Daniel Regan

The content from this post was originally formed from an interview by Ellyn Kail of Feature Shoot with Fragmentary Editor Daniel Regan. The original post can be found here.

“My background is in engineering and research. I quite enjoy, now, reflecting on how I became mad and that process of where the brain takes you. That I find fascinating. I think it’s quite difficult to become suicidal really. You need trigger points, some people need just need one, I needed quite a few. But once you’re there…

“The first time that I had heard the word Maytree I had been sectioned. I was in Chase Farm, Enfield, in the hospital unit. There were 4 people around the table chit chatting and 2 of those had both been guests at Maytree. It was 2005. It was coming up to the Christmas period and I didn’t think I’d get through it. One of the women said maybe you could go and stay at Maytree.

“Maytree was a wonderful safe place. I remember I was in a bad place. It really was quite bad. I couldn’t cook or do anything for myself. I used to love porridge. On the first morning Michael made me porridge and I thought… that little thing, making the porridge, was good.

“When I got better I thought maybe I should volunteer at Maytree. I think I have a sense of loyalty to Maytree. I find it therapeutic going there. It’s sometimes very challenging but I’ve never really thought it’s too overpowering, but when you walk through that door you never know…”

– Michael

Maytree is a house in Finsbury Park, London. It has four bedrooms, and its inhabitants change all the time. As a suicide respite center, it serves as a temporary home to people in crisis. Guests stay for four days and five nights only; during that time, they can speak openly with volunteers and peers. They can talk about anything and everything, or they can talk about nothing. There is no judgement, and the environment is decidedly non-clinical.

There are about 150 volunteers currently working at Maytree. The photographer Daniel Regan is one of them. His book and exhibition project I Want to Live tells the story of this unusual house and the people who walk through its doors.

Regan had his first encounter with Maytree in 2014, when he was going through a difficult time himself and reached out for support. He did not end up staying at Maytree as a guest, but the kindness he experienced over email remained with him. A year later, he contacted them again in hopes of becoming a volunteer. His situation is not unusual; many volunteers have had personal experiences with suicide and suicidal thoughts.

For more than fifteen years, Regan has used his camera to process his own journey with mental health. We’ve featured his work both here and here. In this case, he was a volunteer first and a photographer second; one year after he started at Maytree and two years after that initial email, he and Natalie Howarth, the director at Maytree, embarked on the project together.

A primary goal of both Maytree and the exhibition project is to eliminate the harmful taboo surrounding suicide. “I think it’s important for people to understand that there is a difference between having suicidal thoughts and the secondary stage of making a plan to kill yourself,” Regan explains. “We need to create safe and supportive spaces for people to talk about suicidal thoughts before they turn into action. It is so difficult to hear anyone talking about having suicidal thoughts, but by hearing them out and removing the stigma of it, we can begin to address the underlying issues that are causing the thoughts.”

I Want to Live includes photographs from the house itself as well as portraits and interviews with volunteers. “For confidentiality and ethical reasons, I never photographed in the house when there were guests, but after they had left,” the photographer tells me. As a volunteer, one of his duties is to clean the rooms and make them up for the next guest.

“It is such a deeply personal moment of transition to be parting with one person with the hopes that they’ll continue to live, as the next person comes in and the cycle repeats,” he says. “I always take pride in making the room as nice as possible because I want people to feel that it is their safe place during their stay.” While he did not photograph the individuals he’s met and who have left a permanent mark on him, he was able to tell their stories through their belongings and the items they’ve touched.

Without the photographs of the volunteers, the Maytree in the pages of Regan’s book would look like just another family home. In times of acute crisis, there’s poetry to be found in the mundane. The rituals of daily life become our anchors. I [Ellyn Kail] was hospitalized for OCD ten years ago; what I remember most is not any particular psychiatry session but the graham crackers and peanut butter I shared with my best friend over long chats each and every evening after the doctors had left. I Want to Live puts moments like that at the fore.

“Something that I’ll take from Maytree into the rest of my life is to never feel ashamed to talk about my difficulties,” Regan admits. “At Maytree we’re not there to fix someone; we’re there to allow people to speak openly about their crises. It can be uncomfortable, but we want people to live because they want to live, not because we want them to. I think the motivation for me is that it is such an incredible privilege to be able to help people in suicidal crisis, particularly because I have been there myself. ”

I Want to Live has just opened at the Free Space Project. The work will be on view through October 12th. Find the book here. I Want to Live was made possible with funding from the National Lottery in England.

"I was studying social work when I started volunteering at Maytree. I enjoyed my time there so I continued even after I’d finished my studies.

“There are so many people out there that try to commit suicide. I’m not trying to save them but I am trying to support them. I try to offer them different perspectives that help them recognise their difficulties. I do feel that I’m contributing in some way, even if it’s just helping them on to the path of recovery. The fact that people can make a phone call to Maytree is a sign of strength, to recognise where they are and what they need.

“I know family and friends that have been affected by depression so that’s impacted my decision to stay there. It’s very simple at Maytree, it’s just talking and allowing people to express their emotions, but it’s also very effective. Whenever I do a shift it always feels like the first week that I’ve been there because the situation is so fresh and different. We form really short but meaningful connections with guests. Because the connection is so temporary it’s easy to say how you feel with someone, which I think helps to get things out and be honest."

– Kwabena

"I was born in Birmingham. I was there until I was about 10 and then my family moved. Six months into us being there my Mum and younger siblings died. Our house exploded from a gas explosion. We hadn’t been there long. I stayed for a bit but then moved back to Birmingham and stayed with relatives. My whole life changed from one moment to the next. Death for me wasn’t scary. There was something really appealing about it. I really thought that if I was dead then I could be with my Mum and siblings again. I was never scared by the thoughts I started to have.

