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.