Artist Research – Illness & Health.

Researching various photographers who explore the themes of physical and mental illness will be hugely beneficial in helping me identify my own style and technique when creating my own photographic responses. I will analyse their approach to draw my own reflections and conclusions on the message they are sharing through their images. It will also be interesting to compare whether there is a difference in how physical and mental illness are portrayed through photography. Will there also be a ‘line’ to how far it can be taken?

Lori Grinker – Veterans of War.

From 1989, Lori Grinker “has photographed and interviewed the veterans of twenty-five wars and civil conflicts around the globe, from World War 1 to the war in Iraq.” (Squiers, 2005: 173). “Grinker intends “to let these people through their bodies, their stories, their psyches, tell the story of war.” (Grinker 2004, cited in Squiers, 2005: 176). This immediately caught my attention as Grinker is providing these veterans with the means of telling the story of war through her photography. This allows her to capture gritty, real life emotion to create fantastic photographs to share the journey of others. This made me relate back to my research into the importance of representation and visual ethnography, where Grinker has taken the time to speak to many people and learn of their experiences, therefore to portray their life and stories in the ‘correct’ way.

One of her images which caught my eye in The Body At Risk – Carol Squiers, was the image of “an elderly British man in his monthly group therapy session, where he is being treated for PTSD as a result of his military service in the Korean War.” (Squiers, 2005: 183). Her image is so powerful as it frames such an intimate moment, capturing the raw reality of the grief and trauma Henry Green has to cope with everyday. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a form of anxiety disorder caused by experiencing a severely distressing event, causing symptoms such as flashbacks and nightmares. With these in mind, engaging with this image by Grinker connects you with the subject by feeling his emotion. With a close frame and complete focus on the male, it draws complete focus on him. With delicately defined texture within his hair and skin, it makes the glistening tear drop more evident. As the shot has been composed from the left of Henry, his eye line leads out of the frame but acts so powerfully as it reminds the viewer of his mind elsewhere, no interest in the camera, tortured by the pain of his memories. “We never thought that forty years on we would be in the state we’re in. I don’t think it ever ends. I don’t believe the war can ever end.” (Green, 1998 cited in Squiers, 2005: 187). PTSD is just the same as other mental illnesses’ in which the stigma that can surround it. It is hard to be understanding of the disorder as an outsider, but an image like this and the technique Grinker used to get to know her subjects, gives a small insight into their world. It may only be something small in the huge scheme of things, but this image is so powerful in helping challenge that stigma. It may be difficult to recreate a similar style for my project, but the importance of a powerful image through something simple is definitely what I will want to be achieving.

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Jo Spence.

Jo Spence began photographing from the 1970s, working in various commercial roles such as wedding and portraiture. This was until 1982 where Spence discovered she had breast cancer and turned the camera on to herself, with her first series named ‘Cancer Shock‘. Through this series, Spence has created montages containing self portraits, including details of her removal procedure, along with news articles relating to cancer, different forms of therapy and personal reflections. I particularly like the style of narrative here as although each montage has different forms of information with various layout forms, they compliment each other perfectly to share her experience. Some of the images are quite gritty and raw, including Spence questioning herself as a victim, which could be potentially quite shocking for the viewer but it brilliantly represents her own shock and fear from the diagnosis. (Jospence.org 2015)

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(Spence 1982)

However, one series which particularly caught my eye by Spence was ‘Final Project’ created when diagnosed with leukaemia, which sadly took her life in 1992. (Jospence.org 2015). Terry Dennett explains how “what upset Jo most about death and non-being was that she would no longer be able to see what was going on in society. She knew that no one could communicate with her, and she couldn’t communicate with anyone else. She would be out of the loop. People, communication and sharing were central to her life.” (Dennett 1992). I actually found this quite upsetting, and the images were something else. I was intrigued at how much I understood from each image and the messages she was trying to share. One particularly striking image from the series is where Spence is standing in front of a coffin-sized hole in the ground in a graveyard. Her stance is dominant and strong, suggesting she isn’t afraid of what’s to come and facing her reality. The black and white tones of the image draw the eye to the darkest area of the image which is held in the ground, suggesting the ‘dark’ truth of her future. Although I actually find the image quite shocking, it shows what an incredibly brave woman she was. The image perfectly represents what a horrific illness cancer is but also to raise awareness of this to others, something I want to try and do with my project about anxiety. The image is so powerful with such a strong image, I would love to be able to create something even close to this in my work. 

