PATERSON, NJ - With the recent swearing ins of a record number of women in the United States Congress, as well as last week’s  soft launch of local non-profit SheCaucus, the focus, it seems, when it comes to women’s empowerment both nationally and locally, is on political engagement.

Artist Dani Allen McDonald has a different strategy, and thanks to the triumvirate of the Eastside High School Girls soccer team, the YCS School Based Youth Services Program, and the Arts Factory, it’s coming to life for the rest of January.

The self-taught photographer initially used photography as a personal way to heal after a troubling period in her life.  She then set out to help others with her talent. Subsequently her company, “Real Beauty Uncovered” was born.

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Describing Real Beauty: Uncovered  as “a movement that promotes the understanding that beauty comes from within a woman,” Allen McDonald has taken beautiful, black & white, untouched portrait photos of the East Side High School girls’ soccer with the exhibit now on display at the Arts Factory located at 70 Spruce Street.

Each project, Allen McDonald explains, begins with group meetings. Using her training as a life coach and motivational speaker to guide the conversation, participants discuss a range of topics including how to use social media, techniques for finding their own authenticity, ways to focus on their goals, and how to step into their own lives, according to the photographer.

During the fifth and final session, each subject sits for a private discussion with Allen McDonald and comes up with a statement that she wants to include with her portrait.  The sessions take as long as necessary and can become emotional, as evidenced by one of the players who revealed that she cried for an hour and a half while talking through her grief before she sat for the shoot.

The statement that accompanied her smiling photo read:  “A rainbow always appears after a storm.”

The exhibit is hosted by the YCS School Based Youth Services and YCs 21st Century programs, counseling services that aim to help students navigate the adolescent years, finish their education, obtain skills leading to employment or continuing education, and graduate healthy and drug free.

“This has been such an inspirational program for both the students and staff,” says Edna Angelos, YCS SBYS director.  “Our first session was three years ago with incoming freshmen, and we’ve continued it ever since.”

Funded in part by the Passaic County Cultural Heritage Center, and made possible through the donation of the space by the Arts Factory, the photos will be on display until the end of January.


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