THE BLOG

David Boni - Every Life is Extraordinary

15/01/2015 11:02 GMT | Updated 16/03/2015 09:59 GMT

Five years ago, "Lammy' was sexually assaulted in a tent at a festival. She was 16. The trauma haunted her at an age when she should have been care-free. She described the event in detail in a journal she wrote for the social network website www.pencourage.com. It ended with the words, "I had never been touched before and I felt dirty, stupid and guilty".

"Lammy"'s story and those of five other diarists from pencourage.com were highlighted at a one-day exhibition, Every Life is Extraordinary, by photographer David Boni at Hoxton Arches gallery in London this week. In it, each subject is pictured destroying an object that best symbolises their trauma.

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"Lammy" for example, was photographed (above) taking a flamethrower to a similar tent to the one in which she was assaulted.

"I was trying to get angry and trying to channel those feelings and it worked", she told me as we viewed the picture. "I feel like I won this time...before, I froze but this time I didn't. This time I was the aggressor. You kind of take from that situation and it makes you feel stronger. Now I don't feel like a victim."

The exhibition was Boni's own initiative.

"The basis of the idea was that these are real stories with deep, dark things they needed to address. We wanted it to be honest - there's little or no manipulation in these pictures. We wanted to capture a moment and give them the opportunity to vent genuinely."

Anonymity is an important feature of pencourage.com. The site was established to enable people to share their innermost thoughts and feelings secure in the knowledge that no personal details will ever be published unless the people concerned want them to be.

One of the site's founders, Peter Clayton, told me that research they commissioned suggested that three quarters of people who used social media sites like Facebook, for example, embellish the truth about themselves. Consequently, a gulf has arisen between what people say and what they actually think.

"Because so many people now do it, there is a new standard where because all of us are telling little white lies, they're not lies any more. If that's the way society is, that's the way it is. But it still builds a need to want to be able to express yourself and that's the need we hopefully can fill."

It is that honesty that Boni aimed to capture in Every Life is Extraordinary. His photographs are large in scale and theatrical, emblazoned with flames, smoke, smashed glass and wrought metal. There's great energy in the grinding, smashing, and banging inherent in all the destruction.

"Anon de Plume", as she calls herself, was driving a car that went out of control and overturned, killing her childhood friend. Despite there being no evidence of fault, nor any alcohol involved, she was consumed by guilt.

Submitting her story to the website and the subsequent support she received, proved cathartic. She wrote, "I had finally excised the demon that had held me captive for nearly thirty years. THIRTY YEARS! Since that night I travelled back to the City and I no longer watch the ground as I walk. I hold my head high. I look people in the eye. I smile. I engage. I AM BACK. I AM HAPPY."

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Boni pictured "Anon" taking an axe to the windscreen of the exact same model of car (above). He encouraged her to scream at the top of her voice. The energy of the scene is palpable.

David Boni is a much sought-after commercial photographer. He was responsible for the controversial Stranglers' "Giants" album cover in which the band members are seen hanging from nooses in a children's playground. He has worked for Nike, Manchester United, Wonderbra and countless other large concerns.

However, this was a dream job, he says, since the restraints demanded by commercial clients was missing, and he was able to give full vent to his artistry. What's more, to work with all manner of tools - flamethrowers, angle-grinders, chainsaws and the like - made the shoot fun. It was also one that absorbed him in a way that a commercial shoot could not.

"These were not people who had been brought in to play a part. These were real people and they were willing to expose their deepest emotions and worries and angst they'd had for years and let us illustrate and animate it and it was an honour and a privilege to be a part of that."

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For one subject, it was a shoot in more ways than one. "Scarlett" (above) got the chance to fire a shotgun with real ammunition at a bottle of Jack Daniels. In fact, she had several attempts before smashing it to smithereens. In the depths of an unhappy marriage, she had embarked a two-year affair with a work colleague who would never commit to her.

"The bottle of bourbon was the only gift that passed between us," she told me, in what she described as "never a lovey-dovey type of relationship." The photo-shoot "was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

"At the end I felt emotional but really good. The bottle, for what it was, represents so much - all your feelings and emotions, and to be able to smash it was....", she shakes her head at the satisfaction of it all.

Neglect, bereavement and life-threatening illness are the other themes of an exhibition that's inspiring in its bravery and sobering in its honesty. The organisers are currently looking for other galleries across the UK to show it.

The exhibition also marked the launch of a campaign called Destroy and Donate on the Pencourage website in which people are encouraged to photograph themselves destroying an object, big or small, important or trivial, that has resulted in some kind of emotional baggage.

In a similar way to the global ice-bucket challenge, participants can nominate friends to do the same. All donations will go to to the Ovarian Cancer Action charity.