js2 (Spence and Dennett 1992)

Another image from this series which caught my attention was of a mask covered in make up, but behind you can see a pattern of skulls. Spence has also repreated this theme in a similar picture where the mask is placed upon a skull. To me, the mask represents her ‘brave face’ with the make up used to hide her fear and emotions, upon the skull which reminds her of death and the reality of her terminal illness. This is similar to the theme I have identified to use in my project, as I want to use a mask to represent how anxiety takes away your identity. In both my and Spence’s work, there is a shared message of trying to hide the illness and reality. This relates right back to my initial research on the stigma around mental health, and how mental illness is often not viewed in the same way cancer is, when in reality both illnesses can have the same affect on a person. Aesthetically, the bright make up on the mask contrasts to the black and white background which represents trying to portray a happy, colourful mood when behind the ‘face’ she puts on is again that reality of her future. I think this is also reflected in the focus of this image, as although the mask is particularly dominant in the frame, it is slightly out of focus which draws the eye to concentrate more on the skulls in the background. Although this hasn’t particularly influenced how I will shoot my images, it has been very interesting to pick up this similar theme of using ‘the mask’ and made me feel more confident in using one.

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(Spence and Dennett 1992)

Kosuke Okahara: Ibasyo.

Ibasyo is an ongoing project by Okahara which began in 2008, following the lives of young Japanese women who suffer with mental illness and self harm. With each image there is a small snippet of text, briefly outlining the female’s name, age and a small explanation of the meaning behind the picture.(Okahara 2015). Often they are self-explanatory but extremely striking and saddening. Okahara’s approach is quite different to Spence, more of a documentary style and very ‘in the moment’. This made me think back to my research into Visual Ethnography by Sarah Pink and the importance of respecting the participants, whilst appreciating you may not ever fully understand their situation therefore creating a honest representation. Despite this, it is clear Okahara had developed a strong relationship with her participants from the project’s description where she includes snippets of conversation with one of the females, Sayuri. I don’t feel this is the same approach I will be taking for my project, but it is still interesting to learn Okahara’s approach to sharing the lives and stories of these people. It is intriguing to consider how confident the participants were to share their stories, as often the stigma behind mental health results in many sufferers not speaking out. Although some of the images are so raw, it is so important to share such a message and I think Okahara has done this brilliantly, along with these females allowing a photographer to document and share their suffering. Projects like these are excellent in challenging the stigma and facing discrimination with reality.

There was one particular image that stood out to me personally. From the description, I learnt the image was of a young female who suffers from a panic attack disorder and similar to with my own battle with anxiety, I have experienced numerous panic attacks. I drew two meanings from this image. Firstly, the description stating ‘taking a train filled with many people sometimes makes her unconscious’ suggests with Kaori walking into the luminous white light, it represents this overwhelming, powerless state of losing consciousness. The bright light dominates the photograph here and draws the viewer in directly, similar to how the engulfing fear brought on by a panic attack. Secondly, the description explains how Kaori came to see the psychiatrist and as she walks up the stairs into the bright light, it suggests a ‘heavenly’ state, like the psychiatrist is saving her from this horrific panic attack disorder. This image is particularly emotive for myself, as I have found myself in the same situation, sometimes too afraid to leave the house. This image made me think back to one taken by Rinko Kawauchi from the series Illuminance where there is a stream of light leading up the centre of a set of stairs which shows how relatable its meaning is. Although the image is quite plain, the bright luminous light is very descriptive and demonstrates an excellent approach of allowing the viewer to draw their own messages from the image, through the representation of the combination of the stairs, participant and light. This has lead me to consider whether this image works better for me as I can relate to it on a personal note, but also how it is enhanced by the accompanying text. Would I have drawn the same message from it, if the text had not been there, and also, is the text necessary for someone who hasn’t suffered with mental illness to be able to draw the same kind of message. It will be important for me to consider whether I should be using text to go with my images or whether they will be strong enough to stand alone. In a way, my idea of combining the self portraits with the still life/landscape images acts as an accompaniment to create a strong message.