"I found out about Maytree at university. One of my friend’s sisters volunteered there and when she said suicide respite centre I remember thinking at some point I’m going to need that place. I remember thinking at the time I’ll either go there as a guest or volunteer one day. I never remember looking at the website or anything, I just kept it in the back of my mind.

"I feel like I’m suited to Maytree because I am comfortable hearing people’s dark stories. I feel like, for me, it’s rare that I get to have those kinds of conversations. They’re the ones that I find really stimulating. I don’t find it distressing being at Maytree — I find it really calming in a way. The house has been a consistent part of my life. I’ve been visiting there for ten years and there’s a real comfort in that. Even when you’re talking to someone that is distressed Maytree brings a calmness to it. It feels like the most human place that I know.

"What you offer as a volunteer is essentially available to anyone. You’re being a human being and listening. You don’t have to say the right thing or fix anything, be interesting or funny. You’re present and listening. It sounds so simple and yet people find it so hard. When you go into that house you are having a real human experience. That’s what I like about it. I really like listening to people’s stories. I really like going into the kitchen and meeting a guest and sometimes you don’t know who a guest or a volunteer is. I never go in with any intention of hearing anything in particular — you start where you start and the conversation goes where it goes. There’s a real honesty in that."

– Val

"I found out about Maytree after I came out of a few years of working with a clinical psychologist. I was on my own recovery journey at that point, coming out of several suicide crises. I’d gone through the mental health system most of my life. My psychologist was the only person, I have to say out of services, that had ever asked me about me. Going through mental health services there was always a different diagnosis or different medication, or sections. I was kind of in and out. I’d be OK for a spell and then relapse. It was a long journey. She was the first person that had really listened.

"I started off as a volunteer at the end of 2006. It was so different back then. It wasn’t as busy. I was going to Mind at the time and was doing a computer course as part of my recovery. I said I wanted to volunteer somewhere and they actually talked about Maytree. What I liked about Maytree was that it was face-to-face and it was longer term. The fact that Maytree is about listening is key to me. I bring that from my past.

"I never in a million years thought I’d end up working at Maytree after being a volunteer. I feel very privileged to be in my role. Sometimes I pinch myself. Especially when I was asked to do the BBC documentary, when I met Trevor McDonald or when I met Kate and William. I never introduce myself as the senior co-ordinator. I introduce myself as Angela, part of Maytree. It’s never been about hierarchy for me. It’s a team: the volunteers, staff, admin.

"I never ever dreamt that I’d live past 40. Never in a million years did I think this is where I’d be. I’m very proud."

– Angela

"When I stayed at Maytree in 2013 I used it as a holding place whilst I was waiting for my referral to a psychiatrist to come through. I think without Maytree and my stay at a psychiatric hospital combined, I wouldn’t be here. Work was one of the major factors leading up to this, alongside the breakup of a relationship, health reasons and some family members also being ill. I’d also started some therapy to address the suicide of my father and I just couldn’t do anything. It was paralysing.

"When I was a guest there were two of us in the house. We arrived on the same day and left on the same day. We were six months apart, age wise. We had completely different stories but the core of it was that we were pretty depressed. To a certain extent that was as good as anything with the volunteers. We played a lot of cards, we sat out in the garden because it was roasting hot. We could just be suicidal together but also talk about football and have a laugh about cards. It didn’t mean oh you’re better now. At Maytree it was OK to have a laugh still.

"I probably get as much from conversations with the volunteers as I do the guests. There’s a real sense of camaraderie with the volunteers. You can get to a level of conversation that’s free and honest really quickly, and also really supportive. That doesn’t really exist anywhere else."

– Ben

The content from this post was originally formed from an interview by Ellyn Kail of Feature Shoot with Fragmentary Editor Daniel Regan. The original post can be found here.

danielregan.photography
@danieljayregan
@danielreganphotography on Instagram


Doma Dovgialo

Dominika Dovgialo

Dominika Dovgialo is a Polish-Lithuanian photographer based in London. Her interest in mental health can be traced back to her school years where she took on a Peer Mentor role; someone who listens and tries to communicate to other students who are struggling. Dominika studied a Philosophy BA at King’s College London, developing her interest in identity, morality and the awareness of other minds.

What is your background in photography? How did you get started and how would you describe your practice?

Completing an MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography drove me to try new things and approach topics in a more creative way. Can a photograph reveal what is going on in someone’s mind? My work about mental health aims to achieve this by inviting the subject to be a co-author of their portrait, allowing them to reveal what is going on inside. I found myself exploring all sorts of subjects, from Ibiza inspired dancers to nuns in a convent, always curious to find out about my subjects motivations. How do we end up where we are, and where would we have been otherwise? What’s behind people’s minds and choices, together with how society sometimes stigmatises certain behaviours, are the leitmotifs that drive my research.

What is it about mental health that interests you and how have you come to incorporate it into your work?

Around 450 million people currently suffer from neurological disorders, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide. While physical health is both easily identifiable and spoken of, mental health still remains in the background like a mute elephant in the room. We are surrounded by faces that hide an aspect of themselves, just in case revealing their diagnosis might threaten everything they hold dear. The historical stigma attached to mental health makes it extremely hard for an individual to reach out for help or simply speak out about how they feel. Realising this, I wanted to take a different approach in raising awareness about mental health and what goes on in people’s mind’s. My project aims to create an open ‘conversation’ about first-hand experience of mental distress. Where words seem redundant, it’s time to move to more visual and intuitive forms of communication.

