Chris J Roe

Chris Roe

Chris J Roe is a photographer based in Hampshire (UK). His recent project (and photobook) Shadows documents his "struggle with depression in an attempt to visually present the inner workings" of his mind.

What's your background in photography? How would you describe your work and how did you get started?

I would say that I started photographing very young. I was brought up by my grandmother who tirelessly documented my early life in an attempt to provide a positive spin on the negative circumstances that brought me into her care to begin with. Over the last ten years I have dipped in and out of photography as my love for it was never consistent until quite recently. I dropped out of a college diploma in photography six months into a 2 year course due to the anxiety of being in a classroom environment (something I struggled with in school and lead to me leaving prematurely there too.) I think I was also still a child mentally. I didn't really appreciate the opportunities I had at college.

I came across your work on Instagram and was instantly struck by your dedication to shooting black and white. What is it that attracts you to shooting in that format?

I sometimes shoot colour images although I rarely share these. There is something simple about black and white that perhaps appeals to my lazy tendencies. I find it much easier to capture a mood, or convey emotion through monochrome. Without sounding too pretentious I think it represents me best. I am a fairly straightforward 'black and white' person and I find it hard to see the beauty that others do in colour....it is almost as though its a distraction to me.

Chris J Roe

Chris J Roe

Your recent photobook Shadows documents your experiences with depression, combining image and text. How did the book come about?

The book, like many other final product ideas had been swilling around in my head for about six months. I had originally intended to offer it as print only as I had been so inspired by many other's zines and books that I got into a bit of a habit of buying but felt that digital first would make sense. Not everyone has the money to spend on books and I feel generally weird about the idea of asking for money for something I was likely to be doing anyway. Regardless I wanted to bring some of my favourites images together to see them contribute to an 'end game' a final process. I always feel there has to be a conclusion.

Shadows is full of often quite bleak images of solitary figures taken amongst the urban city landscape. What is your process for shooting like?

My process for capturing the images in the book is almost subconscious. I don't ever go out with a specific idea of what I want to photograph, rather I let the scenes develop in front of me. I prefer harsh light and shadow so rarely go out on a day when it is raining and despite spending a lot of my weekends in London I am drawn to the alleyways over the brightly lit tourist areas...I am too easily frustrated by the packed streets as I walk fast and tourists just generally get on my nerves (like I probably do when I travel to their countries haha). To be honest almost all of the images in the digital book are taken on my phone...I was fairly far into this project before I started shooting film again so when it comes to editing all images go through a preset on Snapseed to crush the shadows and isolate the subjects the best I can.

Chris J Roe

Chris J Roe

Chris J Roe

What is it that you like about phone photography?

The phone appeals for many reasons. My impatience is satisfied by the ability to not only see the final product instantly but to have such a large live viewfinder that no other camera can offer. I used to enjoy using an X100T for its EVF (electronic view finder) but I got rid of the camera because it wasn’t portable enough.

The phone is always with me and is not intimidating, while I’m not shooting aggressively on the street like Bruce Gilden, my entire ethos in life is to carry the least amount of weight as possible and be swift with my decisions. The phone does all I need it to. This is coming from someone who owned a full frame DSLR just three years ago so I have a benchmark to compare it to but image quality isn’t that important to me. Flexibility is paramount.

I'm curious about the emotional process of making your work. What does it feel like to be shooting these images and are you waiting to construct an image with a specific feeling to it, or recording fleeting moments of strangers?

When I shoot I am usually numb. While I have no real plan when I go out I fall into this sort of robotic subconscious march until I've run out of good light or I've done at least 10 miles and my legs hurt! I think I get immersed in the process to an extent where it becomes almost meditative. It is only when I look back on the images at the end of the day (I try to avoid even looking at them until I have finished as I feel my wins and losses can break the flow discussed above) do I feel something. It is usually a mix of adrenaline from getting something that really resonates with me on a certain level and intrigue about who the person was in the frame. I try to capture a sole figure in the frame, a metaphor for how isolated I feel a lot of the time from others. While I am not a 'loner' I definitely find it hard to connect with other people and spend the smallest amount of time possible in social environments...it's not for me. I think I try to show that with these images.

