Survivor. Guatemala highlands, 2012. From We Need to Talk © METTE LAMPCOV

Survivor. Guatemala highlands, 2012. From We Need to Talk © METTE LAMPCOV

Danish-born Mette Lampcov spent most of her childhood in Spain, later living in London, England before settling in her current home on the outskirts of Los Angeles. She has always had a strong interest in travel, culture and politics. With a fine arts background in painting and sculpture, she eventually realized that her true passion was photography. She began shooting her own work five years ago and has not turned back.

Shortly after arriving in L.A., Lampcov took an introduction to photography class at UCLA Extension. “This taught me the basics, and since then I’ve taken workshops with some incredible photographers that have been invaluable. You need a community.” Not long after finishing her first class, she dove into photography at the deep end, traveling to Cambodia and Thailand to begin her first project: We Need to Talk, about women survivors of gender-based violence.


Frustrated by cultural prejudices against women, where the focus is often on blaming victims rather than perpetrators, Lampcov wanted survivors to be seen for who they are ”” brave, strong and dignified women. She helps give these women a voice through her portraits. The project has grown into a significant annual journey; Lampcov visits at least one nation per year where she can meet with survivors. To date, in addition to Cambodia and Thailand, she has traveled to Guatemala, India and Morocco. Working through humanitarian NGOs (Non-governmental Organizations) and women’s rights activists, she arranges to meet women who want to talk and be photographed. It takes extensive planning and research to find the NGOs and activists who make good collaborators. The women know in advance that Lampcov is coming, and it is their choice to take part. She listens to them, inviting them to share their stories. If they agree, she shoots their portraits (usually with a 50mm lens) just as they wish to be seen, wearing what they choose to wear, often in their homes. She frames the portraits using only natural light, such as a door or a window.

One of these portraits, hanging in Lampcov’s home, is of a striking middle-aged Guatemalan woman staring directly at the camera. She wears colorful traditional dress, and her face displays a harsh life beyond her years. During the civil war against the Ixil people in the highlands, a paramilitary brigade came through her village, forcing her husband from their home and shooting him. They then burned down her house and gang raped her. Yet she has raised the daughter she gave birth to, whom Lampcov briefly met.

Lampcov wanted survivors to be seen for who they are ”” brave, strong and dignified women.

Lampcov’s photographs are intended to honor the survivors and encourage us to question attitudes towards women and violence. She says, “Learning their stories of strength and survival is what drives me to keep working on this project.” Ultimately she hopes that We Need to Talk will become a traveling exhibition.

While photographing survivors in India, …

Read More in Photographer’s Forum :: Winter 2015 / Vol. 38 / No. 1