"I AM BEN"
A Potrait Series by Troy Schooneman
“I Am Ben” is a series of four portraits that reflects upon the renaissance of the human spirit following childhood trauma caused by bullying and psychological abuse. Specifically, the portrait subject of the series is a 20-year-old man from the United Kingdom who was regularly taunted, beaten and bullied during his formative years in rural England simply because he was born with red hair and a pale complexion. Ben recounted to me how he was frequently taunted and, on occasion, even spat at while walking to and from school – all because he looked different from the other children. The scars of this childhood bullying ran deep and it took Ben many years before he was able to regain his self-confidence.
Anyone who has been the subject of bullying understands all too well the sense of despair that often descends into a frightening hopelessness and lack of self-confidence. Many young people who are bullied become withdrawn from their peers and from their family - and thus often experience a deep sense of loneliness and isolation, unable to talk about the source of their sadness.
My aim with these portraits was first to show Ben his unique beauty by accentuating the very things that caused him to be taunted – his red hair and pale complexion. I then asked Ben to recall the range of emotions that he experienced both during and after his childhood ordeal – from confusion, isolation, despair and ultimately self-acceptance. “I Am Ben” aims to celebrate the beauty of human diversity and shows us that, despite trauma, the human spirit is capable of great strength and, ultimately, of renaissance.
Interestingly, Ben is now a primary school teacher. He works hard to instill in his pupils a sense of self-confidence and self-worth and teaches them the importance of, and indeed, to celebrate, human diversity in all of its many manifestations.