Matthew Lees

Matthew Lees is a photographer originally from Manchester and now living in Carlisle, Cumbria. He mixes both digital and analogue photography but predominantly shoots in 35mm. Lees is a BA Photography graduate from Cumbria University, 2016. In Therapy. 2 Lees explores the conflict of living with anxiety. The project "acts as self help therapy for myself as I try to heal without the aid of prescribed drugs, as I am in constant conflict with what my head is thinking and what my heart wants."

How did you get into photography?

I first got into photography around the age of 15/16 as it was an opportunity for myself to be alone and leave the house to go out and explore. I first took a course when I went to college and completed an A Level over 2 years. This course and the tutors were a lifeline for me at the time as I was going through severe hardship where I was left homeless and dropped into deep depression. I was not aware at the time just how photography was helping me. In fact I have only just recently became aware of this within the past year when writing my dissertation on the therapeutic use of photography.

Therapy. 2

How did this project come about?

Each project that I carry out helps me with recovery and acts as a self help therapy. I have carried out another 2 parts to this on-going series and I plan to carry it on for a good while longer. The projects first started when in the last year of my degree course at the University of Cumbria I was affected by the severe floods of storm Desmond in December 2015. The flood water reached up the stairs and completely destroyed the ground floor. I was left homeless as I was low priority to the council on rehousing. This set me in a bout of severe depression and anxiety that I hadn’t experienced since my early teenage years.

I lost all of my work ready to be submitted to university and did not receive an extension so failed the first semester, this again adding to my stress and anxiety. I did not attend university for around 2 months after getting rehoused living in a damp house full of mould but this was the only accommodation available.

I finally began photographing but within the house as i still didn’t feel able to face the world. This project turned out to be the first of many exploring how I feel about my mental health and photography.

The second project which you have seen came about with me trying to show people that mental health disorders can effect anybody and everybody and wanted my friends to know this, which was a big step for me, I had spoken to friends in the past about this but having my first project used for my final exhibition and then picked to appear in 2 further exhibitions gave me a massive confidence boost and gave me the ability to carry on in this field. The series of selfies I chose to do because I dislike myself and my appearance so it was to challenge myself to show myself to the world in this light. I chose to then double expose these images with places around me because this is where I feel safe and it is places recognisable to the people around me and to people that know Carlisle therefore showing that mental health does affect people close to them.

Therapy. 2

Therapy. 2

What are you working on now?

I am currently working with Carlisle Mind, a mental health charity. working to raise awareness of the charity and of course mental health. I am photographing the work they carry out and the services they offer to try and make them more approachable so people like myself can feel like they can talk more.

Therapy. 2

Therapy. 2

Therapy. 2

Alicia-Rea Poole

Alicia-Rea Poole is a photographer from London, UK. Her project, For J, was created for her mother who struggled with the photographer's battles with mental health.

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

I was born in North London, Enfield in 1994, and grew up in Enfield until the age of 10, and then moved to Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. I first began photographing properly around the age of 14/15, during secondary school, when I also received my own camera for a birthday present. I had a friend during secondary school who loved cameras, and he used to let me play around on his Nikon at the time - this made me fall in love with cameras and also made me become incredibly more interested in the medium!

I studied the first year of my BFA Photography degree at The New York Film Academy based in Los Angeles, California. I then transferred to Falmouth University in Cornwall, to study the second and third year, where I am currently now almost finished.

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

The theme of mental health within my practice came around halfway through college, when I was around 17; I was suffering with a recent diagnosis of depression and wanted to try and portray that within my work. It felt difficult to do, purely because the work I was creating felt so different to that being created by other photographers in my class; but I continued, as I felt it helped myself cope. I felt as though if I could create work that meant something to me, hopefully it would mean something to somebody else who had suffered with mental health issues or know somebody who has.

How did For J come about?

For J came about when I was beginning my third year of study at Falmouth University. I had felt my mental health begin to decline and visited the doctors to find I was re-diagnosed with depression. It was a definite shock, even though I had felt it creeping up on me, as I never thought I would be having to experience those same struggles as I did previously. During my first diagnosis of depression, my family was incredibly supportive, but it hurt me to see that my mother couldn't understand the difficulties of what I was going through - and I couldn’t imagine how that must have felt for her to see her daughter struggling as much as I was. Therefore, once I was re-diagnosed, I decided that my first semester project would be based on mental health and depression, and that I would be creating this for my mother. I wanted to create images that showed my mother that everything I was feeling - I wanted the images to represent me in a way I couldn’t explain to her.

How important has it been to place yourself within the frame in this work?

I found it was very important to place myself within this body of work. I had never, before now, taken on any self-portraiture projects, but for this I found it rather crucial. If I was to create a project for my mother, to try to aid her understanding in my depression, it seemed obvious that I had to represent myself by placing myself into the work. Not only did I feel this would help my mother connect to the work, but I felt it may help others. They may see themselves represented in some of the photographs I took. Whenever I look at some of the photographs, they do upset me - purely because I can't see myself looking back. I think that's what I mainly struggled with; losing myself within my depression. I could know myself one moment and not know myself the next. This is another reason I felt it imperative to document myself throughout this project.

Has creating this project helped improve the relationship with your mother?

I would say that it has. Not only was she able to see how I saw myself, but I also think it could be a comfort for her. With not being at home, and being away from my mother, I think it may have helped her to see that I was showing her how I was coping, within the images. It’s been tough, as relationships always are with mental health disorders, but I really do hope the photographs represent her daughter for her, in a way that’s honest and beautiful.

Have you found creating this work therapeutic at all?

I definitely found creating this work therapeutic. Having a relationship with the camera where I could be completely open and cry, or laugh, meant a lot for me. I found it difficult, and as if I was burdening people when I would talk to them about what I was going through; so having the never-ending possibilities of my camera and photographs, to take my mind off of the loneliness I felt, definitely helped me. I say I felt lonely, not because I didn’t have the support of the people around me, but because I felt I couldn’t talk openly about what I was going through - and showing these images to them helped open up that conversation on another level than just words.

What do you hope viewers will take from this work?

I hope, if anything, that viewers will take a slight understanding that depression isn’t just moping around in your bedroom and feeling sad. It takes over your entire body and it is exhausting. I hope that viewers will relate to the work and feel the emotion it was created with. I also hope viewers will see the strength it took to make myself vulnerable enough to represent my own experience within mental health because of the stigmas attached to it. Mostly, I hope viewers will know that if they ever experience mental health issues, that they are not alone.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I am working on my final major project, which I am trying to balance between intimacy and connection. I’ve been scanning in a lot of old negatives which I inherited from my grandfather, and doing further self-portraiture. I’m still seeing where the project takes me!