Claire White

Claire White is a 22 year old from Scotland, currently completing her BA in Photography at Edinburgh Napier University. White has a passion for creating projects that evoke a reaction from her audience. She is "interested in stories that matter, from real people who are willing to share their experiences with me."

What was it that first attracted you to photography?

That’s quite a funny story actually. While selecting the subjects for my sixth and final year of high school, I was really keen to study Advanced Higher Art and Design - it has always been a huge passion of mine. Due to how demanding the course was however, the school usually allowed students to have 2 free study periods that could be dedicated to this subject. My guidance teacher unfortunately thought otherwise and only allowed me to have one free study period, forcing me to choose another subject. Being an art teacher himself, he suggested I take up Higher Photography, seeing as I was 'so into art and design.’ I made a huge deal out of it and went out of my way to let everyone know how annoyed I was. Months later, I applied to a number of universities to study Primary Teaching, as had been my plan for the past few years. When it came down to prepping for my interviews however, I realised my heart wasn’t in it and it wasn’t for me after all. That’s when I turned to photography. I found I was able to express myself in a way painting never quite measured up for me - and I fell in love with it. I applied to college straight away, having only a couple of weeks left in High School, and to my surprise I got in. That’s where it all started really. You could say I owe it all to my guidance teacher in high school!

How did the theme of mental health become a key part of your practice?

My younger brother was my main inspiration for my turn to mental health projects. He had recently opened up about his suffering from severe anxiety. The reality of it shocked me at the time and everything about him suddenly made sense. I felt like I understood him so much better, purely because of one conversation. That’s when it hit me. I wanted everyone to understand what he was going through, to help him. After this I began to see more and more people in my life battling with a version of their own mental illness. It just took that one experience to open my eyes, and suddenly it was everywhere. That’s when I decided I wanted to do something about it, to raise awareness and try to get across just how common it is.

How important was it for you to sit and talk with Sophie, Craig and Shona about their illnesses? What impact did that have on the work you’ve created?

Usually when I experience something or form a strong opinion I try to incorporate it into my photography, it’s a way to express who I am and how I feel. This project was very different. I was trying to visualise someone else’s emotions, their thoughts and feelings, therefore I had to take an entirely different approach. It was very challenging at first, but I have learnt so much from the experience. Having all three individuals describe their illness to me is what made the entire project. Having never experienced any kind of anxiety or depression before myself, I had no idea where to start. Each of them gave such diverse perspectives on mental illness, it left me speechless. Their words were a very big part of the project. I asked each person, if they could draw their illness, what would it look like? From there we each built a visual representation of what their portrait would look like. I can’t begin to explain how open each of them were with me, I’m extremely grateful. Sophie even sent me pages of her diary as part of my research. It’s such a huge thing to open up to someone you barely know. I owe it all to them.

“I would wake up feeling anxious and have no particular reason for it. My chest would get tight and I would get what I describe as my anxiety headache. It was a feeling that I couldn't shift and one that got worse as the day got on. I’d feel panicked, trapped and frustrated having got no answer for my feelings. Some days it's small and I'm not really aware of it and some days it's huge and consumes me, I find it harder to get rid of then.” Shona (Isolation)
"I’ve always heard of depression described as a black dog - but I’ve never identified with that. For me, a better analogy is a parasite; vines engulfing a house. At first, you barely notice it. You think you can just shake it off. It saps your energy, just making everything a little harder, until its too hard to do anything at all.” — Sophie (Parasite)
"If I could describe it I’d say it was like a really slow car on a motor way and everyone whizzing past you at 100mph when you’re only going 30. Or just a simple cut, you cut yourself and its sore at the time, it bleeds. You can see the scabbing and the scarring after, I think that’s what depression is like. It doesn't just stop, it takes time." — Craig (Scarred)

Who or what are your greatest creative influences?

My creative influences are a difficult one. I am constantly influenced by so many people I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to one or two people. My style is constantly changing and adapting too. I’m the type of person that will see a shadow on the ground or the light on someones face and feel inspired. I’m very observational, I love to people watch. This is where I usually find my creativity blossoms, when I’m not looking for it. My friends and family are also a huge influence for me. I love being able to bounce my thoughts and ideas off of them. Its a really big part of the creative process for me. Having someone to talk to about an idea for a project can go a long way. Being an artist can be an extremely isolating process otherwise!