Kaori came to see the psyhiatrist. Sometimes it is difficult to come to the hospital since she has panic attack disorder. Taking a train filled with many people sometimes makes her unconcious.

Kaori came to see the psychiatrist. Sometimes it is difficult to come to the hospital since she has panic attack disorder. Taking a train filled with many people sometimes makes her unconscious. (Okahara, 2008).

Kristina Knipe.

In the series ‘I Don’t Know The Names of Flowers’, Knipe explores her story and those of others battling with self-harm. When discussing her project, Knipe acknowledged the usual secrecy of self-harm. She explained “regardless of our fear, the sessions had a meditative quality; the simple acknowledgement of a repressed history has healing power. Harming oneself is often an attempt to heal oneself, it is a way of coping that is both creative and destructive.” (Cpw.org 2015). This made me think back to what I gained from the essay New Media as a Powerful Ally in the Representation of Mental Illness by Katie Ellis, where she discusses how the opportunity for conversation via media such as YouTube engaged people to talk with therapeutic benefits. This is very similar to what Knipe has achieved, as she has brought contacts together to help relieve pain and share a message. It is so encouraging how powerful media, such as photography, can be in helping people handle illness, sharing a story and engaging with others. This is something I hope to achieve through both my images and my new blog.

I found the series intriguing, as although some images had a clear message, I struggled to draw from others. However something I did find interesting with this image in particular, was the contrast of the arm covered in cuts to the hundreds of daisies blooming behind. As photographing nature is playing a huge part in my project, it was engaging to see how it was being used. The bright daisies are fresh and inviting, contrasting to the delicate arm with striking cuts and scars almost like the exposure brutal reality in a world hidden by beauty. The composition of the image is kept simple, but this juxtaposition emphasises the horrific struggle with self harm. Just capturing the arm is enough to share a story of pain, not only from the past through the scars but also the present from the fresh stitches.This particular image is very strong with its concept, whereas some others in the series have subtler messages which creates a dynamic flow, continuously engaging the viewer with curiosity. As I am intending to create a book with quite a few images, it will be important to consider how I want the narrative to flow and how this shares my message. Knipe has captured these stories in quite an artist way, rich with colour and different messages. This shows the power of representation and also emotion through aspects of nature, which is why my images will work well combined with my self portraits to share an idea.

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(Knipe 2013)

Jenn Ackerman – Trapped.

In the series Trapped, Ackerman gives an insight into the Correctional Psychiatric Treatment Unit of the Kentucky State Reformatory showing the lives of prisoners suffering with mental illness. The project began in 2008, extended over a 3 month period. In this time, Ackerman speaks of how she “witnessed a reality most people do not even know exist in America”, as well the great impact the project had on her life and support for mental health funding. Ackerman states “these men are outcasts of society and their voices are rarely heard. This is their story.” (Ackerman 2013). Ackerman is using the opportunity give an insight of their awful lifestyle with no means for help, with a hope for change with how these people are treated.

I was fascinated by this series of work from Ackerman, with such powerful photos. They give a real sense what it is like for both the prisoners and the workers who’s priority is security for all. The images are intimate and real, in some cases almost scary, but not in the way people with mental health are viewed – scary in the way of how sad it is the way these people are suffering. Ackerman’s images communicate in a language understandable for a wide audience so although we may be viewers who don’t know much about mental health, it is easy to connect emotionally to the people in the images with their raw reality. Although I didn’t initially notice, all the images are in black and white, suggesting the representation of the dark life they endure inside prison. I think this really enhances the series in terms of its documentary feel and narrative, it does not draw the viewer to particular images over others and encourages the eye to examine the detail closer and thoroughly. One of my favourite images from the series was of a prisoner in his cell holding the hand of a worker. Although you cannot see the worker or get a sense of their personality, you can see from the desperation in the prisoner’s eyes and vulnerability, how dependant they are on this worker at that particular moment. The angle at which the image has been taken is higher than the prison, again adding to this vulnerability. The black and white tones create a dramatic contrast, drawing the viewer directly to the lighter area where you can see the prisoner and connection of the hands, as well as highlighting the cold, hard texture of the door separating them. Although this would not be the approach I would take for my project, the important point to gain from Ackerman’s work for me is making my project understandable by anyone even when they don’t know much about anxiety. This all helps contribute to help challenge that stigma surrounding mental health, often created from outsider’s not understanding what it is truly like. This project does not over exaggerate or conform to typical stereotypes of mental health, but provide an honest representation of the heartbreaking prisoner’s daily lifestyle. Ackerman has created an incredible body of work to encourage an increase in mental health funding.

