Ashley Whitt

Ashley Whitt is a fine art photographer whose work deals with themes of duality within the self, psychological states, and mortality. She uses a variety of photographic techniques including dass transfers, digital manipulation in Photoshop, sculptural bookmaking, and traditional darkroom processes. Ashley is a Texas native and currently resides in Dallas.

How did the idea for The Haunted Mind come about?

I began the series in 2012, shortly after I graduated from Texas Woman's University with my MFA in photography. My biggest fear after graduation was that I would not continue making art. I didn’t want to lose that fire to create, so I began to think about what was most important for me to portray in my work.

I began sketching storyboards and scouting locations for inspiration. I knew I wanted to make a series that tip toed the line between truth and fiction. I found the truth of the work in my struggles with depression and anxiety that I have battled since I was in high school. The fictions through dreams, memories, desire for narrative and inspiration from literature and film. Through the solitary performance of the work, my unconscious mind began to reveal underlying issues of my mother’s passing, and a fascination with death.

Can you explain a little bit about the physical process of creating these works (with dass transfers etc)? What drew you to working in this way?

The process I use within my work is called Dass transfer. The image is inkjet printed onto a special transparency film that has an emulsion coating on one side. Hand sanitizer or a special medium called SuperSauce are the two most common mediums used to transfer the image from the transparency to any final surface including paper, metal and fabric. The transfer technique allows for manipulation, and I use several methods to create my desired aesthetic. By applying more medium, I can create blurred areas in the image. I also use a bone folder to create different marks. I first learned about the Dass transfer process during my time at graduate school. I instantly fell in love with the technique and aesthetic.

What inspirations do you draw on when thinking of new images?

Many of my aesthetic inspirations come from film and literature. I particularly love horror and thriller films. A Tale of Two Sisters is a Japanese horror movie that I’ve watched over and over. I also love Alfred Hitchcock; Vertigo and Shadow of a Doubt are a few of my favorites. A short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne titled The Haunted Mind, has provided a well of inspiration for the series. Hawthorne writes about the edge of conscious and unconscious thought achieved on the edge of sleep. I saw many parallels to the imagery in the story and how I felt inside.

How do the chosen locations play into the images from this project?

I love exploring secluded parks or wooded areas that I can get lost within. A sense of solitude in my location choices is important to my meditative and deeply personal working process. Currently, I'm lucky because a quiet wood where much of this work is photographed is within walking distance of my apartment.

Has making the work for The Haunted Mind helped you in any way deal with the death of your mother or the subsequent depression, and how?

I lost my mother to cancer 7 years ago, right as I began studying photography. For a while I made work based on fairytales and children's literature as a means to escape reality. As I started developing my voice as an artist, my work shifted and became a combination of fantasy and a fascination with death. As grad school ended, my work shifted again and began to discuss mental illness and its effects. Since grad school, my work has focused less on mental illness and become more about the psychological experience of loss and living with anxiety.

As an artist, I feel it is necessary to make work that reflects my own life experience and what lives in my mind. I think about my mom constantly, and wish I could talk to her and ask her questions. When I make art, I create a visual interpretation of my longing for her and the questions that will never be answered. There are ideas I cannot express through words, and only images can act as my voice. This is why I make art.

Since these images are one offs, how are they usually shown within an exhibition environment?

I can recreate similar techniques with the Dass transfer, but no two images are ever exactly the same. Each image is unique. I usually show the series in one setting or have a few pieces in a group exhibition at a time. I use magnets to suspend the images from the wall, which allows for the paper to move as people walk through the gallery. I also use grids to display my images.

What's next for you?
Since April, I have been on hiatus from photographing for The Haunted Mind to pursue other projects. I still draw storyboards for images and scout locations for but I am not actively shooting images. Currently, I am making handmade sculptural books out of lumen prints layered with sewing, which I call Anxiety Studies. The books focus on the act of sewing as a visual interpretation of anxiety

Aleksandra Stone

Aleksandra Stone is an artist and photographer from then Yugoslavia by way of the U.S. Her delicately intricate self-portraits straddle both photography and sculpture, taking an incredible amount of time to construct with a high production value. Her self-portrait work aims to express her feelings around living with depression and human vulnerability.

Could you explain a little bit about your background — where you're from and how you found your way to Louisville, Kentucky?

My mother, father, and I were admitted to America in 1998 as refugees evading war and persecution during the political upheaval in what is formerly known as Yugoslavia. Prior to our arrival to the United States, my family had been residing in Germany for a number of years following a difficult and perilous escape from the country of my birth. Our move to the U.S., and more particularly to Louisville, Kentucky, was one of a handful of options presented to us by the German government following denial of our request for permanent residence. Actually, Germany approved two out of three of us for permanent residence, but my parents chose not to split up the family, and we packed our life into four suitcases and headed into the unknown.

