Katie Crawford

Katie Crawford's My Anxious Heart is a conceptual exploration of living with general anxiety disorder through a series of self-portraits. Through the use of black objects and materials Crawford visualises her anxiety as an overbearing presence, using surreality to illustrate the reality of her experiences.

What initially drew you to making work about living with anxiety?
A little background: I had my first panic attack at 11. I was put on antidepressants at age 13, anti-anxiety medication at 16, an ADHD stimulant at 18, and a mood stabilizer at 20-21. Throughout those years, dosages were increased and decreased, formulas were adjusted, and other, short-term medications were used to help me sleep, deal with attacks, and pain from side-effects. I was completely numb and couldn't remember what feeling emotion was like at all. At age 21, I decided it was time to heal. I had to get to the root of it all. So, with the supervision of my doctors, I weaned off of medication. I was having panic attacks daily, I couldn't do much of anything alone, and yet I didn't want to be around people. But I was feeling again.

During this transition, I was enrolled in a photography class called "Artist As Researcher". The premise of the class was to uncover what motivates your art practice and how you move that motivation from initial inspiration to meaningful public display. We were to take on a role as a researcher to better understand our desire to make artwork and to make work that involves a sustained investigation. This was the first time I wasn't assigned a theme or subject matter but given the opportunity to work on one piece for an entire semester.

I had no idea what I was going to do and then I became anxious; a very normal response for me. I wanted to show everyone this thing that followed me and kept me from being able to do the most basic things. I can't remember what I was thinking about doing the moment before, because when I thought of this, just like anxiety, it took over. Everything from that point on has been an outlet to express this constant presence. So after that class, I decided there was no better subject to focus on for my senior thesis.

my head is filling with helium. focus is fading. such a small decision to make. such an easy question to answer. my mind isn’t letting me. it’s like a thousands circuits are all crossing at once.

What has been your working process? From conceptualising to shooting and editing.
When I was around 18, I started writing anytime I felt an attack begin, or right after one ended. I was just spitting out fragments and words that described what I was feeling. I kept this journal and I used it to throw my anxiety into. When I was doing the project mentioned above, the assignment was to be a researcher. So I found that journal and used it as a resource that I had forgotten. They explained it so well, each thought and feeling, that I had to use them. I began forming ideas that would visually express those written feelings. That is how the text under each image came about. I was so numb and out of it from my anxiety and depression, and being medicated for it, that I had forgotten how much I was expressing at that time. It really brought me back to how I felt at the darkest, coldest time and I was able to add that to how I felt being off of the medication and having all of these feelings become so incredibly intense and raw.

As far as shooting, I really evolved as an artist through this process. I'm a college student with very little income, so until I could afford a tripod and remote, I had to be very creative. It involved a lot of balancing cameras and battling self timers and focal points. I was lucky enough to have a sister that was incredibly helpful. She was always willing to lend a hand when I needed someone to help throw baby powder, wrap me in cling film, and run around with fabric.

My editing is very formulaic to an extent. I try to have the concept so planned, that editing is the shortest part of the process. It doesn't always work out that way, but it tends to make things a bit easier when it doesn't make things quicker. I shoot everything with a tripod at the same focal point so that layering can be consistent and realistic. I do a lot of layer masking and cloning. Other than that, I pretty much had the shots set up before the editing began.

a captive of my own mind. the instigator of my own thoughts. the more i think, the worse it gets. the less i think, the worse it gets. breathe. just breathe. drift. it'll ease soon.

What are your hopes for the work?
It started as a healing process for me, but it quickly became an outlet for others to express their pain and daily battles. What I've always wanted is to end the stigma for mental illness. It needs to be treated as a physical illness. Just because there isn't a noticeable ailment, it's put off as being a mood swing or not a big deal. I want people to understand that not only is it debilitating and can feel just as paralyzing as a physical illness, but that it causes physical side-effects as well. IBS, muscle pain, migraines, and insomnia are a few of the issues that can be diagnosed with no known cause other than anxiety.

I want to create an outlet for people to be understood, but also for them to heal. I don't want people to just get by or have to numb themselves. I want them to understand the root of their anxiety and know that it doesn't have to control them. It can be managed.

Your project is about anxiety — have you had any anxieties about releasing such personal work? What have responses been like?
Absolutely! It all happened so fast. I posted it on reddit.com/r/anxiety to say thank you. I used that forum a lot when I was running out of motivation to complete the project. And then it kind of spread. I never expected this. I've gotten over a hundred messages just thanking me. Honestly, I should be thanking them! I couldn't have done it without support and encouragement. It's so terrifying as an artist to expose yourself in the most raw way; and I was adding self-portraits and my life so literally depicted. I couldn't pretend that this wasn't personal or putting me in a vulnerable place.

