Dolly Sen

Dolly Sen is a visual artist, writer, film-maker, and performer interested in non-consensual reality, outsidership, empathy, authenticity and absurdity. She has been labeled 'mad' by society. Her work aims to show she makes perfect sense. She thinks reality is a cheeky bastard, and wants to put him over my lap and slap his naughty arse.

Dolly shares with Fragmentary two of her films — Greenhouse Of Hearts and Life As A Side Effect.

Click below to see Life As A Side Effect.
Click here to jump to Greenhouse Of Hearts

Life As A Side Effect: A Survivor made film exploring the effect of psychosis and medication on the quality of life of those experiencing it. This film shows how it can affect every corner of life, even simple things like answering the phone. This film follows Stu Adams, a man with the experience of schizophrenia. A walk in the park is not simply a walk in the park....

Your work is deeply engrained in exploring mental health, both in your films and other artwork. How have your own experiences fed into the making of your artworks, if at all?

I would say most of my own experiences have fed into my creativity. People don’t seem to understand psychosis unless I translate it through film and art. My reality needs more than me just viewing it alone. My passport is stamped with lands no one has visited. I cannot return to the homely tyranny of psychosis, even though I still think in that language. I have become a stateless person, not accepted in my new land. My mind is too strange to pay the adequate amount of taxes. My soul is too hurt to accept any more bullshit. My dreams do not belong in this world. I can’t say society is meaningful and that I am happy to be part of it. So what can I do but share my experiences through my art?

Is there a message or common thread that binds your works together?

That unusual states of mind should not be pathologised, but accepted as human experience; that reality is sometimes naughty and deserves its arse slapped; and that ‘mental illness’ is more to do with a broken heart than a broken brain.

What initially drew you to filmmaking?

I have had a life-long interest in it that stems from being a film extra, such as being in films like Empire Strikes Back. I did think it was a documentary at the time. I lived in a world of pain then and film provided a different reality to escape into. Now it validates my different reality.

What is your creative process when working on a new film?

The idea comes first, after I usually need a person to bounce ideas off and to help me develop them. Words then flood the creative space. Then the sounds. The pictures and images come last, funnily enough.

Is there a cathartic drive behind your work?

I don’t know, to be honest. It does feel like after I create, one more ghost is exorcised, one more monster is humiliated. But at the same time the bigger monsters seem to have more room to dance.

What has it been like sharing your work? Have you had any anxieties around sharing work that is often seen as a sensitive subject matter?

I was anxious at first, but then I realised I can only be true to my own experience and to show the world where shame can go and do one. I don’t aim to be representative of an experience or label, only of what my experience has done to me.

What are you working on now and what are you working on next?

I am interested in how mental health is represented in archives, whose narrative on madness has the power, so am doing some work around that. I am curating, exhibiting, and giving talks for the next few months. But the main project will be a studio film on hearing voices. Next year I want to do a Phd.

Greenhouse of Hearts: A short documentary about Portugal Prints, a mental health arts project, exploring art, being an outsider, the heart and mental health, commissioned by The Royal Academy and Disability Arts Online.

Samantha Pugsley

Samantha Pugsley is a fine art and commercial photographer from Charlotte, North Carolina (USA). Samantha's photography stems from her experiences with anxiety and throughout her work she creates conceptual and self-portrait images around living with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

You're very open about the relationship between your anxiety and photographic practice. Can you tell us a little about what drew you to photography?

I have always been fascinated by photography but I never really understood how powerful it could be until I saw an article on Kyle Thompson. He was creating images like I'd never seen, something honest and personal. In the article, he talked openly about his battle with depression and how photography helped him cope. At that time, I had been recently diagnosed with GAD. Things had gotten really hard for me. My panic attacks were coming more and more frequently. I'd have them at home, in the grocery store, in class, while driving. Some days, I couldn't even leave the house. Reading about Kyle made me wonder if I could somehow use photography to work through my anxiety.

In what way has your photography practice been therapeutic?

More than anything, I think it allows me to step outside of my anxiety. Seeing something through the lens often helps me put it in perspective. It can be conceptual like when I create a scene that explores my feelings of loneliness or it can be literal like when I take a picture of a scrape on my knee after suffering a panic attack about potential health risks like infection or death. Photography is incredibly versatile. It can be whatever I need it to be in that moment. Sometimes it tethers me to reality during moments of panic. Other times, it's an escape to another world when this one is too overwhelming.

How do your images come to fruition? Where do your ideas come from and how do you execute them?

Anxiety has a tendency to make your imagination run wild. My mind often spirals out of control into a constant barrage of 'what-if's' and worst case scenarios. I always keep a sketch book nearby because ideas are born from moments like this. Insomnia is a big one too. I used to hate the nighttime because I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep and it was prime time for my anxiety to flare up really badly. Now, so many of my ideas come when I'm lying silent and sleepless at night. That's not to say I don't still get anxious but it does seem more controlled since I started creating. More generally I'm also inspired by daydreaming, hiking, exploring abandoned buildings, listening to music and driving around aimlessly just looking at the world around me. Once I have an idea, I figure out the best way to photograph it so the theme comes through. Once I have theme, concept, and location, it's mostly a lot of running back and forth between camera and scene (much of my work is self portrait based) and finally, post work in Photoshop.

