Rennio Maifredi: If you knew me you would care
If You Knew Me You Would Care is a collection of personal stories and portraits that come together to tell a powerful tale not only of survival, but also of life regained and the strength of the human spirit.
Published by powerHouse Books New York, the stories in If You Knew Me You Would Care are from women who have survived the most horrific experiences that come as a result of conflict, violence, and poverty in places such as war-torn Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Author Zainab Salbi is a women's rights activist and founder of Women for Women International, an organization that provides tools and resources to women survivors of conflict and poverty. In the book each written story is juxtaposed with a portrait of the storyteller taken by Italian photographer Rennio Maifredi. Known largely for his work in fashion, Maifredi’s portraiture also has a distinct style. These portraits are striking. Shot on a white background and composed tightly, there is no other place to look than at each woman’s gaze. With this book Salbi’s premise to “create a compelling, global, first-person account of what it means to be a powerful, female survivor” is realized.
"The women in this book are an inspiration to all of us who aspire to triumph over adversity. It is a personal peek at the most intimate stories as told by women who have survived war. It is a tribute to them, to their survival, their achievements, and their dreams. I hope people everywhere will take away the powerful message of survival this book inspires," said Salbi.
With forewords by four iconic, contemporary women - Meryl Streep, Annie Lennox, Ashley Judd and Geena Davis - If You Knew Me You Would Care, invites us into the lives of these strangers who are scattered around the world. As I read, the tragic circumstances that have brought these faces to these pages almost become secondary to the courage, hope, faith and resilience of these women. By the time I reach the end of this book, these women are no longer anonymous victims and the sentiment behind the book’s title is obvious.
While reading the stories – there are more than 60 women featured - I often felt compelled to refer back to the portrait so I could look at the woman who was sharing these distressing, and intimate details of her life. In these portraits I saw boldness, pride, openness and a determination to survive. In the book Meryl Streep said of the photographs by Maifredi, that “The sitter is not robbed of her soul; she has expanded it out into the larger world, where we who are lucky to lock eyes with her, have the privilege to pay attention, give respect, and connect”.
Maifredi said, “It is my hope that you see what I saw in the women’s eyes…Sometimes all we need to do is to listen in silence to what women are communicating to the world. It is with that attitude and with the spirit of utmost respect and profound appreciation for who they are that I took their portraits”.
Salbi’s intention with the interviews was “to look past that person’s victimhood and see their personhood,” and she has achieved this with stories told in the first person that are frank, at times frightening and ultimately uplifting, if only by the sheer determination of the victim to refute that label. These are the stories of women who were given into marriage to settle debts, one only six years old at the time; of women who have been betrayed by husbands, beaten by family members, and left at death’s door by marauders. These are the stories of women who are innocent bystanders, and casualties of war, and their stories remind us that there are countless other women who are not seen or heard.
In closing using the words of Geena Davis, “Looking at these photographs, reading these women’s words, hearing their powerfully moving stories, one realization blazes brightest: these extraordinary women are not merely survivors of the unfathomable cruelties...they are flourishing”.
If You Knew Me You Would Care
Written by Zainab Salbi
Photographs by Rennio Maifredi
Hardcover, 10.25 x 15.125 inches
62 four-color photographs