But the thing is, where I may have run and hid and ignored all of my emails out of fear before, I'm realizing this is so very important. If just one person would've said “thank you, I didn't realize others felt this way. I thought I was alone!”, it would have been enough for me to keep going. I've been anxious my entire life. Your body goes into fight or flight mode when you're anxious. My whole life I've chosen flight. My first response is “GET OUT NOW”. But when I read all of the responses, I felt this drive to fight for the first time in my life. I'm fighting for each person that feels alone. I'm fighting for those who are too scared to do it themselves. I'm fighting for those who can't articulate their pain. And I'm fighting to end a stigma that has created an obstacle for anyone to speak out about their mental illness.

it's strange -- in the pit of your stomach. it's like when you're swimming and you want to put your feet down but the water is deeper than you thought. you can't touch the bottom and your heart skips a beat.

You mention in your statement that depicting your fears has had a therapeutic effect. Can you explain a little more about that process?
When I began, I knew the only way was to really try and remember what a panic attack is like. The hard part is, thinking about having one tends to induce one. If you've ever had a panic attack, you'll know it's probably the number one fear of those who have them. No matter how badly I didn't want to do it to myself, I knew I had to cause one so I could properly express it.

In order to cause one, I had to think about my triggers. After a while, I was able to logically work through why my fears were illogical and expose lies I was telling myself. Soon, I was unable to cause one as easily. So I tried harder. When one was really intense and I wanted out, I found remedies that I hadn't tried before. I realized running cold water on my wrists and neck almost immediately shocked me out of it. I found that when focussing on breathing was hard, I could do jumping jacks and it would force my breathing to steady.

In doing all of this, I was able to rationalize this thing that had control and really expose it for what it was. They're much lighter now and I know how to make them end much faster. It's also created a way for me to articulate what is going on in the moment to someone who is completely oblivious.

i'm afraid to live and i'm afraid to die. what a way to exist.

What's next for you?
I'm so incredibly excited to say that this has motivated me to finally put a book together. I've been trying to decide if it was a good idea or if it would even be well received, and I finally feel like I can do it. Even more than me feeling like I can do it, I feel like I need to do it.

My sister, who has her Masters in Mental Health Counseling and her provisional LPC license, will be joining me in creating a book to help those with General Anxiety Disorder and Depression. It will contain these photographs, photographs that have not been released, more writings that describe symptoms, exercises for day to day self-care and handling panic, and our full stories as two young women who have battled these disorders for over a decade. I will be posting more information on social media as it comes together.

Follow Katie's blog or find her on Facebook.

Liz Atkin

Liz Atkin is a visual artist based in London. Physicality underpins a creative practice with her skin as a primary source for corporeal artwork and imaginative transformation. Compulsive Skin Picking dominated her life for more than 20 years, but through a background in dance and theatre, she confronted the condition to harness creative repair and recovery. She creates intimate artworks, photographs and performances exploring the body-focused repetitive behaviour of skin picking. Liz works directly with her skin as a site for textural transformation, using materials such as clay, latex, paint and pastel.

Liz will be talking about her work as a part of Fragmentary Presents, taking place on 5th June at Kentish Town Health Centre, London. This event is free.

Could you briefly explain what Compulsive Skin Picking (CSP) is and how it affected/affects your life?

Compulsive Skin Picking is a complex physical and mental disorder that often develops in young childhood. It is a recognised and dominant illness falling under the category of Body Focussed Repetitive Behaviour. Many thousands of people all over the world experience the condition. Compulsive Skin Picking provides comfort, pleasure or emotional release from endlessly picking at often healthy skin but this can often lead to bleeding, infection, scarring and physical deformities, as well as significant emotional and mental distress.

Skin picking was, for me and from a young age, a way to release tension in my body, to block out emotions and hit a zoned out sense of calm when I was overwhelmed with anxiety. It became a private vicious cycle that totally dominated my life behind closed doors. At its height my face and body was littered with wounds. It also developed into something I did subconsciously so there were hours and hours of the day where I would be picking my skin. Some nights I would pick until the early hours of the morning. I would even pick in my sleep. Many times I would be poised in the bathroom because this was a private space. No one knew about it. I masked and covered the illness from those closest to me by wearing clothes that concealed the parts of my body covered in scabs and scars, lying that I’d recently had chicken pox, making excuses and even using make-up on my body to try to mask it. I experienced intense physical anxiety followed by guilt and shame about something I was doing that caused harm to my own body yet felt no control or ability to stop. It absolutely dominated my life and my body in private for many years. I hid it from everyone important to me. As a professional woman no one would have noticed. Part of its power was the concealment and camouflaging. Behind closed doors there would be hours of each day where I would be picking until I bled. Mainly when getting ready in the morning or last thing at night. The bathroom was my battleground, picking in the mirror until the early hours of the morning. Even picking in my sleep and waking with blood in my bed sheets. Sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously.