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 (Ackerman 2009)

Liz Obert – Dualities.

Liz Obert has created a really inspiring piece of work, telling the story of others and her own experience with bipolar II disorder. With the hope “that interacting with this work will reduce the stigma of bipolar and depression” and encourage those who do not suffer with this disorder to connect with those who do, Obert is contributing brilliantly to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health. She has creating a series of 2 portraits who are set up by her participant as she hands over the control of the image with regards to where and what, one representing how they want society to view them and the other when they are feeling depressed. This is accompanied by text of their choice. (Obert, n.d.).

I really like this project because it feels very personal and intimate. Obert has taken the time to get to know her participants well and also given them a lot of control over ‘her’ work and how they wish to be represented. From the 2 images, you get a sense of their personality and style, hobbies and interests but at the same time, the dark world their disorder absorbs them in and how this can affect their daily life. The portraits are neatly framed and positioned side by side give the sense of a book layout and the element of ‘two sides’ parallel to the two sides of bipolar disorder. Personally I feel knowing the context of the project and the two pictures are strong enough alone, but the text contributes to the personal feel as handwriting can be seen as a form of identity. I noticed with quite a few from the series, the lighting is soft and inviting and interestingly even in both the ‘up’ image and ‘down’ image rather than the ‘down’ image being darker. This enhances how carefully considered the set up is, in order to portray a particular message. This may be something I consider when creating my images – it doesn’t necessarily have to be enhanced by dramatic lighting but through the positioning and composition of the image. I also think the composition of these images are relaxed and calm compared to some of the previous striking work I have come across. It makes it relatable and understandable, key for making that connection between those who do not suffer and those do, similar to the idea of communicating in a language understandable by a wide audience through representation. This is definitely something I want to achieve through my images.

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 (Obert n.d.)

Robin Hammond – Condemned. 

Robin Hammond has spent 12 years photographing human rights issues but had “never come across a greater assault on human dignity.” Hammond explores the life of neglected Africans whom are suffering with mental illness. This documentary style is very similar to the work of Jenn Ackerman and both bodies of work show how those suffering with mental illness are being wrongly treated like prisoners, not getting any help. Hammond starting documenting their lives “an attempt to raise awareness of their plight” and later turned the series into a book. (Hammond, 2012). Although again this style isn’t the same approach I will be taking for my images, it is important to consider Hammond’s style to help raise awareness and how the stigma/problems run world wide.

This particular image stood out to me as although you can’t see the person’s face, it has a huge story behind it. Although we can’t see their face, the small face drawn into the sand gives the viewer a personality to relate to as well as leading the viewer to consider whether the subject views themselves this way. The description explains how those suffering with mental illness are chained up whilst being treated with prayers and medicine. This made me think back to a point I learnt from The Mark of Shame by Stephen P. Hinshaw, where “within the asylums created for the mentally ill in Europe following the Renaissance, forms of ‘care’ included chains and stocks, as well as whippings and beatings” (Hinshaw, 2007: xii). This demonstrates how the treatment for mental health for these Africans hasn’t advanced since so long ago and they are still treated in the same way, showing the lack of education behind the cause and seriousness of mental health. In this case, I found the text particularly enhanced the images providing more insightful information about the story, creating an educating piece of work. The grainy texture of the sand contrasts to the smooth skin of the participant sat on the floor, with the high angle emphasising their mistreatment as they are chained up.  With the series shot in black and white, all images are rich with tones and interesting contrast. Similar to Ackerman, Hammond has created an honest representation of the mentally ill and how they are treated without over exaggerating, simply to draw attention to the terrible situation and hopefully make a change.