How did Behind the I - a portrait of the mind come about? What was the process for each image?

This project endeavours to understand people’s inner selves through art, and identify who they are and how they feel. It involved a collaborative set of workshops where participants engage in art therapy, learning basic photography and interviews or written words. I find photographing people helps me understand them - yet this approach only captures their outer reality. How could I ‘photograph’ the mind and create a portrait of what is going on inside, as well as outside, the heads of my subjects? The only way that seemed possible was to invite them to be both observer and creator of such a portrait.

I met most of the subjects in a mental health charity where each person participated in a 3-session workshop. This not only enabled the subjects to feel safe and more comfortable in their familiar setting, but also allowed us to spend more time together over the course of 2-3 weeks. My taking of their portrait created a canvas on which they could draw or write an expression of their inner selves. The final drawing process took around 1-2 hours, in a classroom with my presence.

The first session, however, involved a practise-attempt at drawing an ‘alternative self-portrait’, in the presence of an art therapist. This was led by Cate Smail of Art Therapy4All CIC. I thought it was important to initially have a professional who would know how to react in case someone needed help or guidance not only with the artistic process, but also with the potential emotional struggle.

The second session involved me teaching the participants basic photography composition and get them to practise their photography skills. I set them a homework to ‘document me’ – take pictures that say something about you, an important place to you, reveal how you feel through photography. I wanted them to get into the practise of thinking about who they are and how they could approach to represent themselves visually. Throughout the workshops I also surrounded them with many photos and visual cues from which they could be inspired for their final work. Jeffy’s drawing, for instance, was highly based on the work of Maurizio Anzeri. Most of the other drawings, however, did not bear much resemblance to works that the participants were introduced to.

The final session involved the drawing process on top of their portrait. There were no guidelines or rules on how they should approach this. An acetate sheet was placed on top of their portrait where they could draw. They were encouraged to bring any objects or pictures from home that they would like to stick onto their portrait. It was a chance for the subjects, or rather co-creators of these portraits, to take us beyond their physical impressions. Their art and direct engagement with their portraits might reveal more about their experience and bring us closer together. What do you see in their drawings of who they are? Do they take you behind their eyes? Perhaps we may never fully understand the journey through schizophrenia or depression, but we sure as hell can sit down and try.

What was the importance of working collaboratively with your sitters? What benefits do you see in participatory practice?

I often feel that a photograph, or particularly a portrait, is simply not enough. It seems like it’s only showing my point of view as a photographer and lacking a deeper communication from the sitter. I tried to address this feeling by finding a way to incorporate the persons own voice in their final representation, encourage them to take a chance and try to create a portrait of themselves in a new, creative, way. Participatory practise is a very useful and wonderful approach of trying to visualise what another person has been through, where the subject becomes the storyteller whilst you provide them the necessary tools to tell it. Not only does the overall combination (of words, drawing and photo) provide an insight into how each person sees themselves but the separate elements encapsulate the impossibility of 'seeing' or representing mental illness. The portraits are 'normal' people that we encounter everyday. It is only the addition of the words that tell us they are diagnosed as having mental health issues. The overlaid artwork then becomes not only how they have represented themselves but perhaps also how perception shifts to the seeing the 'other', or not ordinary, once their situation is known. In this way the work makes the viewer reflect not only on issues of representation and otherness but on the presence of all of us 'ordinary' individuals on the spectrum of mental health.

Did you face any barriers in working with others?

I felt like the final visual result of the project is out of my control, which was unusual to my practise but also the purpose of the project. As a photographer, I think concentrating on the aesthetic aspects of the final outcome is only natural, but it was a good challenge to get away from that and try to concentrate on the ‘meaning’ of the message which could only come from the sitters. I was really fulfilling to work with others, I felt incredibly grateful that people sacrificed their time to take part and shared their stories.

How much do you think that your own experiences with mental health inform the type of work that you make?

I think all of my projects stem from a deep exploration of who I am as a person, the questions that I find myself asking and a drive to use photography in order to get rid of my own prejudices. Mental health is a topic that is relevant to everybody, especially in today’s world where self-image seems to bear more importance than ever before. My own experience with mental health manifests itself through other close one’s experiencing it, which I think is the reason that drove me to do this project. I wanted to encourage people to speak about it and be more accepting of themselves going through mental distress; I wanted them to not see their own struggle as a weakness.

You have mentioned about your philosophy studies guiding you as an inspiration. Where else do you draw upon inspiration?

The idea to invite my subjects to become co-authors of their portrait in some part stemmed from a genre of ‘Outsider Art’, where someone who has no preconceived ideas in the creative fields per se is invited to produce something creative.

The portrait taking was inspired by Laura Pannack’s approach, where I tried to have intimate conversations throughout the shoot and get my subjects to think about topics that are important to them and relevant to this project. This resulted in more thought provoking photographs.

What do you hope viewers will take from this project?

I think stigma towards mental health exists because of a lack of knowledge. As one of the participants in the project mentioned, “If you don’t understand it, you fear it”. Someone purely speaking about an experience that they’ve had which is not neuro-typical might seem so different and far-fetched to someone who has never experienced it, might lead to false prejudices like perceiving people with mental health distress as violent, dangerous, unable to work, irresponsible… the list goes on. A study found that 47% of the general public would not want to work closely with someone who is depressed, and 30% would be unwilling to socialise with them – what people don’t realise is that they might already be socialising with people who are battling depression, what’s more, these might even be their close friends. Instead of firstly turning to words, I wanted the viewers to look at the subject’s drawings before their ‘diagnosis’ is revealed and try to figure out who they are as people. Mental health, or lack of it, is all around us and the ‘normality’ of these portraits should prove that. I hope the work can spark a curiosity in the viewer to gain more understanding about the sitters experiences, cause people to be more accepting and less judgemental towards someone who has gone through or is going through mental health distress.