Frightening depressive episodes, nightmares and hallucinations were common as the illness dominated me. I suffered in silence for a very long time. The illness was actually undiagnosed until my early 30s but by that point I’d been picking for the best part of 20 years and it was only through internet searches that I realised that it had a name. I had even hidden it from various doctors and psychiatrists over the years, getting medication for acne when I knew I had caused the marks and wounds by my own hands. By my late 20s I got to a point where I didn’t want this illness controlling me anymore. There were perpetual cycles of shame, embarrassment and chronic anxiety and I had no choice really but to try and help myself because it was destroying me. I had to confront the illness head-on when I started a Masters in Dance when I was 29 and it was then that I realised that I could use the illness and study it in terms of a movement pattern in and on my body. I had no idea that thinking in this way was going to turn this disorder around. It was life changing.

It is evident in your work that texture plays an important role. What is it about working with materials and your own body that is so integral to your practice?

As I honed in on the unique physicality of Skin Picking I began to recognise the obsessive ways my gaze had always been drawn to textures. I have always been fascinated by peeling paint, lichen, distressed or ageing surfaces. As I began to turn skin picking into a creative practice I found I was using these influences directly with my skin. I guess I navigate my skin as a soft canvas for imaginative transformation and ultimately healing. I explored the way my body moved. I used body-focused repetitive behaviour as an art practice and miraculously began to get better. My artworks encompass not only CSP but depression and anxiety through the use of textural materials like latex, clay, acrylic paint to transform and re-imagine my skin.

How does your background in theatre and dance come into your work?

I was not formally diagnosed until my early 30s, so lived with the illness for more than 25 years without ever being treated. Making this artwork and confronting the condition through my training in dance and theatre is what got me better. The body has always been a fascination for me. I had studied dance and drama throughout my education and at university elected to study drama. My dream was to study performance and the body but beneath my clothes the compulsive skin picking continued to prevail. Studying movement at university level meant I could no longer avoid the picking. As part of the course were encouraged to study our everyday movement patterns. For the first time I looked at how this illness dominated my physicality every day. Very slowly I began to document what the illness had done to my body. I began to recognise the illness was a unique dance and that I could turn my illness into something else, something creative to move me away from the harm it was doing to me. Through dance I found I was able to express things I didn't have language for and channelled the specific movements of the illness across my body into something positive. I began making artwork about my skin using film and photography. Subsequently I've been fortunate to exhibit my artwork in therapeutic settings and galleries all over the world, including Japan, Los Angeles, Melbourne and London.

Is there an element of catharsis from the work you make? Is there a need to create that has therapeutic return?

Yes, there is absolutely a cathartic and therapeutic effect in making this work. The compulsive capturing process in the studio absolutely mirrors the illness, and yet for creative return, not damage and pain. I have been able to transform the illness into something beautiful instead and in exploiting my own preoccupations with texture I have found new ways to see my body. It keeps me well. It will never leave me but I now have a creative strategy to return to again and again when I am unsettled or anxious.

Do you have a favourite project and why?

Curdled, commissioned by Bethlem Gallery for Anxiety Festival 2014, was made during my darkest and most frightening episode of severe depression and chronic anxiety in 2014. This was a life changing process because I allowed my creativity to explore the darkest emotions and horror I was feeling at the time. It enabled me to pull myself back to health. In the process it also enabled me to change my job and leave a long term role to pursue creative and therapeutic endeavours.

Were you able to draw inspiration or kinship from other artists who make work in response to CSP?

I haven't met any other artists with Compulsive Skin Picking but I am certainly inspired by others who are transforming personal mental and physical health challenges through creative processes. there is absolutely a kinship to folk also navigating these kinds of issues.

You're also a creative practitioner. What role do you think art plays within self-expression for those with mental health difficulties? And what tools and tactics do you use when teaching to bring out creativity in others?

I am now using these experiences through my art as a creative practitioner to lead workshops and work with others living with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. I am keen to help people find ways to express and release challenging or dominating feelings creatively. I try to work intuitively, patiently and gently with people creating for the first time. I always trust the 'making' to find a way through the challenges and failures that inevitably come up. When everything seems hopeless something intuitive and powerful often swings in — this is the process! I have been awed by it time and time again when working with others.

How did you feel about releasing such personal work into the public sphere? Did you have any fears?

I only spoke publicly about skin picking for the first time when I was invited to show the work in Bethlem Gallery, the world's oldest psychiatric hospital. This revolutionised my approach everywhere. Instead of hiding the truth I now say it as the first thing!! It's taken 10 years to feel able to do so. I have been making work as an artist for a decade now but I only really 'came out' about the skin disorder and mental illness in 2013. It was a very hard decision at the time but it has transformed my life and purpose. I realised as I started to get better as a result of making this work that it was a valid and important piece of information the audience were missing out on. I could have just carried on saying "I make work about skin" but when I started saying "I make work about a compulsive skin picking disorder that I have had all my life" the audience reaction began to change and that became very important to me. Basically the illness used to dominate and occupy my body in private, which was its power, and eventually the artwork became more important than the illness. I found a way to normalise and control the condition. Compulsive skin picking is very misunderstood and hardly talked about and I realised I almost had a duty to tell the truth because every time I did so I was destigmatising it and audiences began to really understand what they were seeing and why. So I guess it is not just a personal story, it becomes something that is human and universal. We all have skins and bodies and stories. People will always find their own interpretations and identifications in artwork, no matter what. So the two are intrinsically linked, the art and the condition, the condition and the art.

