common places. With the same specific lighting from one angle for every picture and minimal editing on Photoshop, the pictures are real and organic. The prominent words in different colors create the feeling of a PSA. While Mazurkevich wanted to differentiate each image from one another, she still wanted to include one thing that tied all the images together. All of the pictures were shot from the view of a bystander, featuring the subject looking directly into the camera. “As an artist what I chose to do, and what I love doing, is using the gaze of the subject. It’s very confrontational and intimate between the subject and the viewer.”
In the future, Mazurkevich sees herself continuing to push herself and photograph subjects that aren’t typically seen as beautiful. She would love to travel and explore photojournalism, photographing what people see on a daily basis, and working on different societal issues like race and homelessness. “For now sexual assault will probably not be on my plate,” Mazurkevich said. The outpour of messages and stories from survivors since the project went viral has been an overwhelming experience, but sexual assault remains an issue Mazurkevich is passionate about.
To view the “It Happens” photo series, visit Current Solution’s Facebook page or their website at currentsolutions.co. (CONTENT WARNING: Images may be triggering to survivors.) To learn more about the artist, visit her website at http://www.yanamazurkevich.com/.