What are you working on now/next?

I am currently working on a project about asexuality, aiming to shed light on asexual relationships but also explore a more general meaning of human desire and love.

domadoma.co.uk
@domaboma on Instagram


Rikard Österlund

Rikard Österlund is a Swedish photographer based in Rochester, Kent. Österlund moved to the UK in 2001 where he completed a BA (hons) in Editorial & Advertising Photography at Kent Institute of Art and Design. He also holds a PGCert in teaching creative arts.

The main focus of his work is on portraits and advertising for commercial clients, however in this interview Rikard shares his Kickstarter campaign for his book project Look I’m wearing all the colours, a project exploring the relationship with his wife Zara and the impact of her invisible chronic illnesses. You can back Rikard's campaign up until 1st June.

What is your background in photography? How did you get started and what kind of photographer would you describe yourself as?

I was a teenager when I start taking pictures of friends, bands, self-portraits. I remember skipping PE classes to spend time in the school darkroom, printing the images I’d made. In 1997 I saw an exhibition by Swedish photographer Anders Petersen and it left a lasting impression. My hometown Norrköping had a shop where you could by international magazines and I remember buying copies of Dazed & Confused and i-D magazine, getting inspired by the freedom their photographers seem to have. In Sweden most magazines seemed bland in comparison. I spent some time assisting photographers in Gothenburg but soon I decided to move to the UK to do my photography degree. In 2001 I moved to the UK to study Editorial & Advertising photography and those three years were an intense experience exploring a lot of different types of photography. My course work was entirely autobiographical, but on the side I made fashion images for other students. When I graduated I was offered a teaching job so I lectured part-time whilst building up my client list. I currently divide my time between commercial clients shooting portraits and lifestyle and my own personal projects.

How did you meet your now wife, Zara, and at what point did you become aware of her illnesses?

We had many shared friends but hadn’t actually met until I saw her modelling in a friends fashion show at the university where I worked. I was at the other end of the catwalk taking pictures. We met up soon after and it didn’t take long until we moved in together. I knew about Zara’s conditions from early on. Some of my friends had described them to me, but it was like Chinese whispers and no-one actually had any idea of what was going on.

Has it always been instinctual for you to photograph those around you, including relationships? How did Zara first feel about this?

Yes, I think so. But when I was younger it used to be more arranged - I would book a time to take some pictures - it has slowly become more intuitive and part of day to day life. I no longer feel obliged to use a certain camera, but am happy to photograph with whatever camera I have nearby. The shutter woke her up once when I photographed her sleeping, she looked really beautiful. Looking back at photographs is like a travelling back in time, not just to a specific event, but to a state of mind, an emotion.

How did the project Look I’m wearing all the colours come about?

I didn’t think about it as a project to start with at all. Me and Zara where talking one day and agreed that it would be good to document the flair ups. After that conversation I felt more able to bring the camera up to my eye on the hard days. That was the only conversation we had until a few years later when I felt it was time to compile some of the images. It was important for me to show everything, the great days and the hard. I wanted it to look like life and not a Instagram curated thing. So initially I chose images based on their individual strength rather than how they worked together. The first time I did an edit of what has become the book was at a Self Publish Be Happy workshop in early 2016. It was the first time I showed any of the images (20 of them) and it was a nurturing environment to work in. After that I continued working on it and showing people who didn’t know me and Zara to make sure the ebb and flow of the book translated. I am forever indebted to Swedish photographer Anna Clarén who has been a guiding light whilst working on the edit. It became evident that the core of the project is a love story.

What do you think you’ve learnt about invisible illnesses throughout your relationship?

The first thing is how common hidden, invisible conditions are and that despite this there is a stigma attached to them. It is believed that one third of the population live with a hidden condition. Travelling into London can be exhausting and we need to have regular rests. Asking for a seat on the Underground can be a challenge with a hidden condition, no sling or crutch to ‘evidence’ your condition.

I have also learnt how incredibly complex it can be to live with a hidden condition. A chronic pain can easily leave you feeling out of control of your own body and in turn cause isolation and depression. The response and reaction from people can aggravate and worsen your mental wellbeing. Since it is rarely spoken about it is easy to feel like you are the only person going through this.

How has photographing Zara — both the intimacies of the relationship, and the flair ups etc, impacted your understanding of living with illness, or your relationship (if at all)?

It has helped me a lot, when you are in the middle of a situation it is hard to see clearly. It is hard to understand the emotions and why something is happening. Looking back at the images afterward has allowed me to get more clarity and understand Zara's pain more than I would’ve been able to without the photographs. We have both been very open with each other from day one. Zara used to write very personal and exposing poetry and my personal projects left me quite vulnerable at times. So we never really questioned photographing the intimate moments, it just happened. Obviously you never have the intention of showing them to anyone else.

Why has it been important for you to produce a book of this project, and what advice can you offer to other photographs interested in making their first photobook?

I believe that art and storytelling can have a profound impact on our perspective. When I showed the book dummy in an exhibition last year people responded to the images and several people living with fibromyalgia said how much the book mirrored their life. I received a message yesterday from a lady telling me that it ‘really helped my daughters understanding of what I go though as I hide my pain, smile and try and carry on' You know when you hear a line in a song that explains how you’ve always felt about something but weren’t able to put into words?

