Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet is a UK based photographer dealing with themes of loneliness, nostalgia, anxiety & light through analogue photography. Leanne states that her photography has helped her to "overcome anxiety and fears over life & mortality, using the creative practice of photography as a calming mechanism, and a form of escapism."

How did you get your start in photography and what are your earliest memories of your first adventures into photography?

I started with a little digital camera that I got as a present off my Mum for my 18th birthday I think, I just started taking photos of anything and everything. I then started buying disposable cameras & playing around with film & was gifted a 35mm SLR. I explored lots of different film & processes. My earliest memories of photography adventures are when I was in my early 20s with my partner back then, we would drive around and find old abandoned & dilapidated buildings and I'd take photos. It wasn't until a few years later during college and mainly after that I started taking self-portraits.

You work primarily with analogue photography, a mixture of film and instant cameras. What is it that attracts you to working with analogue in a world that’s becoming increasingly digital?

I started off early with analogue and it just felt natural to me. I shot a little with a DSLR in college mainly because they encouraged us to do so and it was cheaper for me to produce work then, but I soon sold that to fund my love of film photography. I haven't even thought of going back to digital since, apart from taking snapshots on my iPhone. For me analogue is just much more honest and rewarding to shoot with. I've always had a soft spot for instant film too, I think if I had to choose one medium to work with from now on it would be Polaroid.

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Self portraiture is such a huge part of your practice. I’m curious about what it feels like to make self portraits in a space where you are both the photographer and the subject. Are your images born out of an emotional need to express?

Yeah I think there's definitely an emotional need for me to express myself through self-portraiture. I've always said that I'm not great at communicating verbally so photography is the main way I express my feelings, emotions and anxieties. I think that I shoot the same whether I'm taking photographs of myself or of other people, it obviously just takes longer to shoot a roll of film of myself and I also have no idea what I'm going to look like in the frame, which is one of the exciting things for me working with film as well.

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Can you walk us through how some of your images come about? Do you meticulously plan or do images develop spontaneously and organically?

I mostly just shoot when the thought pops into my mind, or if the light attracts me to a certain part of the room. I'll normally just grab whichever camera I feel like playing with in the moment and set up my tripod, find a space and composition and go from there. I rarely plan my photographs unless I have a specific project or idea to explore. I definitely believe in taking one photograph of a certain scene and if it's meant to be it will be, I can't be doing with deciding between two or five almost identical photographs. In this image (below) I was on holiday with my Mum. We went to Spain after I graduated university. It was a really lovely relaxing holiday and a great time for me to take photographs. I think my Mum was having a nap in the afternoon so I just hung around the hotel room and played with my Polaroid SX-70. I hadn't taken a tripod with me so I used piles of books or shelves as a surface for my camera. The afternoon light was so inviting and fell softly through bright white sheet curtains, I placed the chair in the middle of the window, put the self-timer on and just slumped into the chair and it turned out to be one of my favourite photographs I'd ever taken.

Leanne Surfleet

In Hospital Diary you write about coming to terms with the experience of being diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at the age of 15. When did you start to document the hospital visits and what does photography bring to the experience of being in hospital? Has photography helped you to explore and understand the condition?

I think I started to document my visits around 2010, so when I was maybe 22 or 23. My hospital appointments are very long and drawn out and they used to be held in a small clinic outbuilding which was getting very tired and old. I'd be shuffled off into a room separated from my sister (who also has CF) so that we wouldn't cross infect each other or any other patients and then sometimes left for hours in this small room, with a specialist or dietician or nurse popping in to do their rounds every now and then. You were lucky if you got a room with a window. All the time spent in there in the silence, alone, just inspired me to start taking photographs as I realised this was a huge part of my life undocumented. I don't think it helped me explore or understand my condition any more than I already knew but it helped me cope and to process what I was going through. I've been in hospitals all my life but bringing a camera into one is challenging as well as very interesting, you find a lot of very intimate and moving scenes when you actually take notice of where you are. I created the project for a university brief so it was very scary to show all these very personal photographs to other students that didn't really know me at all, which then gave me the confidence to publish my story online.

