Judy Starkman – The Laura Project
“May 24, 2008. My dear friend, Laura Sharpe, fell out of the sky. The helicopter she was traveling in carried six people and unexplainably crashed to the ground, instantly killing three of the six on board. To say that it is a miracle that Laura lived, is an understatement. Laura, whose body was totally shattered and engulfed in flames was pulled from the wreckage by her hair.
Laura spent three months in the hospital – two in a coma. Every bone was broken. She suffered burns on forty percent of her body. There were several times she almost didn’t make it. As a photographer and filmmaker, my automatic instinct is to document the moment. And, from the moment I saw Laura lying in the hospital bed, hooked up to machines, I knew I wanted to photograph her. Not for me, but for her. I wanted to do something for her. Documenting her journey, whatever it was going to be, would be a healing gift for her. I may not be able to fix her broken bones, but I was going to do everything in my power to lift her spirits.
Laura never asked ‘why me’ instead, she set her sights on creating meaning and understanding of her tragedy. Part of her healing was to let me photograph and document her emotional, physical and mental recovery in a series of conceptual photographs and a short film. If you were to look at Laura today, you would have no idea what she’s been through. You don’t see the 45 broken bones, the burns that cover 40% of her body. You don’t see her detached retina, the deep wounds and scars across her body and mind. You don’t see the skin grafts and you don’t see a woman who struggled to save her foot from amputation with a risky surgery. And, still cannot walk properly nearly three years later. Instead, you see a beautiful woman, who walks with a limp and mostly needs a wheel chair. Her drive to retain her former self, is a testament of her endurance and courage. From that profound experience of opening herself up to the lens, she began to process and accept her life. She wanted to help others do the same, and so we started a foundation that would help others who have experienced profound tragedy heal through art: Together, we have started The Laura Project.
The Laura project is a not for profit organization that brings together individuals who have suffered extreme trauma in their life and pairs them with an artists who help them heal by creatively interpreting their experiences through art.
The medium can be photography, painting, video, sculpture, music, pottery, and so on. Through the process of exploring the often confusing feelings of suffering a trauma in a creative manner with a professional artist, the individual can begin to experience great feelings of peace, understanding and meaning that help replace the sense of loss, confusion and isolation many trauma sufferers experience. This takes the concept of so-called ‘art therapy’ a step further. It allows the trauma patient, who may not possess an inherent artistic ability, to produce quality works of art which will draw upon their deeply felt experiences of hurt and healing. We focus on creativity and do not intend to take the place of a professional psychological therapist.”
I found Judy Starkman’s project on the National Geographic’s Photography Contest 2010 and I was very impressed by her entry. I wrote her, she wrote me back and told me that’s very important to share Laura’s experience. Laura would like to run a foundation soon that pairs artists with level one trauma patients because the experience of creating art from tragedy helped her so much. There is a great short-movie on her website that you have to watch, it’s shot and edited for their foundation. You can find it in the Video section. Good luck, Laura and Judy!