I have always made little photobooks for myself and have done the design and print production for a few clients too, but this will be the first widely distributed book of my work. So I am familiar with the different stages of editing, design, paper choices etc. The most difficult thing is to understand is what your story is and then work out how the book can emphasise and carry that story. Oh, and read the colophon pages in your favourite books (to get the details about paper stock, the printer, publisher etc).

How does Zara feel about the project and book?

The first time she saw it was when I had printed the book dummy, so I was very nervous! She sat on the floor in my office and looked through it. It felt like hours passed. After a while she said that she thought it was beautiful and full of all her favourite things. "I think it is the most beautiful and romantic thing I have ever seen, full of hope and love because, despite all of the horrible things we have had to go through, we have always done it together."

What do you hope viewers take from the project?

I am hoping that they will connect to the story and that there will be some recognition. It is important for both of us to get the story out there, to let people know they are not alone. It would be great to create a crack in the stigma.

Where can people get a copy of the book?

People can make this book a reality by backing it on Kickstarter. If you go to the page there is a short film where you can see more images from the book (stay to the end of the video). A signed copy is £35 incl UK postage - until the 8am 1st June 2018.

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@rikard
@rikardolino on Instagram


Louis Quail

Louis Quail is a UK based documentary photographer. Louis has worked extensively for some of the UK's best known magazines and has been published and worked internationally over a period of many years. Louis increasingly devotes his time to personal, long-term projects. In this interview Louis shares his project Big Brother, an intimate photographic portrayal of his brother Justin’s struggle with schizophrenia. You can purchase a copy of the book, published by Dewi Lewis, on Louis' website.

What is your background in photography? How would you describe your career path and yourself as a photographer?

I was an editorial photographer for many years working for the Telegraph, Times, Marie Claire and so forth. Perhaps always a bit frustrated by the need to pay the bills I never really gave my self much room to explore work in any depth. This changed with my first big project desk job exploring globalisation through office life around the world. Big Brother is a continuation of a need to make projects with depth which are driven by an impulse to explore issues which I really care about and where there is the space to say something with originality.

Can you tell us how the project Big Brother came about and why you started to photograph Justin?

When I started this book it was shortly after mother died. Part of me would like to have photographed her, she also had schizophrenia, but I didn’t feel comfortable at that point in my career, I thought I might be exploiting my relationship on some level. When I started working on this book I was older and more confident in the idea that it is really important to give people like Justin a voice. I have come to believe worse than being intruded upon is to be ignored, Justin is at the bottom of the rung in society, this book gives him a voice.

At home in Mortlake, London.
Justin’s conditions means he is often feeling depressed. He oscillates between highs and lows; often the lows are attributed to high doses of drugs to control the behavior associated with the highs. Sometimes however he is just down or exhausted from lack of sleep. He hates taking the drugs complaining they create a “fog” that makes life like “wading through mud”.
Justin's level of organization and his ability to focus seems to have deteriorated as he gets older; keeping his room clean is a major challenge despite regular visits from cleaners.
Justin, photographed at his girlfriend's flat in East Sheen.
Justin’s continued visits to the now abandoned Mereway Day Centre are a testament to its hold on him. It was his go-to drop in centre for 23 years (and for our mother). Its closure around 2007 comes against a backdrop of government cuts within the mental health industry (including other favourites for Justin such as the Level Crossing and Centre 32 ) which if anything has been accelerating in recent years.

What pushed you to turn the project into a book?

The main reason to make this book is to challenge stigma, which is pervasive in our society in the UK and beyond. We expect stigma in mainstream society and nine out of ten people who suffer with mental illness says stigma makes their life worse. Simply not being treated decently, fairly or like an equal causes all sorts of negative outcomes for those who suffer from it. But perhaps more of a surprise is the way that stigma in some way is built in to the systems we use to manage our mentally ill. For example, risk assessments made by the mental health team by process are stigmatising, if we look for the worst case scenario from our mentally ill, we run the risk of demonising them.

This book challenges stigma by showing the life of an individual in all the light and shade; someone who suffers with their mental health but is not defined by it. We have moved mountains challenging stigma around physical disabilities, but mental health is still a remote area for many — misunderstood, ghettoised. We need the book to really get to grips with Justin’s life with real depth. We show some of Justin’s difficulties but also celebrate his success and contributions found in his relationship and his passions for art and bird watching. The message is mental health is part of us but it is not all of us.

How does Justin feel about the project? How on board is he with being photographed?

Justin’s thoughts on the project seem to change with his health and sense of well being. Sometimes he is excited to be part of it and supportive but at other times especially when he is down he lacks any sort of meaningful interest . One of the drivers for me is that I see there is an opportunity with this work to give Justin the chance to feel he is making an impact in the world, to give him a voice and to build self esteem. There have been many times when Justin has not been in the mood to be photographed and he has let me know this quite forcefully. However, he has never once asked me to to desist from making the book and over a period of years he has had the opportunity [to do that]. I think this stems from a deep human need to be seen.

At the same time this work is personal. There is no point making a body of work if its not going to be serious in intent and meaningful and to do that requires honesty and integrity. Part of this process I realised quite soon, involved me using Justin’s medical and police records so I could really get to grips with the parts of Justin’s life that could not be easily photographed. Although he understands this and accepts it (for him it is part of his daily life and does not concern him as it might others) and he understands why I am making this book, he is more apathetic about how it might change anything. In a way I’m fighting this apathy by encouraging Justin’s involvement. I am passionate about showing Justin’s life and fighting stigma. Deep down Justin trusts me and my instincts in the making of the book. With this trust comes a huge responsibility to make sure his has a positive experience.

