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‘Sundays After’: Portraits of resilience in the wake of clergy abuse

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“Both of you have been an instrumental part of the healing, taking something painful and turning it into something beautiful.”

— Dorothy Small, clergy abuse survivor

Maye-E Wong’s idea was to find a new way to tell the stories of those who suffered from clergy abuse – a way that emphasized that they were survivors, not victims.

Her plan: She would photograph them with a Polaroid camera, then soak the prints and release the thin fragile membranes that held the images. Those would then be pasted on watercolor paper. The images were imperfect – wrinkled and distressed – but they endure, a metaphor for the survivors they portrayed.

With the support of a grant from the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Howard G. Buffett Fund For Women Journalists, AP’s Wong, a New York-based global enterprise photographer, and Washington-based reporter Juliet Linderman traveled the country to interview and photograph survivors, spending days with them and listening to their stories. Digital storytelling producer Natalie Castaneda and global news and enterprise news editor Raghuram Vadarevu wove their work into a stunning web presentation: “Sundays After,” including Wong’s Polaroids,her no-less-compelling digital photos, Linderman’s immersive stories and audio clips in the survivors’ own words.

The story received 22,000 pageviews and 166 customer uses,including Yahoo,and in its first day and a half there were more than 20,500 views of the explainer video on the AP News Instagram IGTV feed – an AP record. Marjorie Miller,vice president for global news and enterprise wrote: “What a tremendous, exciting and deep piece of work.”

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From left, AP global enterprise photographer Maye-E Wong shows a Polaroid portrait to subject Patrick Shepard in Wylie, Texas; Wong soaks a Polaroid print and separates the delicate emulsion layer; and reporter Juliet Linderman, at left in photo at right, speaks with abuse survivor Francine Soli in Walhalla, N.D. – AP Photos / Wong Maye-E and Juliet Linderman

Dorothy Small,one of those depicted,thanked Wong and Linderman for what she called an early Christmas present: “The both of you have been an instrumental part of the healing,taking something painful and turning it into something beautiful,” she wrote. “I truly hope it encourages other adults out there to find their voice and empowers them to step forward telling their stories.”

For an arresting package of inspired photography and sensitive,insightful reporting, Wong and Linderman receive this week’s Best of the States award.

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