What do you hope viewers take away from your work?

For the most part I want to raise awareness of mental illness. I feel that it has been a lot more widely acknowledged in recent years, which makes me happy. But it also pushes me toward keeping this going. My main target audience has been teenagers and young adults - I remember how emotionally confusing those years were myself, I can’t imagine what it must be like having to deal with mental illness on top of all that. This particular series was intended to evoke a reaction from viewers enough to ask questions. To raise awareness of mental ill-health and the importance of taking that first step in acknowledging that there is a problem. So many young adults, particularly those in high school like my brother was, are unaware of just how common it really is. Even if my photographs could speak to just one person, get them to open up, this would be an achievement in my eyes.

You’re currently in the final year of your Photography BA. What do you hope to do once you’ve graduated?

Initially I’m hoping to travel for a while once my studies are finished. Travel has always been a great passion of mine! I can take my work with me too which is a huge bonus. There is so much of the world I want to experience, graduating university won’t be the end of my learning process for sure! I’d love to work primarily as a documentary photographer, focusing on environmental issues and social change. You can probably tell I’m a pretty passionate person all around, I feel like I should probably put this to good use out in the real world.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m focused on my final year project. I’m doing some research looking into what a person’s identity is made up of. I’ll be exploring a few themes within this topic; such as appearance, home environment and nationality. Basically the things you would find on an ID card! People fascinate me, I love exploring what makes them who they are, so I guess that’s where this project idea has come from. Its still very much a work in progress, but I’m really looking forward to seeing where it leads me!

clairewhitephotography.com


Olli Wiegner

Olli Wiegner is a contemporary landscape photographer currently living in Bielefeld, Germany who was born in 1993. Presently, he is studying Photography & Media at the FH Bielefeld Faculty of Art and Design. His projects mostly focus on the interaction of humankind with the landscape and how this relationship changes over time. In Entropy Definition No. 2 Wiegner explores landscape and place in relation to themes of memory, childhood and perception.

Entropy Definition No. 2 focuses on how suffering arises in a person and traces its roots into memories of childhood and youth. The photographs are intentionally vague and open to allow the viewer to search for their own interpretation or relate to certain emotions. They provoke questions without certain answers to emphasise how memories fade and warp over time. This fallible construct is the base for our feelings and perception of the world around us which thus is in constant change — potentially leading to feelings of tension and ambiguity. We never truly are, but merely exist in an approximation in between our past experiences and those still to come.

What is it that attracted you to some of the places photographed throughout the project? Is the work thematic in any way?

The scenes I photographed each have had some sort of influence on me as a person. They are loosely sorted by their associated time period starting with childhood, leading to youth and then finally adulthood. My intention behind the project was to examine how suffering arises in a person and how passing time changes perception. To allow the viewer to find their own interpretations and maybe even themselves, I’ve kept the photos quite open and broad to prevent the work being specifically about myself.

Our relationship to place can change based on varied factors. Are your emotional relationships to these sites forever in flux, or do they represent deep rooted experiences for you?

Both I think. My relationship with the scenes definitely is deeply rooted as I tend to come back to them quite often – both physically as well as mentally. My perception of them and what they mean to me does change with time though. Some become less meaningful, others more and vice versa, so they are in flux. I feel like a lot of confusion might actually stem from that. If a person is made up of the sum of their experiences, but those change through time, how or when can you ever be truly yourself?

Can you tell us the story behind one or two images from the project?

As a kid, I really enjoyed playing with LEGO and sand and water. As the photographs would be sequenced close to the beginning, I tried to make the photos look sort of artificial. It’s quite obvious that they’re set up to show that it’s me looking back, rather than me being or doing which sets the tone for the whole series.

An actual story I remembered was of a school field trip to a local nature park that inspired the photo of the river and the broken down tree. Some of my schoolmates threw three girls into the river shown in the photograph and the parents involved belittled the situation by saying that they were just playing and having fun. A week later, the girls were dating the guys who threw them in. I sequenced the photo to be right next to the shot of the school I went to as this situation is a fitting summary of my experiences there.