Reverend Apostle S.B.Esanwi, Doctor of Divinity, treats people with mental illness with prayer and traditional medicines which usually consist of roots and leaves crushed in water. He claims to have cured hundreds of patients. Many stay for months in his compound. Some are chained throughout their time there. In regions where both fortune and sickness are attributed to the spirit world, mental illness is considered a curse. Spiritual remedies are often sought, and chains regularly used as restraints. The Niger Delta, Nigeria

Reverend Apostle S.B.Esanwi, Doctor of Divinity, treats people with mental illness with prayer and traditional medicines which usually consist of roots and leaves crushed in water. He claims to have cured hundreds of patients. Many stay for months in his compound. Some are chained throughout their time there. In regions where both fortune and sickness are attributed to the spirit world, mental illness is considered a curse. Spiritual remedies are often sought, and chains regularly used as restraints. The Niger Delta, Nigeria.  (Hammond, 2012)

John William Keedy – It’s Hardly Noticeable.

John William Keedy is a photographer who used his practice to challenge the definition of normalcy through different set ups and scenarios after he was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Although his images have a strong message, Keedy explains how he kept some lighthearted and humorous to make it easier for the viewer but also for himself. (Schiller 2013). This work immediately stood out to me for a number of reasons. Firstly, Keedy suffers with an anxiety disorder just like myself and it was insightful to see what techniques he uses in order to channel his thoughts and emotions regarding the disorder. In this case, Keedy is questioning what is normal, how does society decide who is normal and how do we fit in/out of this normalcy. This made me think back to my beginning research about how there are blurred lines as what behaviour can be diagnosed as a mental illness, dependant on a number of different factors including age and location of behaviour. As he chooses to question this, it suggests he does not see himself as ‘normal’ or what society accepts as he suffers with an anxiety disorder which has been another very prevalent point throughout my beginning research, and how those who suffer with mental illness are judged by the stigma society has created for them. Keedy has explored this theme through “constructed tableaus and metaphorical still lifes” (Keedy n.d.), which is exactly how I am creating my series so our approach is very similar. I also like how Keedy made a conscious point of adding an element of humour for his images to make it more approachable to the reader. This made me think back to my research of how in terms of representation, you have to communicate in a similar language to appeal to a wider audience. He has made something deep and meaningful a little lighthearted but still having an important message and I think this is very successful.

I have to admit that even though all of Keedy’s images are strong, beautifully toned and intriguing, I struggled to draw the meaning from some of them. However what stood out to me more that Keedy wasn’t using his practice solely to talk about his anxiety, he is using it to challenge the issue it raises of feeling normal. This is quite personal to me as since I have had my anxiety, I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be ‘normal’. But how can we ever truly know what is regarded at normal, who decides what is normal? He has explored this brilliantly through his images making a really strong piece of work. The message is subtle, but so powerful. A personal favourite of mine, is one of Keedy putting together a jigsaw piece. ‘Normally’ we would put together a jigsaw piece with particular edges interlocking to another piece to form an image. Here, Keedy is challenging that by cutting off the edges with glue in the background to put his jigsaw together which gives him control over making the image rather than having to follow the rules. This sense of taking control may be representing Keedy controlling his anxiety or rather than doing things normally, he does them his own way, a potential coping mechanism. The jigsaw pieces also may represent Keedy piecing his life together, or forcing these different pieces together to make sense of things. For me, this image works really well as a jigsaw piece is an instantly recognisable object enjoyed by many images, therefore the viewer can immediately relate. Once the viewer is able to relate, they can understand and draw their own messages. It is obvious here that Keedy is moving away from the norm of putting together a jigsaw but this is intriguing and has that funny side to it he wanted to achieve. The colourful jigsaw pieces create variation in the image, with the blank canvas directly in the middle holding the lightest value in the image, drawing the eye directly to this point where Keedy is cutting the jigsaw piece. We cannot really see his face in the picture but this works well in terms of drawing the viewer directly to the concept and idea, whilst his position lying on the floor is relaxed and chilled, suggesting this is normal to him. I really like this series of work by Keedy both in terms of the concept and composition of his images and find he may be a particular influence on the approach to my project.

jwk1(Keedy, 2012) 

Kyle Thompson.