The project is multi-layered using photographs of Justin, but also his art, medical and police records. How do you think this creates a wider and perhaps clearer picture of Justin’s story (and perhaps others experience of living with schizophrenia)?

Photography has limitations. Early on I knew I had to find other ways to tell Justin’s story. I can photograph Justin from the outside but the medical records allow me to get much closer to how he thinks. Written up medical and social service reports act like a series of interviews; revealing the nature of the illness and Justin’s inner thoughts. Equally, the police reports are working on a similar level. Witness statements from police officers detailing conversations made with Justin and his girlfriend Jackie are a brilliant aid to story telling the events during some of Justin’s most difficult moments.

What is surprising is how much of political planning at the top of society feeds down directly into Justin’s life: cuts to social care and police budgets and privatisation of housing care are all revealed in his interactions with the police and the associated records, so it’s important to have them. Most importantly though the police we see act like a third person in the relationship with his girlfriend (spoiler alert!). Their impulse is to separate them so the problems in their relationship go away. The question, will the relationship survive, this is something that drives the narrative.

Justin’s art and poetry in particular are hugely important, they give insight into his thoughts about his illness and the system that manages him. It’s been fantastic that I can use the book to give space to his compelling creative expression.

Justin's paintings often feature boats and very often birds. Mixed media on paper.
Painting inspired by the song ‘I am the God of Hell fire’ (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown).
A painting inspired by the the song I am the God of hell Fire, from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Self portrait.

How does it feel when you’re making these photographs? What do you think about and how does photography help you connect to the emotion of the moment?

Normally When I’m spending time with Justin I’m fire fighting a problem, cleaning his flat calling social services visiting A and E, even; being practical. When I look at the pictures, later, on my own, is often when I get emotional about his condition. The photographs help me see the huge problems, Justin has had to deal with in his life; they are written into the shape of his face.

Doing this project has allowed me to think of and relate to Justin in a different way. I can understand and empathise with him from a different place and with deeper understanding. What this book has really taught me though is that Justin is hugely resilient, he is a survivor and the take away for the audience is that his passion for bird watching has been an integral part of his survival process, a form of self medication if you like.

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@louisquail
@louisquail on Instagram


Jodie Beardmore

Jodie Beardmore is a photographer based in Huddersfield (UK), currently studying in her final year at The University of Huddersfield. Jodie draws inspiration from photographers such as Francesca Woodman and Brooke Shaden and has created an on-going series based on and inspired by her diagnosis with depression. The images are "set in a world bordering between dream and nightmare, similar to what you would experience when you are mentally ill. The imagery follows a narrative of my recovery caught between the world of the imagination and reality."

What first attracted you to photography and how did your photographic interests develop over time?

I became interested in photography after assisting on a fashion photo-shoot at a huge manor house that my uncle was working at as a gardener. I was ten years old and I remember enjoying it so much that I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.

I started out photographing still life and landscapes but eventually developed my own tastes and style, as I grew older, going on to study photography at college and university. Whilst studying I became inspired by portraiture, fashion, surrealism and the world of fantasy.

How did this series of images come about?

This series began as a coping mechanism. In 2016 I was diagnosed with depression and I lost interest in everything, so much so that I had to defer a year of my university course to recover. In this time I forced myself to go out and rediscover my former passion of photography. I started to create self portraits based around my mental illness. I wasn’t always pleased with the results and my motivation was still suffering but gradually I improved and my work became something I was really proud of.

What is it about surrealistic photography that excites you?

The fact it can be anything you want it to be, there are no rules or expectations. You can just let your imagination run wild. Through exploring the extraordinary I am able to understand the ordinary. It’s been comforting in how others can understand what's going through my mind by depicting these emotions in imagery.

How has creating these images helped with your experiences of anxiety and depression?

It's helped me to understand myself a lot more, not just as someone who suffers with mental illness but also as a person. Before my diagnosis I would limit myself to photography I wasn’t particularly interested in as I was worried about what people would think of me, if I created the pieces I wanted to. I had an unhealthy desire to be liked and to fit in which prevented me from being myself. However since I’ve become less concerned with this and become completely open about who I am, I’ve noticed a significant improvement in my photography, had a lot more opportunities and I’ve even had people come up and tell me I’m inspiring, which is a fantastic feeling.

What is your creative process like? Talk us through one of your images, from the idea to execution.

Many of my ideas are inspired by locations, or a feeling, emotion already within me. For my piece ‘Nest’ which is one of the first images I created for this series, depicts the lowest point in my depression. I wanted to portray my vulnerability and comfort within my nest (home), hidden away from reality. The wings protruding out of my back, lay broken representing the fight or flight of anxiety.

I spent weeks with my mother collecting sticks over the fields near us and then stitching them together at home to form a human sized nest. My dad then helped me transfer the nest over to a studio in Manchester where two photographers (Tonie Moran & Anthony Moran) who I worked with on my placement year helped me to setup and execute the image. I was originally going to pose in a nude leotard but the image just wasn’t working so I bravely removed the clothing, revealing my body which is something I’ve never been happy with. I wanted to do it though as this work is so important to me and in assisting the reduction of the stigma of mental illness being a weakness when it is actually more a strength.

What do you hope your work stirs in viewers?

I hope it makes people understand mental illness more, as not only can your mind be a terrifying place to live but it can also be one of the most wonderful. These worlds I have created allow me to face my inner demons, however they allow me to see the beauty in my mind as well. Photography has become a form of escapism from reality for me but also a way of dealing with it.

