“On Abortion” by Laia Abril begins with cuttings from a 19th-century press. The offers include Mrs. Birds, offers female ‘renewing’ pills from Germany, available on Duane Street. Also appears Mrs. Restell, a New York abortionist who performed surgery with her husband on the corner of Fifth Avenue between 1840 and 1850. By the way, the second one made a lot of money from illegal business and is still mentioned in tourist guides as a city attraction. Abril’s photobook ends up with slightly less elegant, colorful business cards that guarantee women a natural delay in menstruation.
Laia Abril graduated with a degree in journalism in Barcelona, then studied photography at the International Center of Photography in New York. She has published six photobooks, including the famous – The Epilogue by Dewi Lewis that tells a story of a 26-year-old woman who died of bulimia. Abril didn’t get a camera from her grandfather as a child but rather wanted to become a private investigator. I am mentioning it because On Abortion, which is the first chapter of a long-term project called A History of Misogyny, is a photobook, as is Monsanto by Mathieu Asselin or Negative Publicity by Edmund Clark and Crofton Black, which shakes up the trend of photobooks for which photography is not enough to visualize the problem, and as a result, we have a book where we get direct access to case files, documents or archival photos.
For no particular reason, Abril’s book seems to be completely omitted in Poland. However, it is striking, primarily in terms of its structure. Divided into three chapters, it allows us to go through the photos of devices that were used for abortion two centuries ago, and then ruthlessly take us to the stories of women after abortion. It ends with the dramatic cases of people who have been accused of murder, or women who, due to an abortion attempt were abused mentally and physically.
Giving a voice to women, the author avoids all moralizing nonsense but makes it clear through their stories, overwhelmingly contrasting black and white photos and graphic treatments, in which the image hides a text describing do-it-yourself ways to get rid of the fetus, that abortion is far from everyday, trivial decisions, but remains that it is an extremely difficult and traumatic choice.
Back then, the problems facing women trying to control their reproduction were medical and technological. Now we live in a technological age and the problems women face are linked to politics and religion. But in many countries, where abortion is still illegal, they have to resort to life-threatening procedures. So for them, nothing has changed.
The women in Abril’s book are not victims of abortion but are victims of a system that does not give them a basic sense of security, as is clearly shown in the staged photo entitled Hippocratic Betrayal of a 19-year-old Brazilian who was hospitalized with severe abdominal pain after taking an illegal abortion pill. After recovery, the doctor called the police, announcing that he would perform a fetal autopsy if the girl did not confess to having an abortion. She was confined to the bed and only released on a deposit of £ 200.
In her long-term project A History of Misogyny, she also devotes space to the history of women’s rights and the culture of rape at the same time firmly pointing:
I’m not an activist. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind or fix the situation because I don’t have the power to do that. But maybe I do have the power to shed some light on the stories that we don’t think about or that don’t get the same audience that I’m reaching.
On Abortion gives the viewer something that, although it is a two-dimensional image, does not allow him to assume a passive attitude, and at the same time does not create an infantile fight for better and worse arguments. Abril’s book is simply a photograph that reacts and forces you to confront a topic that cannot be escaped.
Materials courtesy of Dewi Lewis Publishing.
Author: Laia Abril
Title: On Abortion: And the Repercussions of Lack of Access
Place of publication: Manchester
Date of publication: January 2018
Author of photographs: Laia Abril
Author of the text: Laia Abril
Graphic design: Laia Abril, Ramon Pez
Publisher: Dewi Lewis Publishing
Number of pages: 196
Format: 24.5 x 18.8 cm
Printing technique: offset