Linda Forsell is an award-winning photojournalist who, for the past five years, has worked extensively with women’s issues all over the world. During 2014, Linda travelled to Guatemala to document the harsh realities faced by young girls having children. In a country with strict abortion laws, 5100 girls between the ages of 10-14, gave birth as a result of rape in 2013. ‘Children Having Children’ is an important body of work based on the unerring belief in the necessity to tell the stories of these girls.
Congratulations on the recent diploma you received from the Norwegian International Reporter organization for your story Children having Children. This is such a powerful series. How did it come about?
I had been working on issues concerning violence against women for two years in a previous project when I found out about this story through a colleague. At that time I was feeling slightly frustrated by the fact that violence against women is often difficult to depict. It is almost impossible to be there at the time of the event and there are rarely visible scars that echo the extent of the abuse. When I heard about the situation of the young girls in Guatemala I felt that this was a story that would make it possible to visualise violence against women. It would also touch the root of gender inequality at the same time as highlighting the girls’ specific situation. So I decided to attempt to pursue it.
While working on Children having Children did you adapt your way of working in any way?
I wanted to work in a slower manner while still retaining some flexibility, so I decided to work with a a digital medium format camera. Also, I wanted to allow the story to flow freely within a certain framework, which is why I didn’t commit to a particular visual language until after my second trip to Guatemala.
This is a intimate documentary subject. How difficult was it for you to gain access?
It was difficult and it would have been impossible without the help of several local organisations that have put their heart and soul into women’s rights. They shared their knowledge about the culture and society as well as their trust with these girls. This let me in through the door. But since many of these girls are scarred on the inside as much as on the outside, the truly difficult part was to get past the mental wall that they have built to defend themselves. Many of them are very closed off and it is difficult for them to let anyone in. Some are also very poor and feel a strong distrust towards all sorts of authorities and initially believed me to have some hidden agenda. In the end time was key, to spend longer periods of time with them.
A lot of people would say this is a difficult issue, how did you deal with it emotionally?
This is a very difficult and strenuous subject to work with and the solution for me has been to attempt to counter the bad with equal amounts of good. I don’t mind working with atrocious subjects as they give me strength and it feels meaningful. I do try to fill my life with other things as well, positive experiences that balance the scale. When I’ve failed to do that, I’ve felt pretty down.
We often ask photojournalists what drives them. What drives you?
Curiosity and an eagerness to understand people and societies is one reason. It is important to tell visual stories and narratives that interest me. I also hope to plant a seed in the minds of the people who see my photos and to awaken a line of thought that they previously didn’t have.
How much power do you believe photojournalists have when it comes to making change happen?
I believe photojournalism is significant as it documents what is going on in the world. It serves a purpose purely as a way of recording history, in raising current important issues and in uniting public opinion. But I also think that photojournalism plays no greater role than many other things. Occasionally it can make an instant change, but most of the time it is one piece of a very big puzzle that can contribute to make a positive change.
The organisation OSAR (Observatorio en Salud Sexual y Reproductiva) helped you to realise this project. Last year they were instrumental in changing the law in Guatemala on the age of marriage. This goes some way in protecting young girls from abuse at the hands of older men. What are the next steps to be taken in your view?
To protect the vulnerable against sexual abuse, some big steps need to be taken to enforce laws that are already in place. This will be difficult as it requires challenging deeply rooted cultural values. One important factor to make this happen is to have mandatory sexual education in school and to teach children that women have equal value as men.
You have a varied body of work, what do you consider to be the common thread running through it?
This is a difficult question but I have always wanted to try to take the viewer as close to the person in the photo as possible. In other words, to make you feel “that could be me” and not as though it’s someone very far away. As a documentary photographer I have always felt more strongly about structural issues rather than instant events. With regards to visual language, I think someone else is probably better suited to try and figure out the common thread. All I know is that I try to choose a visual language that I think is right for the story.
You’ve just embarked on a five year medical degree, focusing on reproductive health. Can we expect to see any more documentary work in the future?
I have far from decided my specialty yet, but reproductive health is definitely high on my list. And yes, I definitely plan to continue with photography. Maybe not at the same rate as at the moment and possibly with a slightly different approach. I feel more inspired than ever now to work on photographic projects.
View more of Linda‘s work here:
And the website of her previous long project: “Cause of Death: Woman“