What prompted you to speak out as a mental health advocate on CSP?

I now understand anxiety is cited as one of the most common mental illnesses but some chronic anxiety disorders such as Compulsive Skin Picking and Trichotillomania are seldom recognised and treatment in the UK is very hard to access. They are much more common than initially thought and I know from first-hand experience the complexity and distressing impact it can have on life. Most people with CSP suffer in secret and feel totally isolated. I now aim to normalise Compulsive Skin Picking. I do what I can, bravely speaking about my experience in an attempt to destigmatise and help others with this devastating condition who may feel they have nowhere to turn.

What are you working on now?

Compulsive Skin Picking is considered a lifelong condition. I now largely live in 'recovery' so there are periods of wellness where CSP doesn't happen at all, but it's my body's default mechanism to handle stress, fear, anger, boredom, so it's a daily reprieve and a constant shadow. Making artwork is a crucial way to keep me well, so it's a daily activity to take photographs, draw or paint as part of my art practice. Thus I have been compulsively drawing in charcoal since January and have accumulated more than 50 drawings. These are proving to be very therapeutic! I also am collaborating with other photographers (Daniel Regan and Lenka Rayn H)

It's also Open Studios coming up where I live, 9th/10th and 16th/17th May from 11-6pm at Havelock Walk in Forest Hill. Come and see my latest charcoal drawings, artworks and photos.


Christina Riley

Christina Riley's Back to Me is a raw look at the use of photography to bring oneself back from the brink of mental illness. Published by Straylight Press (buy here) — and on its second edition — Christina's work documents the quiet and contemplative moments amongst the mania and madness of bipolar disorder.

"In 2011, I lost my mind.

Somewhere beneath the world we all know, was mine. With reality removed, I stepped forward. Into a dream. There was no self, there was nothing else."

The images in Back to Me are often grainy and have a raw feel to them — was this a deliberate choice in terms of format/aesthetic?
When I shot Back to Me, I remember just having a gut feeling that the grain was working best to convey the actual emotions and space I was experiencing. I didn’t question it at all. Something about the imperfections and weird color cast really matched the dreamlike, disconnected state I was in.

How did you feel about initially sharing such a personal project? And how do you feel about the work now that some time has passed?
I never really felt hesitant to share the photographs with the world. I think it’s important for people to see, understand and possibly be able to relate to the reality of mental illness as a real human experience. It annoys me when people are guarded and scared to show true colors of life. I think it was important to share and I’m still happy with my decision. I still feel really emotionally attached to the work, of course.

What drew you to producing the work in a book format?
Shortly after the worst of the episode was over my friend/mentor Tony Fouhse who founded and runs Straylight Press offered to publish a book for me. Not just because we are close, but because he really believed in the photographs. I was sharing them on an blog with some poetry as it was all happening so he was able to see them develop there. He was a huge help with making the book. Straylight Press is so great. Not just saying that because of my relationship with Tony, but what they put out is work that people should see. Might be some stuff certain people don’t want to see, but it’s real and important and it should be looked at.

Was there any therapeutic benefit of documenting this episode in your life?
I was so lost in my own world. The camera was like a line to reality - not enough really to pull me out of my insanity but I just knew it was something I had to do. It almost felt like a part of my body. I actually remember looking at the camera and thinking of it as a person sort of, watching me. In hindsight, having the photographs and making the book really made me face my illness and know it is actually real and dangerous and something I have to take care of. It was extremely hard to look at the pictures after but by doing that and sequencing them into a book, I was able to process everything that happened. It felt like a real end.

What kind of reactions have you had from Back to me? Have others reached out to talk about their own difficulties with mental health?
The reactions I’ve had from 'Back to Me’ have meant so much to me. People have written me saying that it helped them feel understood or not alone, people have told me also that it made them cry. I had a conversation with someone who actually told me their friend committed suicide at one of the spots pictured in my book, and he told me he was happy I got through my episode ok. The positive feedback from other photographers and artists who I respect has been really nice and encouraging as well. I think putting myself out there so honestly, really set me free.

In your video interview you speak about the need to create these images almost as a compulsion. Does this compulsion still exist within your approach to photography and if so, how?
I think there has always been a compulsion within me, wether its taking pictures or making music. I just feel like I can’t help what I do when I’m doing it. When I am not doing it, I obsess over not doing it, and feel really crappy, wanting so bad to do it. It’s a vicious and frustrating cycle, but when I am able to get in a steady rhythm with the compulsiveness, things really happen. With Back to Me, it was a little different because I really felt everything so much more intensely, there were no questions or distractions at all in my brain or life. I was hyper focused.

