To Amy Martin Friedman, shoes hold immense symbolic weight. A pair of shoes can be an expression of independence, an indulgence, and a source of confidence. Shoes can symbolize a difficult journey or a struggle. The putting on of shoes can represent one’s resolve to take a step.
In an effort to use art to raise awareness of domestic violence, Martin Friedman decided to photograph women in their favorite pair of shoes. Over the last six years, her project “A Day in My Shoes”
has raised $400,000, hosted 17 gallery showings, and featured almost 700 women.
This month, the San Francisco-based photographer is taking her fundraising project and photography talent to Pittsburgh. The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office will be a sponsor for the project; this iteration of “A Day in My Shoes” will benefit the Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. The gallery show of the project’s Pittsburgh photo session will take place in October—Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While the project typically benefits organizations that support survivors of domestic violence, all women can participate in “A Day in My Shoes.”
The anonymity of the women in the project places Martin Friedman in the unique position of the listener. Relating to participating women “is huge,” she says. “I’ve had people tell me things that other people will never know. I kind of am the keeper [of these stories].” Her ability to connect with participating women and their stories is deepened by the fact she experienced abuse in her first marriage.
While the project creates a safe platform for the sharing of painful stories, its primary goal is to forge a connection with viewers and create a message of hope. “I want people to get a really good silver lining at the end of this. I want them to feel empowered and compelled,” Martin Friedman says.
Participating women pay $675 to be photographed. After prints are displayed in a gallery show, women receive the 16x20 canvas of their special photograph. For each city that hosts "A Day in My Shoes," Martin Friedman compiles a book of the photographs and the accompanying reflections on empowerment written by participating women. The participation fees and proceeds from the book benefit a women’s shelter in the host city.
Due to the high cost of participation, organizations and other women often sponsor those who want to take part in the project but are unable to pay the pricey fee. In addition to the women who pay to participate, Martin Friedman sponsors five women from a local women’s shelter.
Throughout the last six years, Martin Friedman has provided many women with the space for sharing trials, struggles, and pain. While the process gives women a chance to be vulnerable before a stranger, the project has also given Martin Friedman the opportunity to develop tools in advocacy. “I might have become stronger for them. I’m not that girl that I was even six years ago. I can actually find resources.”
Moreover, the project has raised awareness around intimate partner violence by inspiring participating women to engage in advocacy. “That’s the coolest part. When I get women that are paying to participate, they end up joining committees to help the shelters. Some good friends of mine say, ‘I want to be an advocate.’”
As a mother of two young sons, Martin Friedman notes that “A Day in My Shoes” helps her to create a space for discussing domestic violence with her boys.
“If you interview them, they will say, ‘We know our mommy does this. Mommy does this because she wants to help women,’” Martin Friedman says of her sons.
Thus, she understands her advocacy as multifaceted. It not only influences her approach to art; advocacy shapes her approach to motherhood. “[My sons] need to understand how to treat women. And that is the example that has been set,” she says.
The photo shoots are taking place June 10 to June 17.