What function does writing serve for you and what made you choose to combine both image and text together in the book?

Writing was my first love. I used to fill pads of paper with stories when I was younger about my toys going on adventures and exploring the fantasies of a young mind sometimes as a distraction from my childhood. My upbringing prior to living with my grandmother was without love or any sense of recognition so I turned to writing as an act of control. I could create whatever I wanted in my stories and so I used them to escape. While some prefer to storytell solely with photographs, I feel that the written word and an image can compliment each other. Certain emotions lend themselves to different mediums as the best form to communicate them, so I thought why not combine the two.

Chris J Roe

Chris J Roe

What made you decide on a book format for Shadows?

I wanted to communicate the project in an easily digestible way. To be honest the book format just happened to work when I began playing the Apple Pages on my iPad. It took about three hours but I got into a period of deep concentration and before I knew it I had a few less than 20 pages staring back at me. I still feel that the project is not complete until I have a printed copy in my hand though. Only then will it feel real.

What do you hope people take away from the work?

There was no real intention behind the creation of the book other than personal therapy I guess. While I enjoy the social aspects of instagram and value some of the friendships I have made there over the past year or so, when it comes to my hopes for how the project is received by others, I have no particular expectations. If someone were to come across the book and the words and images were to resonate with them on a deep level, I would be flattered but it is hard to gauge how an outsider will view a personal body of work. I think this is the best way to approach a creative work. Do not let yourself be led by expectation or influence and put something out that you would have created regardless of whether you had an audience or not to begin with., then it is honest and genuine....I think people are attracted to that.

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Alice Guardado

Alice Guardado is a photographer currently based in Houston, Texas. She holds a BFA in Photography from the University of North Texas and is currently pursuing her Masters degree at SCAD in Savannah, Georgia. Through photography, she is able to express her experiences to others that might be going through similar complications. Her project Gone was made in response to her parents separation, forcing her to be confronted with memories and recollections leading to emotional instability and anxiety.

What is your background in photography — how did you get your start and what is it that you love about the medium?

I started taking photographs with a small point and shoot given by my mother in high school, where I instantly felt a need to photograph my surroundings. From then, I knew I wanted to pursue a BFA in photography from the University of North Texas. I became passionate about the medium after taking my first history of photography course in college, where I learned about its history, alternative processes, and theories.

How did Gone come about?

The series Gone developed from a need in documenting my emotions towards my parents recent separation. After my father left, I realized his absence was not the cause of my unstable emotions, it was the realization of our distant relationship throughout my childhood. This became the effect of my loss of identity; feeling lost, hopeless, and hollow inside. Documenting these feelings became a way of coping with the struggle.

Alice Guardadoa

Alice Guardadoa

Gone seems to be compiled of fragmented images, combining elements of self-portraits, double exposures and family archives. Can you talk us through the elements of the project and what they represent to you?

The self-portraits are a representation of the emotional component of the work, the double exposures reflect those childhood memories intervening with my current state. There is a sense of duality in the work which is seen through the diptychs. The tangible objects represent an aura of past memories combined with found photographs of my childhood. There is definitely a push and pull effect in my work between the healing process and the anxiety in my self-portraits.

Alice Guardadoa

Alice Guardadoa

Alice Guardadoa

What has the project helped you to work through (emotionally), if anything?

This project has helped me relieve some of the tension and anxiety within myself, although I might still continue to experience some of these emotional factors, they are not as strong as they were before I started this project. In a way, it gave me the opportunity to contemplate on past memories and better identify myself.

How does it feel to share such personal work? What have responses been so far?