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

In your artist statement you mention how photography has helped you to come to terms with anxiety and fears over your own mortality. Where do those anxieties come from and what kind of legacy do you hope your photography will leave behind when you're no longer here?

I think the majority of my anxieties stem from my health, although I am generally very well and keep healthy when I was younger and a only a few years after being diagnosed with CF I experienced a lot of anxiety. I used to think very negatively and think that if I had CF without knowing all my life what else could I have without knowing? I ended up experiencing something called SVT too which is pretty much just palpitations and the feeling of a skipped heartbeat, I just couldnt get over it for years and am still on medication for it although it is so much better controlled after realising it was a vicious circle with anxiety. So it basically started from there and snowballed into panic attacks and general anxiety, I never wanted to be far from home either incase something happened to me which is where a lot of my self-portraits at home came from. I feel safe at home and taking photographs at home was/is such a calming experience for me. I often receive comments from people saying that they relate to my photographs and it has helped them to come to terms with their own different types of anxiety or loneliness, so as long as my photographs are still around to do that for people that makes me happy. I take such comfort in the work of Francesca Woodman who died young and before she was really discovered as a photographer and knowing that her work is now seen and loved by millions.

What strikes me about your work is that you to take your viewer to another place, an internal world of curiosity that lends itself to daydreams and interiority. I get the sense that whilst you're making the work you are working through thoughts and moments in your mind. Is there something that you hope viewers take from your work, or is the process of making images more important than the viewer's experience?

You sensed right, I am usually working through ideas and thoughts in my mind as I'm shooting self-portraits. I find it quite difficult to explain what I'm thinking or feeling when I'm taking photographs. I've definitely been through stages where I've thought about the viewer as I'm making work but that can alter things so I stopped doing that. I do care what my audience think and feel after I've finished and published my work and it means a lot to me the encouragement and support that I receive, but the process of making the work has to be seperated from that. I hope that viewers take my work for what it is, honest and emotional.

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

What are you working on now, and what would you like to work on in the future?

At the minute I'm working on a monthly project with 11 other female instant photographers called The 12:12 Project, we all submitted themes for each month and we have to produce one instant photograph exploring the chosen theme. It's really encouraging and motivating to have something to work towards each month and to see what everyone else produces to the same theme. As well as this I'm trying to continue a series I started on a sleep anxiety I had been experiencing, its just finding the time and motivation to do it. I'd like to work more on portraits of others in the future, I will always take self-portraits and explore that, but I really do enjoy looking through my lens and seeing whats in front of me and being able to press the shutter and get excited about being able to move around more and think quickly.

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Morgan Cable

Morgan Cable is a photographer currently studying Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the Swansea College of Art. In his work Isolation Cable attempts to convey his experiences of anxiety and his feelings of being alone.

How did you get into photography?

I got into photography during my first year of sixth form taking it as one of my A Level subjects after my history lessons had shown me some of the earliest photojournalists such as Robert Capa, Eddie Adams and Don McCullin, their stories of adventure and the lengths they would go to in order to capture a photograph was awe inspiring. I got to grips with photography during my A Levels and then applied to the Swansea College of Art to study Photojournalism and Documentary Photography.

What is it that attracted you to explore mental health in your work?

I wouldn’t say I was necessarily attracted to working on the topic of mental health but after two young men I knew growing up committed suicide due to the effects of mental illness and that I was also going through hard times on my own, I felt that it was time to do something about it. Since then I have been creating work in an attempt to get people talking about mental health as I feel the more talking that goes on, the better we will soon be equipped to help deal with the problems.

Morgan Cable

Morgan Cable

What has it been like making work about your anxiety? Has it been cathartic at all?

At times it has been difficult trying to create work on my anxieties as for a number of years I had been subduing a large amount of my emotions so to begin with it was hard to find out my anxieties meant to me, i.e. how they can affect me on a day to day basis, how easy are they to deal with. Once I had started opening up to people, I began to really understand what I was going through and my working process from then on has been much more organised and patient and made it a much more stress-free experience.

Can you describe what making photographs about anxiety means to you?

It's currently one of the major driving factors behind my work. After struggling to gain any opportunity to work with organisations and charities set up to help those suffering from mental illness, my self reflective work allowed me to still begin my own process of helping people and in many ways had more of a powerful effect in my opinion.