Kyle Thompson is another photographer who has suffered from crippling anxiety his whole life, to which he decided to turn the camera on himself. He explains “I started taking self-portraits because I enjoyed going out alone,” (Thompson, n.d cited in Cade, 2013) and has visited many places to shoot his images including a number of abandoned houses. (Cade, 2013). Each image tells a unique, captivating story and all are beautifully artistic and surreal. What stands out from this body of work is although Thompson suffers with anxiety, the images are so strong and powerful, he doesn’t appear to portray himself in a vulnerable way like he is tackling his anxiety full on. Although some represent Thompson as being trapped, I still find the images soft and gentle, they don’t feel uncomfortable or scary (apart from ones where he has incorporated the element of fire!) and I feel this is what makes it approachable and understandable for a wide audience. Particularly the images where he has objects which are set up to look like wings create a sense of hope and angelic-ness as he is finding a way to release his anxiety.

Once again I did find myself finding some of these images a little harder to understand, but I think this element adds to the series rather than detracting away because it encourages the viewer to delve a little deeper and draw their own opinions and ideas. This picture caught my eye because of the beautiful use of lighting which highlights the raindrops falling and this element of weather is quite emotive in terms of my own project. In association with mental health, rain can be symbolic of darkness and misery which this is what I feel Thompson is trying to portray here, as he lies helplessly with rain soaking him suggests hopelessness and loss of control. I learnt that the light has been lit with car headlights and works so interestingly in this photo creating strong contrasts in the lower half of the image. With such darkness in the lower half and brightness in the top, it is hard to distinguish anything else other than Thompson himself which causes the viewer to focus on him solely and the tiny raindrops surrounding him. I also find the bright light quite distorting overall in the image and combined this suggests he is completely lost within the world. All of the images from this series are so carefully considered and composed, this will be an important aspect to remember when creating my own images so they can be powerful as well as visually aesthetic. There is also a lot of symbolism in Thompson’s images and the representation of particular images shares a particular meaning which will play a major part in the composition of my images.

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(Thompson n.d.)

Samantha Pugsley.

I came across fine art photographer Samantha Pugsley’s through the online community Broken Light Collective, who turned to photography as a healing tool for coping with a generalised anxiety disorder. Pugsley explains “with her camera she could start a conversation about what was going on in her head. She could say things with her images that she didn’t know how to say out loud.” (Pugsley 2014). Compared to the previous two artists, I felt like I could really relate with Pugsley’s series and understand a lot of the emotion conveyed in her images. One which particularly stood out to me is photographed in some woods which relates to my own interest/coping mechanism in the outdoors. Pugsley has portrayed brilliantly the way anxiety makes you feel trapped and consumed with this white material engulfing and restricting her. Framed with herself centred in the middle it draws the eye right in for the viewer, and whilst the background doesn’t distract too much away from this, it subtly adds interesting detail and conveys a lonely atmosphere representing how anxiety can be isolating. The white material contrasts greatly to her black clothing and the autumnal browns of the tree bark and leaves which leaves the overall tone quite dark, again playing on the darkness of anxiety. This is also enhanced by the natural lighting causing darker shadows round the left side of the image, almost like a vignette. I think this image works so powerfully because it conveys the message of feeling trapped even to those whom do not suffer with mental illness which is crucial in challenging the stigma. This made me think back to my research into the social processes which create a stigma. It targets the identification process, as feeling trapped is something we can all relate to and we will therefore not recognise it as a behaviour different to our own and illuminate the final devaluation process. I had already considered the idea of an image which conveys the feeling of how anxiety traps you and now I have seen how successfully Pugsley has done it, I will definitely follow through in a hope I can achieve the same kind of effect. 

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(Pugsley n.d.)

Online Communities.

In my search for photographer’s who work with mental illness and health, I came across a few established communities which enable anyone to upload pictures and share their messages with many others suffering from mental illness.

One of these was Broken Light Collective. Broken Light Collective was established by Danielle Hark in March 2012, beginning as an online gallery which has grown into a non-profit organisation. She decided to create it through one of her own depressive periods where photography became a therapeutic tool.(Broken Light: A Photography Collective, 2012). The site is used to encourage those suffering with many different mental illnesses, from bipolar disorder to schizophrenia to depression, to share their stories through the medium of photography. Anyone is allowed to submit an image of their choice, along with a paragraph explaining their experience with mental health.