What are you working on now?

I am still currently working on this project as part of my final major project at university. You can follow my progress of this series of work on my Instagram @jbeardmorephoto_. The end product will be a photo book, which eventually I am hoping to publish.

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@jbeardmorephoto_ on Instagram


Max Herridge

Max Herridge is a photographer based in London, UK, currently studying for a BA in Photography from University of the Arts London. Max identifies as non-binary and has self-diagnosed anxiety. In Surface Max's work focuses on anxiety and how reality can be experienced.

You're a current University of the Arts London Photography student — what is it that attracted you to photography to begin with?

My relationship with photography has changed a lot since buying my first DSLR four years ago. Photography was definitely a hobby to begin with; it wasn’t until about 18 months ago that I realised the power of the photographic image and how it can be used to make a statement. I began taking portraits of my friends and became excited by photography as a way to create interesting aesthetics and things that seemed almost surreal. When I started university, I decided it was time to start making more work for myself, rather than my Instagram audience, and use the creative freedom I have to express my thoughts, feelings and beliefs.

How did your project Surface come about?

It was part of a university assignment in which we were asked to create work under the title of ‘Image and Reality’. My interpretation of this was to explore the way in which people perceive reality differently. I considered how my own anxiety affects the way in which I experience the world and decided to confront the task of creating a visual to demonstrate an issue that is, for the most part, invisible. The Fragmentary site was very helpful in my research for the project as it was great to see what had already been achieved in mental health photographic practice.

What was your reasoning behind asking your Tumblr followers to respond with their own visual descriptions of mental health? Did it influence how you created the images for Surface?

I had put out a post to my 40,000+ Tumblr followers a long time ago, regarding a different project about mental illness that never came to fruition and decided to use this resource again to get a variety of different interpretations of anxieties, outside of my own experience. The responses I received described anxiety as a visual and one theme was apparent in many of the replies: water. The associations between anxiety and water varied greatly with some describing it for its destructive properties of drowning and flooding, whilst others viewed it as calming and relaxing. My own experience of water in relation to anxiety links to the latter idea, as a bottle of water and the movements of its contents calm me when its most needed. The piece of work exists as three sets of three images that begin at a broad landscape and finish on a macro shot of something that appears in the middle image, illustrating how things may intensify as anxiety arises.

Has photography changed your relationship with anxiety at all? Does it provide respite or further understanding of your experience?

This project certainly helped me to look at my anxiety more objectively. Presenting the work to my tutor group at university, not only in the final presentation but also in the weekly progress meetings, was an anxious experience for me and certainly helped me to overcome some of the anxiety I had about talking in front of members of my course. In this sense, it provided a kind of opportunity to triumph and also contributed to understanding my experience, which in itself provides me with some respite.

How do you see your work developing? Are there any themes you would like to continue working with throughout your degree?

At the moment, I am working regularly for an online music magazine photographing live concerts and gigs, which is something that I never saw myself doing, so at this point, I am open to my work developing in any direction. I am comfortable enough within my practice to take on anything that is thrown my way. In my university work, I look to move away from documentary, clean styles of photography, which I have always been attracted to as a comfort, and dive into more abstract and interpretative practices. Since moving to London, I have become more politically interested in things such as feminism, LGBTQIA+ rights, equal rights and the environment. These are all themes that I would love to get across in my future work. I am interested in making work that can mean something to someone and that can tell a story rather than work that is just visually interesting.

What are you working on next?

My next university brief is focused on creating a book about anything that you are passionate about. I have not finalised my concept yet, but I am toying with the idea of creating a piece of work surrounding a theory of the soul that my partner and I have. It follows how the soul is present in a physical body and where it may manifest in different people. I am excited to be in a city with so much opportunity for young creatives and am striving to put myself out there in the creative industry.

maxherridge.com
@max.emh on Instagram


Lucy Bentham

Lucy Bentham (UK) primarily works with analogue photography, not limiting her work to a particular category or style. The majority of her work is conceptually driven, revolving around personal themes, seeking a sense of belonging, and reflecting on life's transitions. Influenced by the world around her, she often comments on the personal significance of ostensibly mundane circumstances to form a narrative as an observer and occasional participant. She has a BA in Photography from the University of the West of England and an MA in Photography and the book from the University of Plymouth.

Lucy shares her project Escape Theory: The Experiment.

'Escape Theory: The Experiment' is a project undertaken as a response to my previous project ‘Escape Theory: Sublime’, for which I took a deeply personal approach to exploring the role of the female artist existing within, yet desiring to escape from, the domestic space. ‘Escape Theory: Sublime’ focused on a number of escapes into the landscape during a search for a sublimity I struggle to find in everyday life.

In this project I have explored the characters I employ to make domesticity bearable, as well as sexuality, the feminine, metaphors of personality fragments, anxiety, neglect and decay.

When did your interest in photography begin and what is your background in photography?

My interest in photography began with a love of 'just taking pictures'. I suppose it was an uneducated desire to document my environment and family and friends without questioning whether it would be interesting for anyone else to look at or not. The photos were for personal use; for memory and archive. Then one of my first forays into being more creative with the medium was when I experimented with making self-portraits as different characters - something I have unintentionally revisited for this project.

I have a BA Photography from UWE and an MA Photography and the book from Plymouth University. The projects I made during these courses were very much theory driven; based on photographic theory or psychologies or myth., for example. My work is primarily photographic but is also often accompanied by some form of writing. I also curate photography exhibitions which is a brilliant, practical, break from being overly introspective when working on photographic projects.