What kind of projects are you focusing on now and in the future?
Right now I’m mostly focusing both physically and photographically on my relationship with my daughter who is 1.5 years old. From early on in my pregnancy I decided to photograph myself, and the way I saw the world as I dealt with an unplanned pregnancy. Since my daughter was born, the project has continued on, basically just documenting myself and life as I navigate through something I never planned on becoming. It has opened my eyes and my heart for sure. A side from that just a couple other ongoing projects I try to add to at least once a year. Music also takes up a lot of my time. There’s never, ever nothing to do!


You can pick up a copy of Back to Me via Straylight Press.

Jim Mortram

Jim Mortram is a self-taught photographer from Norfolk (UK) whose emotionally evocative photo-essays marry text and image to share the stories of those often living on the margins. His on-going project, Small Town Inertia, is an exploration of the lives of those in his local community, whereby Mortram seeks to create friendships that go deeper than the photographer and subject dynamic. Jim’s approach to documenting these stories focuses on listening and building trusting relationships with those he meets, often revisiting those he photographs like you would a friend — after all, that is what they have become to him. In this specific example we focus on Mortram's photo-stories with Tilney1, a local artist and mental health service user diagnosed with schizotypal and obsessive compulsive disorders.

Click here to jump to the featured photo-essay with Tilney1

How did you meet Tilney1 and what drew you to photograph him? How did he feel about your initial approaching him as a subject?

I first began to document the artist and poet Tilney1 in 2009 whilst I was volunteering at a local drop-in Mental Health Arts group. Both the creativity and honesty of his work left a huge impression upon me. His canvasses instantly reminded me of the American painter Basquiat. Coded, abstract narratives, words and the branding of memories. Filled with symbols these confessional mind maps captivated me. His photography, poetry and scrolls of writing all held the same power.

He'd written a book of thoughts, fears, stories, his life story and left it purposefully upon a table in an Arts Centre so someone may find it. Tilney1 started having problems at 13 and was diagnosed at 17 with Schizotypal and Obsessive Compulsive disorders.

A series of traumatic events acted as triggers. He was abused. He worked nights at Tesco’s. He fought to retain normality. He succumbed to the increasing volume of his internal narratives. He’d been sectioned. After being both incorrectly and over medicated he spent 10 years in bed. 10 wasted years.

What does a typical session look like? How long do you spend together and how do you engage with your subjects to put them at ease?

As I work upon these shoots in the scant free time I have (I'm a full time carer for my Mother) what usually happens is that I'm in constant contact with everyone I document via social media, email and telephone. When I can grab an hour or two to make it out of the house, I'll arrange a meet up. I can usually make a couple of meet ups per week, and try to make at least three visits with different people within my local community, every week.

I never view anyone I document as subjects — they are people, they are members of my local community. I visit as myself, I just always have a camera with me. Be it a first meet or a hundredth, it's always the same. I arrive, we talk, I listen more than I talk and depending on the situation I'll either document or make portraits as we go.

How to make people at ease? Well, I think of this as life. Just because there is a camera there, life does not cease, so the same rules apply. To get trust you have to earn it. Time, patience, being explicit in explaining what is happening from the onset. It'd be very easy to make a thousand images with a thousand different people, taking little time on each, but for me that's speed dating vs. a long relationship. I'm not interested in speed dating. Also the longer you spend with someone the greater understanding you have, the more a story arc is naturally and organically allowed to evolve. From the very beginning of working upon photo essays and documentaries, I knew that it had to be long form. A five minute shoot would share so little for myself, thinking of the people sharing with me, that felt too much of a disservice to their trust, to their giving so much. The aim is to show as close to reality as is possible and to enable that one must dedicate, have patience and be there for the duration.

Your work is a combination of raw images and text that is both aesthetically and emotionally evocative. How did you come to working in this format and how do you think it compliments the documenting of the complex issues that your subjects are facing?

It's really simple: images without context, or testimony only do a small job. It's a little like looking at a book cover and expecting to understand the plot. I'm not interested in sharing images, adrift, with no context being there simply for another human being to then be expected to fill in the blanks. Those blanks will be coloured by whatever that viewer brings to them — it could be understanding or it could be prejudice. I was never prepared to take that risk with the people sharing their stories.

Photographs are tools, they have function, they are hooks that pull people towards the context, to the testimony, to that other reality and through that act of communication, a point of illumination.

You cover a lot of deep thoughts and issues in your accompanying texts. Is there a reflection process for you after each session?

I'm constantly working on stories, I never stop. I'm always thinking about everything to do with every story, all the time. It's not something I pick up or put down. I'm constantly reflecting upon all these lives, all these stories.

There's a beautiful quote from Tilney1 about how his creativity has given his life purpose. What do you think it is about the creative process that gives Tilney1 relief from his difficulties?

It goes a little way to fill the void of absence of love, interest, help and support.

What role do you think photography has played, if any, in relieving any of your own personal tensions or difficulties?