What is it that attracted you to creating a book of the work and what was the process (if self-published, how etc)?

The initial idea for the form of presentation was actually to frame the photos at about 30x40cm, but my professor suggested that a book would make more sense as it’s a pretty personal project. I’ve decided to go with that and settled on a size which resembled that of an autograph book. You have to hold the book close to get a good look at the photographs which makes it sort of an intimate experience.

The book wasn’t published in any big, meaningful or traditional way unfortunately, but I might consider doing so at some point. There is a flip through on my website however, so you can get a look at it – minus the physical experience obviously.

What is it that draws you to landscape photography over other forms?

The lack of people to be honest. They’re really hard to photograph in my experience due to their lack of patience or me thinking I am somehow not “allowed” to take up more of their time. On a more positive note, there’s just something about wandering through nature, hip high grass and in between trees and getting lost. It’s so disconnected from the stress and the pressure of life really which makes it very enjoyable. Photographing in such condition is very easy for me as well, as it allows me to take my good five minutes composing, framing, measuring the light for a single shot without disturbing, interrupting or suspending anyone. The resulting photographs have a certain quality to them, a sort of romance thats broken up by a darkness or something that seems off which I find really fascinating as well and haven’t found anywhere else yet.

Does photography have any form of therapeutic element for you? If so, how?

I feel like photography in itself isn’t that therapeutic to me. However it does distract me from all of the struggles in life right in the very moment of actually being out there, photographing. I just walk from one photo to the next and everything else just isn’t there, of no consideration or any relevance. Looking through the viewfinder and setting up the shot is one of those rare moments I’d describe as “happiness” experienced in the click of the shutter. That being said, art in general and specifically photography did help me to get closer to the person I am supposed to be I think.

What are you working on next?

A project about the neighbourhood I live in. Located at the edge of the city I want to focus on the non-defined space between the functional architecture of living spaces and the untouched beauty of nature.

olliwiegner.de
@Olli_W_


Mike Kear

Mike Kear is a London based documentary photographer. His practice primarily focuses on work for charities and NGOs both in the UK and worldwide. In his project Surface Tension Mikes reflects on the thoughts and experiences of the suicidal, producing abstract images taken at various sites of suicides along the Thames Bridges.

How did Surface Tension come about? What drew you to exploring suicide?

I was working on a project along the Thames looking at different aspects of the river as it passes through London. Whilst editing I was contemplating some images that looked straight down and how that might be the view of people contemplating suicide by jumping into the Thames. This led me to visiting various sites of suicides along the Thames Bridges. I then realised the shocking statistics of how frequently suicides were attempted on the Thames - often more than one a day! Suicide is the largest cause of death in young men in the UK and there has been very little dialogue on the issue. Organisations like CALM are now doing some amazing work. I am a survivor of three suicide attempts and I wanted to help increase the dialogue on the subject which is something very close to my heart. I have very much moved on from the issues in my life that made suicide seem a viable option for me, I am nonetheless very aware of a fine line that a lot of us tread. Choosing to participate in this interview was more difficult than I had initially thought, but despite the stigma around suicide, I feel it is important to show the very personal side to this work.

Your text is very moving and really transports you into the mind of the person contemplating jumping. I'm curious about what went through your mind as you stood there photographing each spot?

Sometimes I was very sad, other times I was quite scared when fulling engaging in the process, but often there was a certain calmness, somewhat difficult to describe.

Vauxhall Bridge
Tower Bridge

The images are quite hypnotic. What was your motive behind photographing in such an abstract way?

Suicide is such a complex and individual issue. By producing a series of abstract images of the surface of the water, the idea being to enable the viewer to engage with the subject without being too prescriptive; to allow the viewer to consider themselves in the position of the person contemplating suicide and allow them to bring their own thoughts to the issue.

Most of us have looked over the edge of a bridge, down into the water. It maybe whilst watching to see whose stick is the winner whilst playing Poohsticks or enjoying the playfulness of the water. Or it might be more contemplative, watching the allure of the water, possibly even imagining what it might be like to jump with no intention of actually doing so. A less common thought, though, is that of the person who is looking down into the water as they decide to jump to end their life.

