Shine: Coming Into Focus: Seeing Beauty After Tragedy

I first came to know Lauren Jonik through her wonderful photography blog. Her photos of Brooklyn are unexpected, showing off the beauty in this dusty, hardened old borough. (Also, there are not-to-be-missed photos of  Venice.)  Then I learned about the reason she became a photographer. It is both dreadful and inspiring, sad and uplifting. Digging deep within herself, Lauren shifts her focus, reminding us that good can come from bad. That’s just what SHINE is all about—looking at the world through a different lens.


By: Lauren Jonik

As the gray sky opened and delivered on its promise of a downfall, my joy rose up within. It was a hot, humid July afternoon in Brooklyn, and I had just arrived in the city to cat-sit for an acquaintance for the next week. I still lived in suburban Philadelphia, but was exploring a truth that I had known since I was a child when I threatened to run away from home. I had left a note for my mother telling her that if she needed me she could find me in New York City. But, my grand plans to move to NYC when I was seven were foiled by the fact that my mother gave me permission to run away with the stipulation that I not cross the street. The geography of our neighborhood was not in my favor and so I would have to wait twenty more years before my relocation could come to fruition.

As I dashed from the subway to the building where I was to stay, the streets were empty with the exception of rapidly cascading raindrops pelting the pavement. As I unlocked the front door, a stranger in a bright red t-shirt rushed up behind me and gave the universal head nod that expressed, “Hey, can you hold that for me? I am getting soaked, too.” He followed me through the expansive lobby. It was an older building and as he waited beside me, the elevator meandered between floors in what now felt like minutes and soon would feel like an eternity.

When I got on the elevator, my intentions differed significantly from that of the man who I would come to refer to as the monster. As soon as the doors closed, he pushed behind me, and threw his thick, beefy arm around my neck. I immediately tried to escape, but his muscular physique was no match for my five-foot-two frame. I tried to bite him; I tried to step on his foot; I tried to reach his groin, as every self defense technique I had ever heard flooded my mind. When I tried to poke my keys into his flesh, he immediately knocked them to the ground and soon my fingers met with the slimy sensation of his eyeball—but not for long. For every move that I made, he had two stronger counter moves, the choreography of a horrible dance of which I did not want to be a part.

We both fell to the floor. I was still wearing my backpack and felt like a ladybug upside down, but it offered me precious leverage. Amidst the continuing struggle, I kicked the monster in the face, owing my strength and flexibility—and presence of mind—to my yoga training. Now, strangling me with one hand and punching me with the other, his anger grew and he began to unbutton his pants—fortunately, choosing to release my neck. I could inhale again at last. The elevator had reached yet another empty floor with only silence on the other side of the doors.

Adrenaline carried with it a deeper resolve that I must find a way to survive no matter what happened next. I flailed wildly and through a stroke of grace and good fortune, my hand hit the buzzer on the side of the wall just as the world was starting to go black. The noise startled him, the doors opened again and I breathlessly suggested that he “take my money, take my money” – the only thing I could think of to say—and with that, he did and ran off.

A woman who lived in the building came to my rescue and was like an angelic antidote to the horror I had just experienced. The subsequent days, weeks and months were a dizzying blur of trying to process the trauma and regain the sense of normalcy and fearlessness that I felt before the attack. But some of those efforts would prove to be futile because nothing ever would be completely the same again. I was fortunate to have the support of family, friends and a therapist who eased my journey through the healing process. A year later, I would move just six blocks from where it happened—on purpose. I felt that it was important that my hopes and plans were not dictated by tragedy, but by passion and joy.

I had been cultivating a career as a music journalist, but after having experienced so much ugliness at the hands of another human being, I needed something more. I needed proof—tangible proof—that beauty still existed in the world. I had done some photography work before then, but the attack and subsequent fallout fed my need and love of capturing what is beautiful and authentic with my camera. It became a tool for me not only to see the world differently, but to use it as a means of healing—and later, to offer scenes of beauty and healing to others.

After several years of primarily focusing on concert photography and press and publicity shoots, with some travel photography thrown in for good measure, I found myself in a place of transition yet again at the end of 2009. Cityscape, landscape and nature images now called to me and I launched where I began selling prints of my work.  A line of greeting cards based on my photos was born soon after. Understanding the power beauty has to enrich our lives, I wanted to find ways of sharing the simple moments my camera and I discover, the moments that move me to tears or make me smile, the moments that inspire me to inhale a little more deeply and let life wash over me again and again—always again until the light shines through.

Some of Lauren Jonik’s photos currently are on display in an exhibit at Chaplin’s in Spring City, PA.  An exhibit in Brooklyn, NY is planned for Autumn 2011. To view her work or order prints or greeting cards, please visit: Lauren can be reached at: 

Coming up next on SHINE: Living in the northern reaches of Wisconsin, Andy is one of the unlikeliest advocates for sustainability. And he’s doing it with a style all his own. 

If you or anyone you know should be featured in SHINE, please let me know: contact  {at}   jacquelincangro  DOT   com.



  1. Lauren, you’re an incredible writer. Are you still incorporating your facility with the written word in your art somewhere?
    Bravo for taking such a harrowing, dark experience and turning it into fuel for your passion.


    1. Lauren’s story is so inspiring to me. It reminds everyone that no matter what happens to keep your head held high. (Just like your girl Stevie Wonder. 🙂 )


  2. Jacquelin…thank you for letting Lauren share her story with us!

    Lauren…I’m so sorry it took a horrible experience like that to get you to do what you feel you should be doing! Beautiful, beautiful work!



    1. Thanks for your comment, Wendy.
      Lauren’s story is such a testament to the courage and resiliance that is within all of us, if we look for it.


  3. Wow, what an incredible story. You’re a gifted writer, Lauren. Kudos for turning something so horrible into something so beautiful. I’m so glad you survived that attack.

    The Shine idea is brilliant, Jacquelin.


  4. Thank you so much for the kind comments, everyone! I am grateful you took the time to read my essay and grateful that Jackie allowed me to share it. In addition to being a photographer, I am also a writer. I’m currently in the very beginning phases of writing a memoir.


    1. It was so courageous of you to share this story, Lauren. Thank you for allowing your heartfelt words to be posted as part of this new venture in SHINE.
      Good luck with your memoir!


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