Your work is rooted in conceptual photography, often combining image and text to look at domesticity and ideas of escapism. What is it that has drawn you to these themes across your work?

From the time I picked up a camera with project intent I really wanted to be a documentary photographer. I'd see my peers making projects with beautiful portraits and interesting scenes from reality, telling these incredibly moving or fascinating stories about whatever they had studied and I so wanted to do the same, as did most of my tutors, but I found it natural to research and think about a subject until my head exploded, constantly conceptualising something that could eventually represent all of this information. So my work has continued down the path of being heavily thought based, empirical, usually introspective, and research driven...and I still really want to make documentary work! The escapism theme has been intentionally present in my work since 2015, with domesticity joining it in 2016. I work with a lot of binaries, which became clear was reflective of my personality, so I also began to consciously explore these dualities around 2015. The idea of the escape was a good enough subject to base the first escape project on, but I also wanted to know the prompt for the escape; hence the following project to 'Escape Theory: Sublime' being 'Escape Theory: The Experiment'. My combination of writing with photographs is based on research I carried out when considering the affects of each media on the viewer - what can be said in words is much more specific than the ambiguity of the photograph and much can be said in image that cannot be accurately connoted through text, so I often combine the two by way of divulging clearer information.

The theme of mountains as a metaphor for escapism is present in your work. What is it about landscape that is so powerful for you in representation the feeling or longing of escape?

I began my journey into looking at escapism inadvertently after starting a project 'Escape Theory: Sublime' with a very rational, academic, choice of subject I thought would keep me occupied for quite a while: the aesthetic theory of the Sublime based on traditional concepts from Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant in the eighteenth century, which are deeply based around landscape. My peers commented that the work I was making, which mostly comprised of me heading alone into the landscape searching for the sublime, felt more like an escape from something rather than a search and that was the real starting point of the project. This was the point that the academic rationality partly went out the window and I began being introspective and much more empirical in my approach to making the work. Having consciously been in and out of the landscape for about six months at that point, I had already very much connected with the notion of the power of the mountain, their seemingly infinite ages, strength and ability to overcome my tiny human anxieties, so they remain symbolic in much of my work, whether collections of small rocks or the experience of hiking up a mountain. The metaphor of the mountain is almost always about climbing a mountain, starting at the bottom and eventually reaching the top and I wanted to be literal in my approach by literally climbing the mountains in place of other achievements I wasn't experiencing at the time.

Your artist books, particularly for Escape Theory look beautiful. What is it that attracted you to creating a book of the project? Do you have any advice for people considering self publishing or moving into the book format?

Thank you. Throughout most of my photographic practice I have always considered the photograph as belonging in a book or on a gallery wall but they are two entirely different ways of reading a narrative and experiencing the work and, depending on the project, I usually prefer the idea of a viewer being able to view the work alone, quietly. A book also gives more control to the creator who can be more prescriptive of a narrative and flow of reading. For the Escape Theory artist book I wanted to present the heavily experimental process I took with the medium throughout the project in book form, so the artist book is made out of unique prints and ephemera from these experiments: pieces of super 8 film, 5x4 negatives, photograms, mini zines, and a variety of paper stocks.

My advice to anyone considering self-publishing or moving into book format would be to do it for the love of the book, because a book is what you really want your project to be. Books that are collections of images from a project that is better suited to a wall are catalogues. Once you have decided on your book format, consider the narrative and let other people help with the edit. Listen to what they see when they read the sequencing. Consider the size, style, and layouts. When you are certain you're finished, make dummies, lots of dummies, then a small edition or print on demand through pre-orders.

I lay back as the water turns pink and this millennial is shrouded in a tone that denies her the arrogance to think that she is. That she can. That she will.

And I open to you but you just presume that I nag and I gripe; there's no more room for these feminist rights.

Lights. Long nights. Fights with thoughts buried in my soul and I'm cold. Not from the chill but the lack of will. I'm shut. I'm shattered. Possession is nine tenths and that's all that matters.

The woman doth protest too much. Regrets too much. Regresses and confesses and is not at her best too much.

I'm blue, not pink like they say. And soon I'll be grey and exposed and battered and bruised. Never mind used. Never mind working my way up because I'm down. No longer is the crown in sight, not far from my height. But far, far away in a land that never existed.

I missed it. I risked it. We tried it. We hid it from those around us. Our powers confound us. Compress us. Until completely engorged with the weight of our fates. We implode. We explode to the stars that are not as far as theirs.

But we try.

​And we never give up.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your projects?

Most of my inspiration comes from a lot of overthinking about the most mundane of subjects, especially day-to-day life instances that usually get glossed over. I'm a fan of the ordinary and not a fan of things being made into something considered 'better' - I appreciate the ordinary. Visually, I usually have a bank of ideas in my mind I'm not sure how to make tangible then I'll see something that triggers that set of images into action e.g. a colour or style of typeface, or someone's outfit, or I'll eavesdrop on a conversation on the bus. It all gets written down or subconsciously absorbed then usually transformed into something unrelated in a project.

How do you see your practice developing and what are you working on now/next?

I'm keen to develop my curatorial practice alongside personal photographic projects. I've got a shortlist of some pretty lengthy photographic projects I'd love to get started on properly and I'm trying to turn one of these into a PhD (but I need a studentship!). I always say this, and it is usually difficult to escape from, but I would like this shortlist of projects to come to fruition because they are mostly not introspective.

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@lucybphoto
Lucy Bentham Photo on Facebook


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.

chrisjroe.com
@chrisjroe on Instagram
@chrisjroe on Twitter


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.

@guardado.alice on Instagram


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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