With this series I seek to enable an emotional engagement with a very personal and intense issue - the issue of a person feeling their only option is to take their own life. These images are not merely an abstraction, they place the viewer in that very vulnerable position - one of a person in despair. Might it be that the person in despair is actually very similar to you and me?

Vauxhall Bridge

Where are the accompanying texts from?
The texts are from a variety of sources including some interviews I carried out with RNLI lifeboat crew from Kew and Tower lifeboat stations. Others are quotes from family members left behind and some texts are poetry. I was concerned that the poetry might over romanticise the issue, but being interspersed with the other quotes I hope they help with the contemplation of the images and the issues.

Tower Bridge
Blackfriars Bridge

You mention on your website you're working on a new project around suicide. Can you give us an insight into what that is?

This is an ongoing project and I’m continuing the series with other locations around the UK. I bought a camper van this year so I can spend time at different bridges and to connect with the people who look after the bridges and live or work nearby who are often affected by suicides. This work is also incorporating the stories of people who have survived suicide attempts. Alongside this I’m looking at the role and responsibility religion plays with suicide in the UK. Because this is a very emotive subject at this stage it’s probably better I don’t say anything to prejudice the project.

If any of your readers would like to be involved with this work they would be very welcome to get in touch with me.

mikekear.com
@mikekear
@mikekear on Instagram.


Annabella Esposito

Annabella Esposito is a photographer based in north west England. When creating her imagery she is highly influenced by states of mind and the stigma attached to mental health. In her series Dissumulate she combines the use of materials within portraits and self-portraits to obscure her subject's identity, aiming to evoke the viewer’s subconscious.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: where are you from, how long have you been photographing and what got you into photography?

My name is Annabella Esposito and I am a fine art photographer based in a small town called Blackpool (UK). I have been fascinated by photography throughout my life, but initially gained interest at the age of 16. This came about when I had to select my GSCE subjects in high school; creativity was always my strong point so selecting photography as one of my subjects enabled me to explore my creativity and discover my passion for art and photography.

How did Dissimulate come about?

Dissimulate first started whilst studying photography at college. I got given a project based around 'identity' and decided to place myself in front of the camera and experiment with in-camera techniques and a variety of materials. This was a whole new experience for me and it was something I had never attempted before. I felt content within my environment and was excited at the prospect of producing a body of experimental works.

You've mentioned you were initially very private about your mental health. Was there a turning point that led you to being more open about your experiences with anxiety and OCD?

For me the turning point was in 2014 when my mental health was very bad, I was in the 2nd year of my photography degree and decided it was time to revisit Dissimulate. When my peers questioned me as to why I produced such imagery, I could never give them a clear answer. I felt like people didn’t understand my photography and decided it was time to explain the real reason behind why I created such works. This gave me an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health and allowed me to explain the real concept behind my images.

The use of materials to obscure and trap the subject helps to create a sense of interiority and leaves me wondering what each person is thinking and experiencing. Was it important to work with people that had experienced mental health difficulties themselves?

It wasn't necessarily important, however I did ensure the people I worked with had an understanding of mental health and the reason behind my project. However some of my models had experienced mental health difficulties and it helped bring real emotion to my images.

I'm curious about the relationship you have between your photography and mental health. Does the creation of the work serve any therapeutic purpose for you?

As much as I enjoy producing experimental portraiture, I don’t feel it serves that much of a therapeutic purpose for me. I get great pleasure producing different bodies of work, and you could say Dissimulate has given me the opportunity to talk about mental health more freely. So in a sense it’s therapeutic talking about my practice and engaging with practitioners who produce similar works to myself.

What do you hope the viewer will take away from Dissimulate?

For me it is important that the viewer connects to my photography and deconstructs the images in relation to themselves. I hope the viewer, when witnessing my imagery gains a unique understanding of coping with mental illness and importance of raising awareness of it.

What are you working on now?

At this current time I'm in the process of updating my website and arranging some photo shoots on location. Dissimulate was primarily self-portraiture, so I aim to start a whole new project and take models out on location, obscuring their identity and experimenting with low angles and crops.

annabellaesposito.com
@espo_photo
instagram.com/annabellaesposito