What is the significance of the room in your photographs?

The bedroom represents the concept of insecurity. Although the bedroom is seen as a place of rest, a safe sanctum within the home, a secure zone. The fact it is a secure place means it is very easy for a person to get trapped in the zone, refusing to leave only causing more anxieties when the person finally does leave. I have attempted to represent the darkness and suffocating feelings I have experienced.

Morgan Cable

What do you get inspired by? Are there any particular photographers whose work you admire?

As I mentioned before the work of Eddie Adams and Don McCullin has always been a source of inspiration for my work, their grit and determination to capture images had a massive effect of both history and the future.

Morgan Cable

What do you hope viewers will take from your work?

Overall I hope to encourage people to talk about their emotions and to help others talk about theirs. In the future I hope through working with organisations, viewers will be able to take the links and the knowledge they need to be okay.

What are you working on next?

I am currently looking for external contacts to work with during my 3rd year of university to create a project, which will be exhibited in London next year.

morgancablephotojournalism.com


Olivia Gerard

Olivia Gerard is a photographer currently studying for a BA in Photography and Visual Communications at Birmingham City University. In Swimming in Darkness Gerard eludes to the crippling nature of depression, hoping to highlight the growing difficulties in mental health that men face today.

What was it that first attracted you to photography?

I suppose I’m going to give a cliche answer and say it was more of photography that found me. I’ve always struggled with finding words to express how I feel- but after picking up my dads camera at the age of 14 I was able to shoot how I felt on that day. I like the fact that no matter how you are feeling, you’re able to express your emotions through images.

Olivia Gerrard

There are so many cliché images that attempt to represent depression (for example the ‘headclutcher’). What were your thoughts when you first began to try to photograph the experience of depression?

Although the ‘headclutcher’ is deemed as cliche- its because it’s a true representation thats felt when experiencing a breakdown, often a result of serve mental health illnesses. During a breakdown in which many emotions come flooding in often feeling uncontrollable, grasping the head is an attempt to free yourself from the diminishing thoughts. If something (anything in fact) is cliche, its like that because people have experienced that feeling.

When I first began to photograph depression, about two years ago, it was due to personal experience. I found expressing myself in the form of photography medicinal. It helped me to see the light in situations and express my emotions in a different form, it was also a help to my parents who were able to visualise how I was feeling through the images I created.

My first images were mainly surrealistic portraits, in similar style to my inspiration of Christian Sampson, but I soon got into a more documentary style. Although I enjoyed the freedom of doing surrealistic portraits, as mental health being invisible, I feel as though showing mental health in its true ugly forms gives the viewer more of a sense of the everyday exhaustion of what fighting with your own mind is like, and how it takes over every inch of your body.

Olivia Gerrard

Olivia Gerrardhow just how much mental health can take over your life- most of us have showers multiple times a week without a second thought. Yet this might be the biggest achievement for someone living with a mental health illness that they have done in a week, and something they ought to be proud of too.

What was it like to photograph your subject? How did they feel about what you were trying to achieve?

My subject is someone very close to me, meaning the feelings he was experiencing at the time were natural everyday feelings in which I was involved in- however just with a camera at the ready.
In both our opinions we feel that mental health is looked more down on in men in todays society, with phrases like ‘man up’ being used in our daily vocabulary. Therefore he was happy to be my subject matter, in order to raise awareness for these particular issues which are so constant in our everyday life.

Olivia Gerrard

Olivia Gerrard

What do you hope your viewers take from the work?

I hope viewers will be able to see the everyday struggles living with mental health can cause if it is something they haven’t experienced, and if it is something they’ve experiencing I hope they can relate to my images to know they are not alone.

Olivia Gerrard

Olivia Gerrard

Do you think you’ll continue to explore mental health in your practice?

Mental health is so apparent in todays society, for people who haven't experienced mental health (or seen someone close to them experience it) it is a hard concept to grasp, due to the invisibility of the illness. I feel as though it is important for me to continue to photograph mental health to change the way in which people visualise mental health, even if it only changes one persons outlook - I have reached my goal.

What are you working on now?

I'm still currently adding onto this particular project, but also photographing anything else that inspires me.

livigeephotography.com