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.

Alicia-Rea Poole

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.

Alicia-Rea Poole

Alicia-Rea Poole

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.

Alicia-Rea Poole

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.

Alicia-Rea Poole

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!