I was immediately captivated by all these different stories and how many people had submitted work. The site has created an unbelievably strong community who are continually supporting each other, with posts receiving over 100 likes in the space of a day. Danielle hoped the site would contribute to fighting the stigma surrounding mental health and provide a support network for all those who join, and I think Broken Light Collective is doing it brilliantly. It shows what a powerful tool photography can be and shows a technique used to cope with my anxiety has been found helpful by many others. It allows the participants to create their own representation and it wasn’t long before I found myself heartbroken by some of the stories I read but also inspiring to see their coping mechanism and control. This is the perfect example as to why I want to create my project because I really hope to be able to help others and contribute to breaking the stigma surrounding mental health. I may also consider submitting one of my own images from my project and telling my story to join the Broken Light Collective as I think it is an incredible organisation and support network to be part of.

Another website I came across is by Dior Vargas, a Latina Feminist Mental Health Activist. Vargas has set up the People of Colour and Mental Illness Photo Project to challenge “the lack of media representation of people of colour and mental illness” and “to confront and end the stigma.” (Vargas n.d.). This is a similar set up in which those suffering with mental illness can contribute to the page, however here they take an image of themselves holding up a piece of paper telling their name and disorder. This gives a small insight into their personality and passion for breaking the stigma surrounding people of colour with mental illness. Although there isn’t a discussion, the page featuring a number of different people’s pictures creates a community and encourages others to join. This is another great way of creating a support network so those who suffer do not feel alone and all contribute to challenging the stigma. 


Overall, I have discovered a variety of styles and techniques with regards to photographing illness and health. There are similarities and differences with all, some artistic and some documentary, but overall there purpose is to create a powerful message and I believe they are all successful in doing so. They provide a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves, provide a platform for those who wish to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health, raise awareness of problems that are not immediately known to everyone and provide a coping mechanism to those who want to share their personal stories. Photography is such a powerful platform and has been an incredible form of communication for sharing these all important stories. I was particularly moved by the work of Jo Spence, to which I didn’t even know she sadly lost her battle with cancer until I researched her work. Her images face reality full on, showing the effects of cancer with no detail spared. I also found some relevancy with the use of the mask which shows a shared effect of physical and mental illness with the idea of having a fake identity in front of others and in my project I will be using one to portray how anxiety takes away your personality. I was captivated by the work of Jenn Ackerman with her series Trapped. This documentary style isn’t how I will approach my project, but she has done an outstanding job by telling the prisoner’s stories through photography with gritty, striking images. I also particularly liked the work of Liz Obert – Dualities who shared her own battle with bipolar II disorder as well as providing others with the chance to share theirs and create their own representations rather than the one society ‘provides’ for them. This kind of style would have been particularly influential with regards to my previous project idea of speaking to sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder, however with relation to my current project I will definitely be taking away the importance of using text. I felt the handwritten aspect was a really personal touch here and considering how and whether I will use text in my own piece will be particularly important. I was particularly influenced by the series by John William Keedy – It’s Hardly Noticeable. Although I have struggled to draw my own thoughts and reflections from all of his images, I love how he has used his anxiety subtly to stem the concept for his project for challenging what we claim is ‘normal’. He has also explored it through the medium of self portraits and metaphorical still life which is exactly how I intend to put my project together, combining both to portray my experience with anxiety. Overall, I feel most inspired by the work of Samantha Pugsley as I found it the most relatable, particularly with how she has incorporated landscape into a lot of her images. She has beautifully composed her shots which are easily understandable and readable by the viewer which is a key element I want my images to have. I am so inspired by the work of all of these photographers and admire their contributions to challenging the stigma of illness and health, whether it be for themselves or others. This is what I want to be able to do with my project – I want an honest representation, understandable and able to communicate with a wide audience and help raise awareness of how crippling an anxiety disorder can be.


Ackerman, J. (2009) Trapped – Prisoner Holds Hand Of Worker. [online] available from <http://www.visuramagazine.com/jenn-ackerman-trapped&gt; [22 April 2015]

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~ by victoriasimkissphotography on April 23, 2015.

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