There’s a serious problem with bullying in the United States. Bullying in all its forms can have a profoundly damaging effect on a young person’s mind. But one Los Angeles–based photographer is tackling the issue by giving victims of bullying a chance to fight back.
Josh Rossi is a photographer and digital artist who enjoys long-term projects. When he experienced bullying firsthand, it motivated him to take on a new endeavor.
It all started in October 2016 when he created a photo series of his young daughter fulfilling her dream to be Wonder Woman—the pictures went viral. However, once the photo series was on the internet she became a target of bullying.
“She started getting cyber bullied, and she’s only three. I was reading some of the comments, and I was just blown away. How are people so insensitive?” Rossi explained to Humanity.
He has also been bullied as an adult. People have made personal attacks online toward Rossi, people that had never even met him.
“Initially, it’s the worst pain in your gut because it’s a personal attack.”
Rossi had wanted to do a project on bullying for a while, and the written attacks toward his daughter pushed him to start. Once he started, the project would take four months to complete.
After seeing a preview for the upcoming ” The Avengers” movie, Rossi had his theme to work with.
In the movie, Thanos, who is the bully of the universe, tries to take over the world. However, the superhero Avengers come together to thwart his evil plot.
He found 15 kids who had been severely bullied in a every way, and wanted to empower them.
There were some particularly tough stories about the kids Rossi was working with.
Mia Velarde, who was transformed into Scarlet Witch for The Avengers of Bullying project, had to hear some unimaginable, hurtful comments from kids at school.
She asked them what they would do if she weren’t around anymore, if she died.
“They said that they’d throw a party, and be happy about it,” Rossi recalls.
They’re kids, so its hard to discern if that was a bad joke, but Velarde took the comment seriously. She took it so hard that she contemplated suicide.
Jackson Bezzant was born with facial deformities, and was often bullied for his appearance. He would become Captain America, the leader of The Avengers.
People have called him monster, and asked what’s wrong with his face, according to Rossi.
“He actually wanted to wear a mask to school because he was so embarrassed and sad about it,” he said.
Stories about bullying like these further motivated Rossi to do something about it.
He thought that if he could provide these kids with an opportunity to speak out against bullying in a loud, illustrative way, it might help them as well as raise awareness about the impact of bullying.
The kid’s had the chance to dress as a superhero they wanted to be, complete with extensive makeup and bespoke costume design.
In some cases, the kids would be in a chair getting painted for up to five hours before shooting.
Rossi then did a photoshoot with all of the kids, encouraging them to strike their best action poses. And using his incredible Photoshop skills, he created an Avenger-themed series of photos to capture their strength.
Not only were these kids standing up to bullying, the theme was meant to coincide with the upcoming release of the Avengers movie this month.
The project was a huge success for both the kids and Rossi.
Once the photos were edited, there was a reveal party for the kids on April 7, 2018, in front of thousands of people.
“Multiple kids said ‘this is the best day of my life’,” Rossi recalls.
The kids absolutely loved it, and felt empowered to see themselves depicted in this way. The world and their peers are telling them they’re lesser, and the project allowed them to stand up to that.
“I think it really helped them to get a different view of themselves.”