It helped me discover who I was and gave me an opportunity to believe it was OK to be myself. When you find — or if you find — the thing about you, and it could be anything, anything that 'is' you, you question it, think about it, no more than you do breathing, it's just a part of you.

What is it that draws you to documenting the difficulties faced by others?

I'm not particularly drawn to documenting difficulties, at all. It's more a case of everyone has stories and events in their lives. I've never sought out a story or scenario to document, it's a very organic process. I meet people as we all do in life, as a part of life, sometimes they hear of me from within the community, and I get a call or email requesting I shoot their story.

What it does state is how many are having a hard time, a really fucking hard time and rather than turn my back to that I open my arms and eyes and very importantly, my ears. Though many of the stories I have worked up, been so lucky to work upon, have elements of difficulties. In truth, in myself, I don't see that element. What I see is people, enduring. I see people enduring and I'm always shooting with that in mind, guided by their lead, mindful, always of how much respect these people, people just like you or I deserve, but so often never get.

Have you faced any difficulties throughout Small Town Inertia and how did you address them?

The only difficulty, ever, has been the frustration at not being able to work on the stories 24/7, and lack of funds, financially, it's hard to do, especially as I work unpaid and fund everything myself, and seldom few desire to commission such stories. However, I never began this journey for financial gain. I began it for I felt a void in reporting of this fashion and felt compelled to fill it.

Is there a long-term goal to Small Town Inertia?

To be the best conduit I can, to do justice to all the stories and events that fellow human beings share with me, so I might in turn pass those stories on to other human beings.

Your work often document moments of vulnerability. How do you manage issues of consent or showing images that may later cause anxieties for the subject? Are they involved in the selection/editing process?

Trust. It's key. From minute one of day one on any story the people I work with know everything — what will happen with images, where and how they are shared. Photographs from stories are always and only shared within the context of the story, I've never sold (and will never) an image for stock usage for example. So, these photographs have homes, that work and serve the stories, on site, online features, exhibition, book and print, all of which serve the same role as the photographs... to pull people towards the stories and testimonial. There is little point working upon a story with the function of raising awareness and then not carrying on the job after that 1/50th second shutter click, and putting in the hours and days and weeks work, getting it seen. The stories are long form, and so is the work, to have them seen. It's life. I seldom question it, I just get on with it.

As I remain in contact with everyone I document and in a very large way this is a collaboration, it makes things run very smooth. I'm more prone to edit hard than the people within the stories. Often I've been pushed by them to include a photograph, that I might have left out. Why? "Because it's the truth, why else are we doing it, than to share that?" is the answer most given.

Everyone I work with wants to share their truth as much as I do and usually they are so passionate to do so for one single, simple fact... Until those moments when we embarked on a long form story, no one gave one fuck.

So in a big way these stories are a call, a cry, not for attention, but of validation, of 'I exist', of 'this reality exists', within a time of great apathy, stigma and a blame culture where the poor and most vulnerable are so often used, stereotyped, damned and discussed, singularly, in patronising tone, or as pawns in a game, a game they, we, so often are never allowed to win and are engineered only to lose. When the poor begin blaming the poor, you know, everything is wrong. When they are able blame the disabled, again, you know everything is wrong.

I've never sought to 'take' images, rather to make them with the people I'm so lucky to document.

I prefer to build a relationship than buy one so I never pay for shots. For example I don't use a model release, I earn trust just the same way we do in any relationship. I've never related to this notion that a camera sets up a relationship, different rules, to any relationship without one.

What is next for you?

Hard at work on coming stories.



Small Town Inertia is self-funded by Jim Mortram. If you would like to support his project please check out his website and Facebook where he often sells prints from the project.


"When I was completely and utterly depressed, but, like a nice depression, I was still able to take films in, but, I was watching them all on my own."

There is a chilling echo.

A reverberation, a continuation, a thread of stitches, a commonality, a mirroring of the ‘memory loops’ that occupy and feed upon Tilney1.

In writing these opening paragraphs – The hours, days, weeks and months roll on. Not filled with evolution as one might expect. Chaos is not permitted to intervene and gift chance meetings, no friendships born from new seeds, blossoming, growing. No tenderness, no love, no lingering kisses shared to be savoured, no holidays, these are days of no surprises. There is little escape from the barren landscape of Tilney1’s day to day, a landscape left scarred and sterile by his schizophrenia, his medication and continual isolation – words, written almost a year to the day ago, still, as relevant, as though on repeat.

A day repeated, on repeat.

In the absence of profound change, of change in diagnosis, of change in environment, relationships, isolation, in being, still a ghost. Seen, yet unseen, on the fringe, on the outside, alien, alienated, misunderstood, maligned, marooned.

Still, in this vacuum, Tilney1, as though a last man on earth, endures. Fights, minute to minute, day upon day, weeks, years, through a lifetime.

How then, to breathe and be?, to face a day that is a forever echo, pulsating with past traumas and the scars of yesterday and yesterdays, alive with them. How to navigate the walls of this invisible maze, walls that are unyielding, forever steering, pushing, forcing. How?.

