When American photojournalist Sara Naomi Lewkowicz met Shane and Maggie just over a year ago, they were at a fun fair in Ohio with Maggie's two kids. From his eyelids down, Shane was covered in tattoos, his girlfriend's name emblazoned in huge letters across his neck. Lewkowicz wanted to capture this tough-looking guy, holding an angelic toddler, on camera.
She spent the next three or four hours with the family, as they told her about their lives. They had met right before Shane's latest stint in prison, and started dating as soon as he came out. Maggie's mother had overdosed on drugs when she was young, and she first got pregnant at 14 but split up with the father of her children after he cheated on her. Shane, a recovering drug addict, was now trying to make a career as a singer in a Christian rock band.
"You'd be surprised how often people want to share their story," Lewkowicz, 30, told a showcase at the Visa pour l'Image photojournalism festival in Perpignan, France, this month where she won an award for her work on the troubled couple. "Most people don't have a voice and if you show empathy, they will talk to you."
Lewkowicz's willingness to spend a lot of time with her subjects and understand what drives their behaviour is what allowed her to document the deterioration of Shane and Maggie's relationship into violence, and what makes her work so powerful.
She didn't set out to photograph abuse. Her initial intention was to do a project on recidivism, as Shane had been in and out of jail. It took her some time to realise that things were getting violent between the couple - "testament to how many crossed messages you get about what's romantic and what's abusive".
The images, published on the website of TIME magazine among other media, show tenderness and anger in their rawest form. As Lewkowicz said in Perpignan, it's not that big a jump between being told 'he loves you' and when he hits you, although - like many perpetrators of domestic violence - Shane had started cutting 20-year-old Maggie off from her family and friends before the physical abuse started.
One night last November, after Maggie stormed out of a bar accusing Shane of flirting, they had a fight back at home. The shouting exploded into physical violence in which Shane pushed Maggie around and choked her, leaving marks on her neck.
When Maggie mouthed "Help me!" to Lewkowicz, "it was like being punched in the gut". They managed to pass the photographer's phone, which had been in Shane's pocket, to another woman who was in the house. She locked herself in the bathroom and called the police, who arrived at the scene and arrested Shane.
"I wanted him to know 'I am here, and I am watching, and I have a camera'," said Lewkowicz. Previously when she had photographed him being aggressive, "he didn't tell me to stop because he didn't think he was doing anything wrong". On an earlier occasion, Maggie said he had shaken her and pulled her hair.
After the attack, Lewkowicz drove Maggie with her kids to a friend's house and then later took her to a women's shelter. It was only when she saw the pictures of the incident that the young mum was persuaded to sign a protection order against Shane.
He later pleaded guilty to a domestic violence felony and received a prison sentence. Lewkowicz's photos were used as evidence.
'DON'T CRY, MOMMY'
The photographs - which won Lewkowicz the "Ville de Perpignan Rémi Ochlik Award", instituted as a prize for young photojournalists after Ochlik's premature death in Syria in February 2012 - offer an emotionally intense and right-up-close portrait of how domestic violence unfolds. What struck me most was the photojournalist's ability to portray the impact of the abusive relationship on Maggie's children with great and heart-rending effect.
When Maggie's daughter, Memphis, heard the fight, she ran into the room, stomping her feet and shouting, in an effort to distract the adults by drawing attention to herself, Lewkowicz said. In one photograph, the tiny girl wedges herself in between the rowing couple, trying to soothe her weeping mother. "Don’t cry, Mommy, I love you," Memphis said over and over, according to the caption for another image showing her and her brother being tucked into their car seats later that night.
Maggie had urged Shane during the incident to let her take Memphis out of the room because "she shouldn't be seeing this". But Lewkowicz's photos do not shy away from showing the children as witnesses to a difficult relationship. The awkwardness and rivalry between Shane and Kayden, Maggie's son, shines through, and is artfully depicted in a picture where Shane wraps his legs round Maggie's neck, as Kayden lies face down next to them on the sofa.
Lewkowicz - who describes herself as a "visual journalist" - said some people had "got upset" about the photos with the children. But for her, they were a very important part of the story, she emphasised, because many kids who have seen violence between their parents at home go on to suffer it or perpetrate it themselves - just like Shane.
"You witness violence, you get enveloped by it, and it becomes part of your world," said the journalist. "(Maggie) wanted her daughter to know that she should never submit to this kind of treatment."
The reportage goes on to portray Maggie's subsequent move to Alaska, in an attempt to get back together with Zane, the father of her children. The couple had trust issues to overcome and Maggie was finding it hard when Zane, a gentle man who is in the army, had to go away for training or on duty. But Lewkowicz said Maggie has been doing quite well, and wants to become a nurse or a case worker for victims of abuse.
After the first set of photos were published in February, they provoked a passionate reaction in cyber-space, with some criticising Lewkowicz for not doing more to prevent or stop the violence.
In Perpignan, she recalled how one email she had received was from a woman who had been persuaded by the images to seek a divorce from her violent husband. In another case, the pictures pushed an army veteran who had broken his wife's arm to turn himself into the police.
"If you can convince someone to walk out, it is quite significant," said Lewkowicz. "Your work can make a difference."
"Shane and Maggie: A portrait of domestic violence" was exhibited at the Perpignan festival and a selection of the images can be viewed on Lewkowicz's website.