Sharing such personal work can be quite challenging and scary at the same time. Initially, I felt self-conscious about showing that side of me, it can become difficult to talk about those feelings, but through photographs I can express them freely in a way where other individuals can come to appreciate and relate to my personal experiences. In addition, demonstrating to the viewer that they are not alone if ever experiencing a similar situation. It is a way to help others cope with their struggles of losing a loved one and at the same time showing that there is hope when facing these personal struggles.

Alice Guardadoa

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am still exploring this subject matter as my thesis project for my M.F.A program. I have always had an interest for exploring my own identity further through photography, and this project has motivated me to continue making work that reflects any mental illness or emotional distress caused by a variety of personal reasons.

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Mafalda Rakoš

Mafalda Rakoš is a photographer based in Vienna, Austria, focusing primarily on social issues and their impact on the protagonists’ realities of life. She holds a BA in Anthropology from Vienna University and is currently enrolled at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. Since 2011 she has realised various long-time projects in Vienna and other regions of the world such as the Middle East, India and West Africa. Her project I want to disappear is an in-depth and touching account of those affected by eating disorders. Her photo book of the work is now available to pre-order on her website.

What is your background in photography — how did you get started and how would you describe your approach?

When I was 14, I switched to a high school that was very focused on photography in Vienna. Almost since then, I started to work on my own projects. My approach is very documentarist, but there is often a very close link between me and my protagonists. I mainly work long-term, and have a background in anthropology as well, which has also influenced my practise a lot.

What was starting point for I want to disappear?

I was affected by an eating disorder as well and found that it was a very important subject to talk about. The phenomenon almost only occurs in industrialized countries, and the number of people who are affected is much higher than someone would assume. Nevertheless, it's still highly stigmatized and invisible - I wanted to contribute something to the discourse around eating disorders that shows a less extreme picture and raises awareness that it's less about food and looks and more about a general feeling of insecurity.

C. has been suffering from Anorexia and Bulimia for several years. The picture shows the burn marks she is continously receiving from hot-water-bottles. "I am always cold. I don't know why. I feel that I cannot sleep anymore without this thing, but I always make it too hot.. I don't know why. I guess I don't care."
C. has been suffering from Bulimia and Anorexia since her early adolescence. According to her, she is rather addicted to purging than to being thin. She lives on her own in Vienna and dreams of studying medicine once things are better.

The project is layered with portraits, interviews and documents used to explore the complexity of eating disorders. How did you decide on this approach and how integral is it in representing those that you collaborated with?

Collaborating with the protagonists was crucial in this process. The topic is so intimate that I quickly realized I had to give them all the space and options in participating in the project they could think of. It wasn't easy to let go of control in the beginning, but in the end I am really happy and grateful for how openly everyone shared their experiences with me. I think everyone was extremely brave. Of course the juxtaposition and the project itself are only my interpretation of all this material, but everyone was extremely positive about its outcome. This was very, very important for me.

Ulrike suffers from Bulimia and Anorexia. Her story is long and complicated and reaches back to her grandparent's generation. According to her, food and eating always were difficult topics and her family. The feeling of being to fat has accompanied her since early childhood days - and finally lead her into a mode of life where phases of restrictiveness alternate with those of extreme bingeing and purging.

Even though the disorder occupies a high significance, it is still incapable to shut her down entirely. Ulrike studies at a local Art Academy and hopes to find an occupation in her life that truly fulfills her.

Waiting Room, Vienna 2014. Underlying: a sheet designed by one of the protagonists after a long stay in an clinical institution specialized for eating disorders. "I don't know what would have happened to me if I wouldn't have gone there. It was a very big step. Somehow I am grateful that I had this illness - I learned a lot of things about myself ... that I probably wouldn't have learned otherwise."

What was the process of getting to know those that you collaborated with?

