Chance DeVille, Resilience, 2020

Today, one in four women and one in ten men in the US experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime, and growing evidence shows COVID-19 lockdown measures have led to a drastic increase in cases. What’s missing in these numbers are violence against nonbinary individuals (who are statistically most at risk) and the unreported cases—in reality, the numbers are far higher.

Chance DeVille is intimately aware of these numbers and the impact behind them. When DeVille was a child, their mother, Tammy, suffered physical and mental abuse by her ex-husband, David, leading to a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and severe PTSD. As Tammy went on to reject psychiatric treatment and struggled with substance abuse, her relationship with DeVille and their power dynamic as mother and child took a drastic turn. Now, years later, DeVille has set out to create a photographic examination of their mother and the long-lasting effects of David’s abuse on their family. “I started making this work with a frustration that a story like my mom’s was not out there,” DeVille recounts. “When I started studying photography, I found that this conversation wasn’t being held in that space either.”

Through careful photographs and ritual observation, DeVille weaves together collaborative images of their mother, self-portraits, and archival imagery. The resulting series, David’s Mark, speaks to the complex relationships between abuse, trauma, sexual desire, and mental health, while also acting as a vital space for reclamation and healing. DeVille describes the experience of photographing their mother as building a new relationship through the act of documenting: “The camera has given us a foundation to a relationship that would not have been there otherwise.”

Chance DeVille, Fingering David, Self Portrait, 2020

DeVille’s black-and-white and color photographs navigate between an almost painful, performative energy and moments of contemplative observation. In one image, leaves reflect in a car window, a haze of smoke swirling from the interior, covering Tammy in a physical manifestation of a dreamlike state. Throughout domestic interiors, a foreboding presence of clutter fills the frame, from a tangle of wires to overwhelming piles of clothes. One haunting image, an earlier self-portrait of DeVille referencing the sexual abuse they faced from David as a child, takes on new meaning when paired with an archival image found a year later, directly tying bodily trauma and repressed memories. DeVille, who is queer and nonbinary, sees an irrefutable connection between David’s acts and their own understanding of desire and attraction, and seeks self-portraiture as a way to “regain agency of [their] body, sexuality, and perception.”

Ultimately, DeVille wants their work to make an impact, but also to give light to the deep repercussions abuse has beyond its immediate action. “Trying to understand what makes a ‘good’ photograph is really difficult whenever it comes to displaying trauma. Studying and understanding the ethics, and my ethics, of photography through this work has been challenging,” DeVille reflects. “I hope my work shows that trauma is complicated and these complications are normal. Domestic abuse weaves its way into every aspect of someone’s life and creates ripple effects.”

Chance DeVille, Sometimes We Scream in Unison, 2020
Chance DeVille, Mom in a Dream, 2020
Chance DeVille, <em>Mom’s Room, Labyrinth III</em>, 2020″>
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Chance DeVille, Mom’s Room, Labyrinth III, 2020
Chance DeVille, <em>Labyrinth</em>, 2020″>
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Chance DeVille, Labyrinth, 2020
Chance DeVille, The Offering, 2020
Chance DeVille, Suspension, Self Portrait, 2020. All photographs from the series David’s Mark
Courtesy the artist

Chance DeVille (born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, 1994) is a nonbinary Southern-born and -raised artist, currently based in Providence, Rhode Island, where they attend the photography MFA program at the Rhode Island School of Design. Deville was named a Henry Wolf Scholar in spring 2020. They earned their BA at McNeese State University, Lake Charles, Louisiana, as a first-generation student. DeVille has exhibited all over the country, as well as internationally, and was recently a winner of the Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward competition and VSA Emerging Young Artists competition, as well as an honorable mention in Lenscratch’s Student Prize.

The Aperture Portfolio Prize is an annual international competition to discover, exhibit, and publish new talents in photography and highlight artists whose work deserves greater recognition.