Christina Riley

Christina Riley's Back to Me is a raw look at the use of photography to bring oneself back from the brink of mental illness. Published by Straylight Press (buy here) — and on its second edition — Christina's work documents the quiet and contemplative moments amongst the mania and madness of bipolar disorder.

"In 2011, I lost my mind.

Somewhere beneath the world we all know, was mine. With reality removed, I stepped forward. Into a dream. There was no self, there was nothing else."

The images in Back to Me are often grainy and have a raw feel to them — was this a deliberate choice in terms of format/aesthetic?
When I shot Back to Me, I remember just having a gut feeling that the grain was working best to convey the actual emotions and space I was experiencing. I didn’t question it at all. Something about the imperfections and weird color cast really matched the dreamlike, disconnected state I was in.

How did you feel about initially sharing such a personal project? And how do you feel about the work now that some time has passed?
I never really felt hesitant to share the photographs with the world. I think it’s important for people to see, understand and possibly be able to relate to the reality of mental illness as a real human experience. It annoys me when people are guarded and scared to show true colors of life. I think it was important to share and I’m still happy with my decision. I still feel really emotionally attached to the work, of course.

What drew you to producing the work in a book format?
Shortly after the worst of the episode was over my friend/mentor Tony Fouhse who founded and runs Straylight Press offered to publish a book for me. Not just because we are close, but because he really believed in the photographs. I was sharing them on an blog with some poetry as it was all happening so he was able to see them develop there. He was a huge help with making the book. Straylight Press is so great. Not just saying that because of my relationship with Tony, but what they put out is work that people should see. Might be some stuff certain people don’t want to see, but it’s real and important and it should be looked at.

Was there any therapeutic benefit of documenting this episode in your life?
I was so lost in my own world. The camera was like a line to reality - not enough really to pull me out of my insanity but I just knew it was something I had to do. It almost felt like a part of my body. I actually remember looking at the camera and thinking of it as a person sort of, watching me. In hindsight, having the photographs and making the book really made me face my illness and know it is actually real and dangerous and something I have to take care of. It was extremely hard to look at the pictures after but by doing that and sequencing them into a book, I was able to process everything that happened. It felt like a real end.

What kind of reactions have you had from Back to me? Have others reached out to talk about their own difficulties with mental health?
The reactions I’ve had from 'Back to Me’ have meant so much to me. People have written me saying that it helped them feel understood or not alone, people have told me also that it made them cry. I had a conversation with someone who actually told me their friend committed suicide at one of the spots pictured in my book, and he told me he was happy I got through my episode ok. The positive feedback from other photographers and artists who I respect has been really nice and encouraging as well. I think putting myself out there so honestly, really set me free.

In your video interview you speak about the need to create these images almost as a compulsion. Does this compulsion still exist within your approach to photography and if so, how?
I think there has always been a compulsion within me, wether its taking pictures or making music. I just feel like I can’t help what I do when I’m doing it. When I am not doing it, I obsess over not doing it, and feel really crappy, wanting so bad to do it. It’s a vicious and frustrating cycle, but when I am able to get in a steady rhythm with the compulsiveness, things really happen. With Back to Me, it was a little different because I really felt everything so much more intensely, there were no questions or distractions at all in my brain or life. I was hyper focused.

What kind of projects are you focusing on now and in the future?
Right now I’m mostly focusing both physically and photographically on my relationship with my daughter who is 1.5 years old. From early on in my pregnancy I decided to photograph myself, and the way I saw the world as I dealt with an unplanned pregnancy. Since my daughter was born, the project has continued on, basically just documenting myself and life as I navigate through something I never planned on becoming. It has opened my eyes and my heart for sure. A side from that just a couple other ongoing projects I try to add to at least once a year. Music also takes up a lot of my time. There’s never, ever nothing to do!

mechristinariley.com
@me_x_riley

You can pick up a copy of Back to Me via Straylight Press.


Jim Mortram

Jim Mortram is a self-taught photographer from Norfolk (UK) whose emotionally evocative photo-essays marry text and image to share the stories of those often living on the margins. His on-going project, Small Town Inertia, is an exploration of the lives of those in his local community, whereby Mortram seeks to create friendships that go deeper than the photographer and subject dynamic. Jim’s approach to documenting these stories focuses on listening and building trusting relationships with those he meets, often revisiting those he photographs like you would a friend — after all, that is what they have become to him. In this specific example we focus on Mortram's photo-stories with Tilney1, a local artist and mental health service user diagnosed with schizotypal and obsessive compulsive disorders.

Click here to jump to the featured photo-essay with Tilney1

How did you meet Tilney1 and what drew you to photograph him? How did he feel about your initial approaching him as a subject?