All in all, it took me almost more than a year to find the right way of approaching possible protagonists. In the beginning, I worked with friends and acquaintances (indeed, the phenomenon is very widespread - it wasn't difficult at all to find people who are affected), and then found a self-help group for eating disorders, which I joined and regularly attended. Many of the people in the book are from this group. I found an amazingly inspiring group of people, and a lot of them were willing to participate. The group was really aware of the project and that it wouldn't focus so much on the individual's drama, but more on the phenomenon in general. I think that helped a lot, since people knew each other and had the feeling that they're not having their "coming out" all by themselves.

How long did your spend with each person in the project and how did the project develop into a collaboration?

The collaborative approach kind of happened naturally on the way, and it was different for every person. Some I met on a regular basis and some only once or twice. Usually we would first meet up for a very open interview, which I recorded and transcribed afterwards. Then we thought together about how and with what the person would like to step into the project. Many of them didn't want to be photographed but gave me documents, drawings or sculptures they've made - others were very open about having their portraits taken, and shared everything very openly with me. I realized that this made it much easier for contribute, and that it was crucial that we succeeded in creating a safe space for this exchange. I tried to be as careful as possible when asking difficult questions and their possible triggering effect. Anyhow, I have to say that I also learned that people affected by an eating disorder are not made out of sugar at all - rather on the contrary.

Katharina suffered from Anorexia as an adolescent.

Her mother remembers: "She wouldn’t eat anything anymore, except for apples and pretzels. At some point I started going to the gas station every morning to buy bread rolls – so that we would have them in the house, at all times. In summer we went on a hiking trip. That wasn’t easy. My biggest concern was whether we could buy those damn rolls there – If not, my child would starve."

"This picture, where I am leaning in front of the bathroom is somehow special for me, even though I didn’t think about it when you took it. It makes me think about how often and at what stage I went through this door... I thought I smiled much more when you photographed me, but now the observer can actually really see how I feel. I avoid contact with others, and I am so occupied with food, purging, and sports all the time, it‘s like beneath a glass cover. For me, this is what the picture shows."

What are the most poignant moments for you of making the work?

I think a lot of the most poignant moments happened in the beginning of the project. Sometimes I would meet up with people who were interested in taking part, but after a first meeting they quit and said that they didn't feel comfortable or ready for it. It made me realize that I really needed to create another level of communication in this project and never try to force something, in order to build a solid base of trust. That's when I started to change my approach to a much more collaborative one. Another very important moment always happens when someone who is affected or who is part of the project looks at the book and is completely positive and enthusiastic about it. It feels extremely good to get the impression that the work is really fulfilling its aim, and those who are involved fully support it.

What are your hopes for the work?

At first, I hope that it'll be able to reach people who are affected by an eating disorder, and that reading and looking at it will help to relieve those feelings of shame and loneliness which are so strong in this illness. Further, I hope that viewers in general will reconsider their preconceptions about eating disorders and get a better insight into what it's like to be affected. I think in general everyone can relate to it when presented less about food and more as a coping mechanism. Who does not feel lost, insecure, or stressed some time?

"For me, it shows the ambivalence of food and eating in general. I think the knives look very brutal. It‘s like fighting yourself every time you eat a piece of bread."
M. suffered from Bulimia for almost 6 years, but finally succeeded in overcoming the illness after a long-term stay at a local clinic. She definitely considers herself as not affected by this diseases anymore. Nevertheless, she regularly attends a self help group to exchange with others who are struggling with eating disorders. Marie is an inspirational person for many of them - listening to her optimistic and strong statements often gives other participants courage to work further towards their own self-acceptance.

Do you still keep in touch with those that took part in the project?

Yes, definitley! With some rather loosely, but in general we have a good relationship, and a lot of them were friends of mine before the project.

What are you working on now?

Producing and printing the book is almost like a project on itself, but we're slowly reaching our final destination. For my study at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, I am now starting a project about hitchhiking and the highway. It's still very much at its beginning, but probably will prove itself as another technique of disappearing.

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