New Girl Gang Series... Trigger Warning. by jenna madonia

So here’s the thing, it’s not just one sole event that happens that shapes and molds us. It’s multiple. It’s the days after a traumatic event. It’s the way people react to it. It’s our own thoughts controlling our actions and our feelings. It’s the months after. It’s the years after. It’s every. damn. day.

I’m pretty open about the sexual assault that was taken against me. On some part, yes, it is so that I get the support I need to survive the anniversaries or a panic attack or a nightmare resulting in a PTSD episode. However, the ultimate reason is to raise awareness. 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted at some point in their life. 1 IN 3! Let that sink in. Let it sink in that this is still a taboo issue. Let it sink in that this fucking happens every day. Let it sink in that our society immobilizes us to take action against our attackers. Let it sink in that this is something that changes you. It uproots you. It dehumanizes you. It degrades you. It makes you feel ashamed. It creates some major mental health issues within you.

So people may know that I was attacked, but many don’t know the circumstances. I worked on campus in the middle of the night. I’d either go in at 12-3, or 3-7 every other weekend. I had a “friend” who lived in the dorm next to where I worked. Every now and then I’d go and hang out with him and play video games before work. I remember Skyrim had just come out. I just wanted to play as a khajiit and be a badass mage. That didn’t last long. I’m not going to go into details because today is the anniversary and I’m trying to avoid a PTSD episode at all costs, but afterwards, I had to go to work. I sat there for four hours feeling disgusting. Feeling like I had just imagined what happened. How could he do that? He would never hurt me. He’s my friend. I’m just crazy. I must have deserved it.

I MUST HAVE DESERVED IT. I remember that thought being at the forefront of my head while I stared at the text book in front of me. After work, I walked back up to my dorm, threw my stuff on my bed, and went straight to the dorm showers. I must have sat there for at least four hours, fully clothed because I didn’t want to see my body after feeling so disgusting. I went back into my dorm room and just laid on the floor.

The key thing to note here is that I did not come forward until three days later. I didn’t even realize I had been raped until a friend of mine blatantly said, “Jenna, you were raped.” I had been trying to hide it. Trying to ignore that this ever happened. I just wanted to feel clean again. A series of events took place after this which I will also not go into.

So it happened. I think sometimes that the aftermath of it is almost worse than the actual event. A lot of people reacted poorly, and a lot of people ignored it. So much so that I eventually started to ignore it. I didn’t want it to be a thing. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life knowing that had happened. I didn’t want to have flashbacks to it. I just didn’t want it to be true. I started drinking. A lot.

It wasn’t until last year I really started dealing with it. Thankfully, I have friends and people around me that understand it and support me, and I them. This year, I took steps to get back into therapy to help me deal with this. I’m proud of myself for that.

A few years ago, I got the idea to do a sexual abuse series. When I have my nightmare, which is most prevalent in the entire month of March, I have to sit in the corner of my bed where it meets the corner of my room and cradle myself. I have a very hard time going back to sleep, but once I do, I usually wake up several times throughout the night afraid that I’m going to have the dream again. Most people know I adored my dog Jake. He was my rock when I got back from WKU. He used to wake me up when I’d have the dream by laying on me. He would stay with me throughout the night to make sure I was okay. When he was gone, I didn’t know what the fuck to do. This is one of the reasons I loved that dog and post about him frequently.

The point I’m trying to make here is that it’s not just the act that fucks you up. It’s everything else that comes after it also. It’s sitting in a shower fully clothed for hours trying to feel clean again. It’s being too afraid to leave your dorm room that you start missing class. It’s having to explain to people that don’t have any idea what happened that it did, in fact, happen and that’s why I’m having a panic attack right now. It’s waking up in the middle of the night to darkness but seeing your attackers face right there. It’s seeing his hands on your body. It’s seeing the bruises left behind and then having to curl up into a wall and try to make yourself realize that it’s not happening all over again, it’s just your brain.