There is, here, such a force, to equal medication, diagnosis, stigma, indifference, prejudice, of being little more, to so many, than both parasite and statistic.

What equals these boxes and fears, these judgements?.


The hope that Tilney1 has. His.

As loud within his being as any invasive thought or voice, at it’s best, as loud as any fear, or state of self loathing, most, imposed by the failings of others around him, for it’s their projected contempt, that breeds Tilney1’s own notions and absence of self worth.

This hope, his hope, that drives him onwards. Hope, for love, for acceptance, for understanding. Hope is the fuel that powers Tilney1’s endurance.

A hope, that goes as un-noticed in life, as Tilney1, himself.

"I always worry if there are holes in my shoes, like when I was really ill. So, sometimes I wear Travel Fox, sometimes Adidas."

"I would like to wear a nice shirt and some nice trousers, but it seems to me, the more and more people, like the Police, come up to me and ask me ‘Why are you taking photos?’ that I don’t want to dress like corporate mainstream, I want to dress like this. Kevin Carter trousers, on the Manic Street Preachers cover, you know?"

"Now, with all my writing, art and photography, I watch films to use as inspiration, I write down sound bites for my poetry, reviews, absolutely everything about them, and I try to do all the things I wanted to do when I was on my film studies course, all that time ago, when all I did then was worry about work."

"All that studying, I mean, it’s nothing you can’t do at home, you know what I mean?. Though, I do think, what’s the point to any film, even romantic films, if you can only watch them by yourself?"

One of Tilney1’s many folders, filled with his poetry.

"It’s very hard, the constant worry about credit card bills, Mum having to help me out with money, but, I am really trying my hardest. I lost my credit card, but another arrived today and the first thing I did was pay off the £70 telephone bill."

Watching the film, Halloween.

"When they said I was unwell at Hellesdon (In-patient Mental Hospital), I had to hang about with all these terribly mentally ill people, rubble on the floor, doors kicked in, and look at my flat, it’s just an art empire!."

"They said I was unwell in the Autumn, Halloween. Relevant. You see?"

"I used to have these love visions come over me, I’d see something and I’d feel like a beautiful feeling come over me, within my heart, inside my soul, but they stopped happening."

Reading through one of the numerous, hand written journals of memories, loops, connections and links.

"Once again, I’m always finding answers, Teddy Sheringham, Southwold, the Trafford Arms was in the Insight magazine, St Stephens Street 1980, the sexual health clinic, a charity shop with Dave Wolverton books, a video games shop, with like, old school DVD’s."

"Going to the Old Trafford to watch football, right?, then ring up Hellesdon hospital and tell them I went to the Trafford Arms, Southwold and Sherringham, all the time worrying about work and everything."

"Constantly all the time this terrible worry, back then. About work. I just, I just try to use my coping mechanisms, and then when I feel I am coping, I draw, make art and write."

"What is the concept of weird?. You can analyse all eccentric behaviour, and I do. The whole concept of the Sun newspaper, slating all people on Welfare and the work shy, but, all I have ever wanted is a life for myself and a girlfriend but that never happened."

"I do try to be an amazing person though. I try and find inspiration in my illness. I never chose to be mentally ill, you know?, it was never a lifestyle choice."

"The thing is, it’s harder, worse, I imagine for ethnic minorities and gay people to live here, how do you explain to people about that Bismark used to amp up the party, self destruction record drops?."

"Once again, if you’re a nice, sensitive person like I am, liking House music, Hip-Hop, Hip-House, who started House music?, gay people!, who started Hip-Hop?, black people!, all people who are oppressed, like me, like all mentally ill people."

About to begin a wall collage.

"I’m always thinking, it’s always going around and around in my head, ‘Will this take the paint off the walls?, will I be in trouble?’. So, I sit there for an hour, then, OK, ‘Put the MMLVC over 90 on the picture’, put that there, do this, put that there, do this, do that there."

"Instead of just sinking into despair and depression and just taking to my bed, I just refuse to give up. So, then, I just cover the whole wall. A nice artistic coping mechanism."

In the grip of his compulsive addiction to smoking.

"It’s just crazy, though, I bought a red and a blue one (Vaping electronic smoking device) and I’m just using them to get myself through the nights, and then smoking (Regular cigarettes) through the day when my Mum gives me the money to buy cigarettes, I mean, that’s not the right thing to do is it?, that’s just very sad."


"It is a struggle, to stop, the whole eccentricity about smoking has always been there for me."

"Believe me, I do try my hardest (To stop smoking) I really, really do. Even in my loneliness, I do try my hardest. The whole concept of smoking being cool, it’s just so stupid."

Newspaper headline about vaping.

Taken by a memory loop, vaping.

"I’m a nice looking kid there, like a model, with my hands on my hips. How you love football when you are a kid!. Before everything that happened to me when I was an adolescent."

Tilney1’s collection of second hand games.