I'm struck by the loneliness in your photographs, both in the locations of solitude and singular figures.

Loneliness, isolation, and solitude are all prevalent themes in my work. Anxiety is unique in that you simultaneously want to be alone and don't want to be alone. Oftentimes I yearn to make connections with others but anxiety makes me physically incapable. On the flipside, sometimes I'm in a social situation and want nothing more than to be alone. It's a dichotomous relationship that made no sense to me until I started exploring it in my work. I've come to learn that there are many different types of 'alone' and that there's a huge difference between being along and being lonely, if that makes sense.

What do you hope for your viewers to take away from the images?

First, I want others who are impacted by mental illness to feel less alone, for them to know that someone out there understands what they're going through. Second, I want those who aren't affected by mental illness to gain some comprehension from my work. It can be hard to find the right words to talk about it so I try showing it in hopes it might help people understand.

How has the reaction been to making and sharing such personal work?

Overall, it's been positive. Fortunately, I've found my way into some wonderfully uplifting communities. Most notably, Broken Light Collective ( a safe haven for photographers living with and affected by mental illness to share their work. I've been a contributor there since 2013. Flickr has also been instrumental in my artistic growth. I took a break from photography for a while back in 2014 due to some health issues and when I showed back up months later I was welcomed back with open arms by my followers there. There is the occasional naysayer but their comments often remind me why I've chosen to share my work in the first place - so our conversations about mental illness can continue to evolve and we can reduce the stigma associated with it.

What are you working on now and what is next?

Currently, I'm in the planning stages of my first series, inspired by some things I've worked through in therapy. I've also started building a career out of doing what I love. I have occasional client work and I also license my images with a fine art agency. I'm not sure what the future holds or how I'll find the balance between personal work and commercial work but I know one thing for certain: no matter where my art goes, important conversations about mental health will follow it.
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Stephanie Boreham

Stephanie Boreham was born in Kingston, Greater London in 1991. Stephanie works in a predominately moving image medium at present, but her main passion and starting point has always been photography. Stephanie has just completed her Fine Art Degree at the University of Westminster, London in 2015. Stephanie has been involved in various exhibitions in the last 3 years. She lives and works in London.

This project is a visual documentation of the home I grew up. It is a insight into the domestic space where my Mother and Father live. The project was initially meant to focus purely just on my Mother who suffers from severe depression and OCD, but I also became interested in my Father's presence in the images and what this brought to the series of work. I wanted to show my parents movement in the imagery, while using the domestic space as a backdrop to the photographs.

I was interested in following and documenting my mother's movements every time I visited, and noticed that every photograph looked the same as the last, even in the months that past. I was saddened by this realisation, but at the same time very fascinated by it and it actually became a bit of a compulsive act for me, that I would photograph her every time I visited without fail. My mother appears to exist in the photographs but almost merges into the domestic space, she has no identity; her illness strips her of one. My mother can sometimes appear as an object in the house, a piece of furniture or almost a ghost floating through the space. This is also a reflection of our relationship and her role of being my mother; she is there, but most of the time she is not. She can't be due to being so engrossed in her illness, and this is all I have ever known of my mum. I have only ever known her as 'not being well'.

For me, so much time has passed and things have changed for me since I've left home. Going back now I have realised that the house is almost a time-capture, as if time has stood still; nothing has changed, not the domestic space nor the people in it.

Kristianne Drake

Kristianne Drake is a photographer from Southampton, UK. She is interested in the human relationships that occur within a place and the (sometimes) incidental observations that occur. Kristianne lectures in BA (Hons) Photography at Southampton Solent University and also works at the John Hansard Gallery delivering part of their education program working alongside the Southampton Youth Offending Services.

Here we feature two of her projects, You Were Here and Sometimes Things Just Disappear. Her project You Were Here began when Kristianne Drake began to fall ill. As her OCD worsened her observation of the never-ending piling up of teabags in the family home began to frustrate her.

"These photographs represent an inability to assess rationally. They are the injustice in a household that conspires; the crisis felt when rational thinking becomes clouded, and the instability of a brain whose chemical imbalance does not allow these things to be resolved simply.

Mental health does not have an off switch. Mental health problems don’t discriminate. Some of us have got really good at hiding it until we hit crisis point.

At first when I noticed the piles of tea bags I just got angry, but left them there to see how long it would be before they got cleared away, I guess it became a game that only I knew I was playing. This is one of the manifestations of my mental health illness, I only see the problems that affect me and they become overwhelming and over exaggerated: some might say selfish.

They were these defiant towers that irrationally engulfed my sense of normality every morning. I thought that by dragging my 6x6 camera into the kitchen on its tripod would give me a better advantage - it became like a war between me and the teabags only I was both victim and perpetrator.

This went on for months.

I never touched the piles of tea bags and nor did I ever clear them away.

I didn't tell anyone I was making a photographic documentation of them either."

Kristianne's project Sometimes Things Just Disappear was made in 2011 as a response to circumstance. Using her bedroom — a place she was increasingly withdrawing to — as her backdrop, these photographs are coupled with texts from recorded conversations with a family member. In these recordings they discussed life changing decisions, living with choices we make and how we affect other people. Each photograph is hand printed.