I’ve always wanted to make this day better. I’ve wanted to do something that makes it a bit easier. I’ve always failed. Today however, I want to announce the next Girl Gang series. It’s called, “Warrior.” In this, I’m going to recreate these moments. For my own, I’ll either do photos of my fully clothed in the shower, or the aftermath of the nightmare. I haven’t quite decided yet. The point is to show that this is something we live with for the rest of our lives. It’s a fuck you to our attackers in that we are raising awareness that this happens, and this is damaging, but let’s get some m,ore resources and tools out there to help other survivors cope with it in positive ways… not by getting drunk all the time. or any other vices that many of us have taken part of to manage it. Let’s raise awareness that PTSD isn’t just about war vets. Let’s raise awareness that other women coming forward can feel safe and supported. Let’s make a change. Let’s make a fucking statement.

So with all that being said, any women who would be interested in this kind of thing, please, I encourage you to reach out to me. Even if you don’t want to be photographed. Even if you just need a friend who understands and can support you in your battle. Let me help you in any way I possibly can. I wished for someone to help me during that time. I don’t want anyone else in the world to wish for someone to care. I want to cultivate a strong community to be the voice for women who feel unheard. I want to be the platform for you to potentially grow and learn how to deal with this. Let me share your story so we can potentially help others and show our friends, family, and the members of our community that no matter what, we fight. We are warriors.


Girl Gang Fundraiser Show -- Thank you, Mosquito, Tall Squares, and Belushi Speed Ball! by jenna madonia

I’m awful with words. Seriously, nine times out of ten when I’m trying to explain something, it makes absolutely no sense. Here I go trying to explain the amazingness that last night was.

Last night we had the Girl Gang benefit show at The Care Less Lounge. I was incredibly nervous that something would happen and the show just wouldn’t happen or that only two people would show up. This project means more to me than I realized. It’s so many things wrapped into one. It’s healing from a difficult time in my life, it’s giving voices to the many powerful women that I know, it’s finally doing something for myself, and it’s a reason to wake up every day and get out of bed. Plus another 20 things. It’s big for me, ya’ll.

Not only do I suck at words, I am also an emotional person. For a long time, I didn’t think anyone really gave a shit about me or what I do. Even when I’d shoot a show, and the musicians would thank me, I never really believed it. Which is nothing against the amazing musicians in my life, it’s against myself and my inability to believe that I am worth a damn on most occasions.

I still feel like all of this is a dream. I feel like it’s just this awesome dream that I’m going to wake up from one day. Like I’m not really doing this. Like there’s no way I, Jenna Madonia, would be doing something like this. But I am. I’m doing it. Tomorrow is the last day of shooting for Girl Gang: Iconic. It’s weird. Surreal. I’ve been working so hard on this project, spending long days shooting, trying to tell myself that I can keep going and see this thing through to the end. It’s been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. And the part I love the most, is ending tomorrow. How weird is that? Step one is almost completed. I’m legitimately doing this and making progress. That’s pretty damn incredible. Especially if you know how much I struggle with motivational and self-worth issues.

I feel slightly embarrassed for crying so much last night, even if it was all happy tears. I have amazing musician friends who did a show for me and that means more to me than anyone could possibly know. At one point while Belushi was playing, I realized that this was not only a show for Girl Gang -- it was a show that everyone involved felt happy. They were beating the ever loving shit out of each other with wrapping paper and having a blast doing it. That was special for me. People kept telling me it was “my night.” But it wasn’t. It was everyone's night. It was all the Girl Gang women’s night, it was the bands night, it was the fans night. It was one incredible night too. I was overwhelmed with the fact that people think I’m worth a damn and even more so that what I do, is worth a damn.

I didn’t realize the impact a show would have on myself and those involved. I think last night is the best night of 2018 by far. My twin sister was there. She even got up on stage and talked about Girl Gang and thanking everyone who came. She was so embarrassed afterwards, but she has no idea how much that meant to me. I sure as hell wasn’t about to get up on that stage and talk to people I KNOW. She hardly knows half of them. I love you, twin’ems. That was something truly special to me.

Adam, of course, made me cry. That was the first cry of the night. He’s a very special person to me. One of my best friends and most favorite people. He’s always there for me. Him and Amy. I really don’t know what I’d do without them.

There’s just so much I want to say. I can’t seem to get it all out though. I think that’s how you know something is truly special to you. You can’t put that feeling into words. I definitely can’t.