"A lot of collecting games is about my loneliness, they all remind me of the past, people. The thing is, the diagnosis I have is there and there is nothing I can do to get away from it."

"They say that mentally ill people go on shopping sprees, with me, I do have insight, but I still do it. It’s a coping mechanism."

Upon a cursory glance, it would have been easy to believe his past compulsions to make art, to write, had been replaced with hoarding, but looking deeper, seeing, Tilney1 has in fact become his art, for every item has purpose, is a reflection of his memory loops, his walls, cut and paste collages, all have import, all have meaning, nothing is without thought, nothing an aside.

Tilney1 is constructing a cocoon, a defence, a protection. He is his art.

Journals, filled from page one, to one hundred, cover to cover narratives documenting memory loops and observations, fill his apartment, walls become collages, every book, record, C.D, every item, and at the epicentre, within these walls, he creates, he hopes, he endures.

"Coping mechanisms, they are a constant thing, for me, really. All the time, with me. Don’t spend any money until the Manic Street Preachers play the Holy Bible, pay all my bills. Nice, logical plans. My D.L.A. (Disability Living allowance) will be paid into my bank in about a week, hopefully, that will all go to paying my bills, that’s a nice, logical plan."

"It’s better to spend money on games for my PS3 than heroin and end up in prison."

"My compulsive spending will stop and it has, like I said, incredibly interesting coping mechanisms, all my money will now go on bills, that’s being responsible."

"I mean, every time I buy something, anything, it’s always a coping strategy, like, I went into town when England played Lithuania at football, suddenly, all these kids were chasing me down the street, so I lit a candle, lithium, you see?"

"These brain dead kids wearing hooded tops that cruise the streets in cars followed me, then I went to Tesco’s. I’d gone all along the railway line, round the back way, and they had turned their car around and come the other way, stopped their car and got out and walked up to me, then the Police turned up and I said to them “You’ll probably arrest me instead of the kids!"

"Then I bought some Haribo cupcakes. I lit the candle, for Kurt Cobain… lithium… Lithuania, Cobain died for our sins, you see?"

"The fear of being hit is incredibly worrying. The funny thing is, the Police said ‘What do you do for a living?’ which was exactly the same things as the kids said to me."

The mail arrives, often a moment of heightened anxiety, terror.

"I’m taking more money from my Mum now but it does seem like she understands, you know?. When the mail comes, bills or benefits letters, I drink like, five cups of coffee and smoke ten cigarettes before I can open it."

Overwhelmed with stress.

Any news only serves to exacerbate his struggles with paranoid schizophrenia. The telephone, an invasion, now, even the thin sliver of his mailbox, is something new, to fear. Letters regarding bills or his DLA benefits cause instant confusion, sustained panic. The information always hard to process, to untangle, to make reason of, is magnified by aloneness and his condition, it’s easy to worry, and this fear spirals and causes greater panic, a poisonous catch 22.

"I’d freaked out in town, the day before, I got scared as I’d had some crap in the street said to me, but I had to go into town to visit the bank, just to see if my benefits had been paid into my bank."

Consumed with confusion and fear, a result of the incomprehension of mail describing changes to the time of payment, to Tilney1’s benefits.

"From the letters, I couldn’t understand them, so I did not know if they (Benefits) had been paid in, or they had been cut, or anything. It’s really stressful, it terrifies me."

Tilney1’s re-mixed, home made clothing.

"Making clothes, re-mixing them, it’s all to do with dreams I was having, dreams are there for a reason, even when I was in the abyss of despair, I figure the dreams were helping me. It’s very punk."

"The Clash, thinking about ‘This is England’, thinking about how medication has affected my brain. England’s dreaming."

A collection of compact discs, arranged in order of related memory.

"I have great musical taste, but, I’ve never had a proper girlfriend."

Wall collages.

Lonely hearts column within the local newspaper.

"I might just go on the E.D.P dateline one last time, but it’s just so hopeless and sad."

"I mean, what’s the point of going on a dateline and talking about the film Halloween, and all the amazing people that Bjork worked with and all this incredibly interesting stuff when people my age, they might be single have probably all got kids and do normal things. I am a lovely person though, and if I was with a lady with children, because I am such a lovely person, I’d stay with them 24/7."

"I look at what my Dad is like with me, and I’d do the opposite, I’d really care for them. I am trying my hardest."

"I did used to be able to talk to women, but, since my diagnosis, since that’s been written down in my records, now, now, I just can’t do anything, so how are they, writing this down in my records, helping me?"

"After they told me I was a Paranoid Schizophrenic, I turned my back on girls, let alone going up to them and actually talking to them."

"I wanted to ring every number on the dateline, but if my phone bill is going to be £70 every time, I’ll just logically plan it out, maybe call one or two, or just not bother at all, any more. I’ve called a few, left messages, just in the hope of a girl talking to me, but, no one has ever called me back."

Tilney1, writing, within his apartment, April 2015.

Click here to read more stories about Tilney1.