How old were you when you began to take photographs & what drew you to photography as a medium?

I have always been interested in photography; in fact, it was the only common ground my father and I shared. I remember from a young age it was one of the few things in which he possessed the patience to educate me. I spent most of my formative years dabbling in all types of creative media, but in all honesty, I excelled at none of them. In Louisville, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to attend one of the best secondary schools in the area. However, the only thing I gathered from my experience was that I was extraordinarily inept at painting, drawing, textiles, and ceramics. Even though I felt a great sense of belonging in the art studio, the quality of work I produced was mediocre at best. By the time I made it through University, I had abandoned art entirely. It was not until the passing of an incredibly dear friend in 2012 that I picked my camera up as a means of coping with the grief. Initially, I did not know where the experience would take me, but it occupied my mind, and instilled me with a sense of purpose when I needed it the most. It has now been a little over three years, and my biggest accomplishment has been abandoning variations of the mantra "...if you only know how to do one thing, do it well."

This may not necessarily be true for others, but in my experience, this expression was incredibly detrimental to my artistic experience. In years prior, I spent entirely too long determining what, exactly, my one “well” thing was. It was not until recently that I embraced a different approach, which led to my understanding that it is acceptable to be okay at a multitude of things, and to use these building blocks as a framework for something greater.

Your photographs are highly conceptual in their execution and often have a high production value. What is the process of creating a photograph like, including the headpieces?

From conceptualization, my process of creating a portrait begins with self-made costumes, masks, sculptures, and oft elaborate set designs that are integral in conveying the scene and setting the tone of the photograph. It can take several weeks to months to create delicate pieces out my preferred media, fabric, glass, metal, stone, and animal bones. It is crucial that it all be real and tangible. The production of the three-dimensional pieces is typically arduous and mind-numbingly repetitive. The completed products are incredibly delicate as they are most always made from pieces of something that used to be whole. The entire process mimics different stages of depression; a barrage of the same tiring thoughts day after day, picking up the pieces in attempt to put yourself back together, but what began as strong is now fragile.

Many pieces become irreparably damaged during the photo shoot, casualties of rough or constant handling. The ones that make it get to live on forever as a separate entity outside of the photograph.

You talk openly in your work about your experiences with depression. How has photography helped with your mental health and in what way?

I have a tremendous admiration for storytellers; oral, visual, and written accounts have been indisputably integral to our advancement and enrichment as a society. My presence behind my camera has instilled me with a sense of purpose, and given voice to a narrative for which I otherwise lacked words. Presently, I am on a quest, one I feel every person has the ability to set out upon. It is grounded in the belief that each individual is capable of making a positive and significant impact in the world. I am of the opinion that topics pertaining to mental health have been dwelling in the shadows of history for too great a time. Only as of late have we begun to unveil and understand the stifled voices of the past. The world is now a better place than ever, in part due to social media, which enables individuals rather than institutions to become vehicles for disseminating information about mental health. Photography has become my voice in this ambitious undertaking to share my journey with others. It busies my mind and my body. This is immensely important, as depression tends to feel akin to swimming in an ocean with no sight of land; you can tread, swim, or float but no matter which method you chose, survival requires constant effort.

What do you hope viewers take away from your images?

Through my work, I aspire to illuminate the vulnerabilities of what it means to be human, no matter how unflattering. While life before the camera can be intimidating, I disallow it to be defeating. Behind every self-portrait endeavor is a dedicated effort to create a piece that is exempt from the scrutiny of the self, so that it may convey a message of perseverance and authenticity. My primary goal is to establish a personal connection with the viewer by entrusting them with my narrative, and welcoming them to participate in an open discourse about the prevalence of mental health issues in our society. I have no doubt that each member of my viewing audience has something crucial to contribute to this conversation, whether be an introspective assessment of their own life, an improved understanding of an unfamiliar subject matter, or the discovery of art as an avenue to communicating their own psychological frailties.

What are you working on now, and what's next?

At the moment, I am in the process of creating pieces for a solo show that transpires over the course of two months next summer. I am also attempting to ready myself for a move to New York City later this fall. Presently, I am uncertain of what to expect of the latter, other than the inevitability of having to get even more creative managing a clutter of pieces in what will indisputably be a microscopic space. I am enormously curious to see how that change of scenery will affect my work.

Kev Hawken

Disorder by Kev Hawken (midlands, UK) came about during his studies at Nottingham Trent university in 2012. Tasked with a visual practice brief called A Subjective Approach and drawing upon references from photographers such as Antoine D'Agata, Nan Goldin and JH Engstrom, Kev initially shied away from creating such personal work. Suffering at the time with generalised anxiety disorder he finally found the courage to share work with his class, despite his fears surrounding the stigma associated with mental illness.

Kev's work highlights his frustration, despair and sense of isolation from living with anxiety for the past twelve years, using his student accommodation as the site for Disorder.