I just know that I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who came, to the bands that played, to the venue, to the strangers that walked up and gave me money for Girl Gang, to the key players involved like Amy, to the fact that Jazzy joined Belushi on stage as their bassist, to Nik and Jordan for getting me shots of bourbon to try and help calm my nerves, to Amy for doing my makeup and making me feel pretty, to Elliot for running AMAZING sound, to Slash and Nancy from DCRG for coming, to Jordan jumping up on stage even though she was petrified,to the people that came up to me to tell me how important this project is to them even though they’re not directly involved in it, to Adam for being Adam, to Mosquito for always being incredible, to Belushi for making me drink Listernog and recording the entire night, to my parents for being supportive of me doing this, to every single person in that room last night.

You all made me feel like I’m worth a damn and that’s the best feeling I’ve ever experienced.

Editing takes TIME by jenna madonia

Okay. Let me rant a bit here.

I’m not a portrait photographer. I am a concert and live action photographer. This project is a personal challenge to see what all I can remember my great mentor, Clay Cook taught me a few years ago, as well as see what I can learn by myself. Being a self-taught photographer, I think it’s important to keep teaching and to learn more every day.

But let me tell you, I greatly underestimated the time it would take me to edit each photo. Not only because this is an entirely different lighting scenario, but also because I want to keep these portraits as accurate and genuine to the ladies in them. I want Jazzy’s Filipino skin to really come through in the photo, I want Katy’s “All the Girls to the Front” writing on her arms to really pop, and I want all the red to be perfect in Amelia’s portrait. Goodness, have I learned a lot in the last few weeks.

I expected to work on each photo for about an hour — given that’s half the time it takes me to edit a full set of live concert work. HA! Was I mistaken. Being a perfectionist who knows very little about editing portraits, it has taken me well over five hours to do three photos.

The good thing about this though is that I’m learning. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing, so I’ll take it. Now that I’ve ranted a bit, I can really look at everything I have learned. I have about a million notes scribbled down everywhere, YouTube videos I’ve watched about 100 times, and articles I frequently review.

I didn’t think this process would be so beautiful. I feel a sense of pride in myself for not backing down in spite of my fears regarding posing, lighting, and editing.

I persist.

More coming soon. :)

So WTF is it? by jenna madonia

A lot of you have been asking me questions about what exactly Girl Gang is. Well, the thing is that it makes total sense in my head, but I’m not the best at words, but here I go!

I have asked several women I know; friends, family, and acquaintances to stand in front of my camera and let me take their portrait. Here’s the kicker though — they have all chosen another women who has either inspired them, given them strength, taught them something valuable, is their hero or icon, et cetera. In each woman’s photo, they are using some element, whether it be clothing, make up, hair styling, props, writing things on their bodies with sharpies, whatever they want use to represent that woman. Then because I have to explain damn near everything I do, I have asked them all to write about that women and themselves.

It’s meant to symbolize unity but also individuality. It’s a connection with each other that we so desperately need right now. We need to cultivate this strong force of women empowerment happening in our society today. Let’s keep the movement strong and fierce, like we really all are.

I’m doing every portrait on the same white background, with the exact same lighting. The photos of each person’s handwritten testimonial will be on a black backdrop. I wish I could show you all some examples, but I have promised myself that these will all be released at once! Ya’ll will be the first to know when the release party is and where.

The whole concept behind Girl Gang is to inform, inspire, and connect. It started as a way for me to learn more about feminism. Hearing different perspectives about what feminism means and sharing that knowledge with the world. The concept of feminism is greatly askew, so I’ll let you know what it means to me.

Feminism is truth, equality, freedom, happiness, confidence, and art. It’s about ensuring that our world and it’s inhabitants are free to be themselves, express themselves, and make their own choices. It’s about a timeless act of self-love and acceptance. A new world to some. A world foreign to many. It opened many doors for me when I didn’t even see a door in sight.

Personally, feminism saved me. It gave me strength, courage, and taught me that perseverance is key. Nevertheless, I persisted. We persisted. We will persist. We persist. We are the future, ladies.

Girl Gang: A New Journey by jenna madonia

It was a busy day for me. I was working on several jobs that needed to be done as soon as possible when I took a break. I often listen to music on breaks/while I’m not doing my “real job.” All of a sudden, I got an idea while listening to Brody Dalle’s, “Carry On,” off the Diploid Love album.

This year has been rather tough for me. I say that but I think about all the other years — they’ve all been tough. That’s what life is though! You gotta roll with the punches. Diploid Love has been the album of the year for me, really. So when Carry On inspired me to do this project, it made perfect sense.

