How an assault has impacted my work

Seven years ago, the 4th january 2014 to be precise, I was assaulted.
At that time, I was working on a photographic series for which I was taking pictures of myself each day, in order to create a real-fake every day life.
On the 4th january 2014, I wasn’t really inspired. During some shopping I had taken a photograph that wasn’t really good. So I’d told myself that I was going to take an other photo, in a street, on my way back home.
And that’s what I’ve done.

On my way back, I felt, deep down, that something was wrong.
I saw someone on the opposite pavement who was a bit “strange”.
So I quickly put my camera back in my bag and started to walk.
Well…unfortunately not for long : the person who was on the opposite pavement had crossed the road and stood in front of me.
He then asked me to give him my camera. I said no.
Believe it or not, I said it without really thinking.
This person was blocking my way. I couldn’t keep on walking, I was stuck.
I was more than petrified, I tried to scream but only inaudible sounds could come out of my mouth. One of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt in my life. People always think this only happens in movies, but it really happens in real life too.
Without knowing why, I pushed this person.
He barely took a step back, certainly because I’m really not a strong person. Then, certainly angry at me because of what I’d just done, he punched me in the face. That almost knocked me out for a few seconds.
But I managed to run away.

Selfportrait, Pauline Le Pichon, 11 janvier 2014

It happened seven years ago, but just telling you about this assault makes me uncomfortable. It’s even the second time that I write this article.
Yet, right after it happened, I thought I’d be able to stop thinking about it. That it would be a bad memory that would gradually fade away.
Besides, for some people, it wasn’t a serious assault.
I don’t think anyone should judge that.
All assaults are serious and traumatic.

And I wouldn’t wish anyone to feel what I felt at this moment.

Therefore you understand that if I decided to write about it,
it’s because its memory has always remained there in the back of my mind.
It has impacted a lot of things in my personal life, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.
In fact, what I want to say is that this assault also had an impact on my work.

I’ve always been a suspicious person. My parents always told me to be wary because there are mean and crazy people everywhere.
I was raised with that thought in my mind.
And this assault made me even more suspicious.
As a woman, I’m already very suspicious. I’ve already been a victim of street harassment dozens of times. I often get scared when I come home alone at night. Especially when I hear very scary things said by some guys.
But here I’m talking about another mistrust.
The assault I lived was linked to a theft : the person wanted to steal my camera. And for seven years now, as soon as I walk with my camera or my computer in my bag, I’m afraid.
For example, few months ago, I took some photos of a musician at the beach. To avoid the influx of people, we decided to go there very very early in the morning. So I had to meet him somewhere.
And just the thought of having to walk down the streets with my camera in my bag, and knowing that I could run into anyone (with very few witnesses since it was very early in the morning), made me feel anxious for a few days.
I know that it’s a completely irrational fear since I never use a photography bag. And therefore, nobody would normally know that I have (or don’t have) valuables in my bag. But I’m always scared, I can’t help it.
Besides, last year I bought a second hand fujifilm camera. Of course, I bought it because I knew its potential but I was also very happy to have a very small camera. And every time I use it, I keep telling myself that I’m happy to have a camera that I can easily put in my hand bag without anyone knowing.
Can you see how silly are my thoughts ?
And this mistrust is also present during the photoshoot.
To tell you the truth, the fact that I was assaulted while I was working on a series where I had to photograph myself every day, made me unsure about this work. It had completely upset me. For a few days, I didn’t want to continue because I was really confused and I knew that what I’d just lived was going to limit me. In the end, I continued this series for a few months more but I always took into account what had happened: I always paid attention to the places where I took my camera out. I thought about it in advance, and when I wanted to make images outside, I did them as quickly as possible.
And seven years later, if I have to take photographs outside, I continue to be very suspicious. Even when I take photographs of a model, as soon as someone gets close to us, I can’t help but keep an eye on him/her.
Even though it would obviously bother me a lot if someone stole my stuff (given my bank account, I can’t buy a new camera or a new computer… !),
it’s mostly the thought of reliving an assault that makes me completely anxious. The idea of feeling trapped again.
Mistrust and control took a huge place in my life while all I wanted was to ignore this assault.
When I think about it, I know that this guy broke a part of me.
Sometimes I think that the assault isn’t the worst part, the worst is what it had definitely change in my life.

In my last article, focused on my artistic favourites of 2020, I talked about Elsa Bleda’s superb night-time images. Personally, I’ve wanted to take photos at night for years, but with the world we live in, I never dared to do so.
And when I see her work, I find it beautiful but also very brave.

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As I wrote this article, I knew that this assault had also impacted my work
in a “good” way, but it took me more time to explain why.

When I’ve been assaulted, some people immediately suggested me to exploit what I’d just lived. To do something with it in my work. I’ve already talk about that in a previous article. At the time it happened, I didn’t want to do something with it because all I wanted was to move on at all costs.
I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.
But in the end I’ve never been able to forget it. And a few years later, as it continued to haunt me on a regular basis, I chose to work with it / work on it.

With a little more hindsight, I wouldn’t say that this work has been therapeutic. It doesn’t prevent me from no longer being afraid.
But it allowed me to push my limits in my work.
Of course, I wish this assault had never happened to me.
Who would want that ? I would have preferred to live forever without knowing what it feels to be attacked, trapped, and petrified.
But instead of always being haunted by it, I’m glad I managed to use something that hurt me to make something that makes me feel good.
My works deals a lot with the question of appearances, of the idea of manipulating them. Therefore there’s a lot of fictions in it, but when I talk about my aggression (even in the form of fiction), it allows me to take a step forward. To create the most personal work I’ve ever done. As if I was confident enough now, to express my trauma publicly.
I‘ll never be able to erase what happened but I’ve been able to use it to move forward.

But I don’t want to talk about it constantly in my work.
Of course, it’s part of it, as it’s part of me, and part of my life, but that’s all.
I have to move on (and it takes me a lot of work (and a lot of time) on myself to do that) because I think that the trap is to let oneself be attracted by the traumatic events that one has lived and to constantly refer to them.
It’s up to each of us, but I think (this is only my opinion) that it’s not good to do this, to spend our time going over these events over and over again.
We need to move on, even if it takes time.