Feminism, photography, and music saved me after a very dark time in my life. I wanted to do something that embodied all three of those. I wanted a project I could sink into and almost become, in a way. Thus Girl Gang transpired.

I immediately texted my best friend Amy, and looked over at my twin sister and told them the idea for this particular project. They gave me the belief that it was actually a good idea and could be really big for the women involved as well as those who view the project. I have lots of ideas for photo projects/books. It’s tough for me to actually start and accomplish them because I suffer from PTSD and depression. The fact that I’ve already shot a bit for this project is huge. I’m incredibly grateful to my supporters. You all have really lead me to believe I can do this.

The point of taking portraits of women who have incorporated something from another woman they admire is to say, “Hey, we are powerful together. We are strong. We do amazing things everyday.” I want this project to be big for those involved and those who see my finished project. I want us to come together. Today’s political climate is a scary one. One where women are treated poorly and made into objects. WE ARE NOT OBJECTS. We are beautiful. We are fighters, survivors, musicians, photographers, writers, gamers, videographers, sewing experts, roller derby players, students, moms, sisters, aunts, coffee lovers — We are US. Fierce, adaptable, loving humans who just want to be heard.

This is my way of giving us a voice. This is my way of giving women the right to be heard.

Day One by jenna madonia

What can I say about day one of shooting? It was INCREDIBLE. I woke up at 7:45 a.m. to be on location by 9:00 a.m. I am not a morning person whatsoever. Good thing I have to amazing Amy to prepare coffee and breakfast for me once I get to the location!

My first shoot was at 11:30 with Amelia, who chose Margaret Cho. How inspiring, right? Just hearing her talk about Margaret was fulfilling enough. I could really understand Amelia’s connection to Cho, which is the point for me. I want to be able to connect with everyone involved with this project and truly understand them. Having Amelia be my first shoot was the perfect outcome. My nerves were on edge while I waited for her to get to the location but once I started shooting and heard her talking about Margaret, I felt like I was home. I forgot my nerves, my doubts, my insecurities in myself as a photographer, and I just did the thing. How incredible is that? This is exactly why I shoot.

Next up I had Jasmine who chose her mom. I identified with her immediately as she told me why she chose her mom and the pills on her arm. I’ll let her tell her own story, but I related due to the fact that my mother too has to take lots of pills due to two forms of cancer and heart troubles. What an awesome idea! I looked back at her photo today and it filled my eyes with tears. What a brilliant, unique, original idea this is. I can’t wait for you guys to see her portrait. Anyone with a parent who suffers and is constantly taking pills can relate to her image. Beautiful.

Katy Miller, my roller derby wife and constant cheerleader was next. This woman has been a constant inspiration to me since I met her almost two years ago. I remember skating with her at practice one night and her asking me what all I did outside of photography, since I have not yet been able to completely quit my job and do photography full time. She went on to discuss several things with me about being me apologetically, that I can and will make it happen for myself, and that she’s there with me every step of the way. She, of course, was the third person I told this idea to. I can’t even put into words how much this woman means to me. She chose Kathleen Hanna. What a perfect choice for her too! It was amazing to me because I was able to connect even more to Katy through this image and her story of just why she chose Kathleen. It’s amazing the things we can learn about those around us that we feel we already know so much about. If I wasn’t doing my photo on Brody Dalle, I would’ve chosen Katy, if that tells you anything about this incredible woman!

At one point, I had Amelia, Jasmine, and Katy there all at the same time. We all sat talking about the project and the women we chose. That was the most memorable experience from the day. It is exactly what I hope to come from the book, but there, right there in front of me happening. They get it. They understand even more than I thought that they did. I’ll never forget that moment and I’m so glad Amy was able to capture it in a bit of video. It’ll definitely be a cherished memory for the rest of my life.

Maybe one of the other memorable moments was just me, shooting. Doing the thing. Actually working on the idea that I had and not worrying about every little thing while I’m shooting. Shooting is definitely my happy place. I know that but I still get so nervous beforehand. I did it though. When I was leaving for the day, Amy gave me a hug and said, “You did it!” That brought yet more tears to my eyes as I drove home ecstatic for what I had just accomplished.

The best thing is, this journey is only just beginning. I can’t wait for the final outcome of what I am to learn about myself, and the women around me. Girl Gang forever!