I first began to document the artist and poet Tilney1 in 2009 whilst I was volunteering at a local drop-in Mental Health Arts group. Both the creativity and honesty of his work left a huge impression upon me. His canvasses instantly reminded me of the American painter Basquiat. Coded, abstract narratives, words and the branding of memories. Filled with symbols these confessional mind maps captivated me. His photography, poetry and scrolls of writing all held the same power.

He'd written a book of thoughts, fears, stories, his life story and left it purposefully upon a table in an Arts Centre so someone may find it. Tilney1 started having problems at 13 and was diagnosed at 17 with Schizotypal and Obsessive Compulsive disorders.

A series of traumatic events acted as triggers. He was abused. He worked nights at Tesco’s. He fought to retain normality. He succumbed to the increasing volume of his internal narratives. He’d been sectioned. After being both incorrectly and over medicated he spent 10 years in bed. 10 wasted years.

What does a typical session look like? How long do you spend together and how do you engage with your subjects to put them at ease?

As I work upon these shoots in the scant free time I have (I'm a full time carer for my Mother) what usually happens is that I'm in constant contact with everyone I document via social media, email and telephone. When I can grab an hour or two to make it out of the house, I'll arrange a meet up. I can usually make a couple of meet ups per week, and try to make at least three visits with different people within my local community, every week.

I never view anyone I document as subjects — they are people, they are members of my local community. I visit as myself, I just always have a camera with me. Be it a first meet or a hundredth, it's always the same. I arrive, we talk, I listen more than I talk and depending on the situation I'll either document or make portraits as we go.

How to make people at ease? Well, I think of this as life. Just because there is a camera there, life does not cease, so the same rules apply. To get trust you have to earn it. Time, patience, being explicit in explaining what is happening from the onset. It'd be very easy to make a thousand images with a thousand different people, taking little time on each, but for me that's speed dating vs. a long relationship. I'm not interested in speed dating. Also the longer you spend with someone the greater understanding you have, the more a story arc is naturally and organically allowed to evolve. From the very beginning of working upon photo essays and documentaries, I knew that it had to be long form. A five minute shoot would share so little for myself, thinking of the people sharing with me, that felt too much of a disservice to their trust, to their giving so much. The aim is to show as close to reality as is possible and to enable that one must dedicate, have patience and be there for the duration.

Your work is a combination of raw images and text that is both aesthetically and emotionally evocative. How did you come to working in this format and how do you think it compliments the documenting of the complex issues that your subjects are facing?

It's really simple: images without context, or testimony only do a small job. It's a little like looking at a book cover and expecting to understand the plot. I'm not interested in sharing images, adrift, with no context being there simply for another human being to then be expected to fill in the blanks. Those blanks will be coloured by whatever that viewer brings to them — it could be understanding or it could be prejudice. I was never prepared to take that risk with the people sharing their stories.

Photographs are tools, they have function, they are hooks that pull people towards the context, to the testimony, to that other reality and through that act of communication, a point of illumination.

You cover a lot of deep thoughts and issues in your accompanying texts. Is there a reflection process for you after each session?

I'm constantly working on stories, I never stop. I'm always thinking about everything to do with every story, all the time. It's not something I pick up or put down. I'm constantly reflecting upon all these lives, all these stories.

There's a beautiful quote from Tilney1 about how his creativity has given his life purpose. What do you think it is about the creative process that gives Tilney1 relief from his difficulties?

It goes a little way to fill the void of absence of love, interest, help and support.

What role do you think photography has played, if any, in relieving any of your own personal tensions or difficulties?

It helped me discover who I was and gave me an opportunity to believe it was OK to be myself. When you find — or if you find — the thing about you, and it could be anything, anything that 'is' you, you question it, think about it, no more than you do breathing, it's just a part of you.

What is it that draws you to documenting the difficulties faced by others?

I'm not particularly drawn to documenting difficulties, at all. It's more a case of everyone has stories and events in their lives. I've never sought out a story or scenario to document, it's a very organic process. I meet people as we all do in life, as a part of life, sometimes they hear of me from within the community, and I get a call or email requesting I shoot their story.

What it does state is how many are having a hard time, a really fucking hard time and rather than turn my back to that I open my arms and eyes and very importantly, my ears. Though many of the stories I have worked up, been so lucky to work upon, have elements of difficulties. In truth, in myself, I don't see that element. What I see is people, enduring. I see people enduring and I'm always shooting with that in mind, guided by their lead, mindful, always of how much respect these people, people just like you or I deserve, but so often never get.

Have you faced any difficulties throughout Small Town Inertia and how did you address them?

The only difficulty, ever, has been the frustration at not being able to work on the stories 24/7, and lack of funds, financially, it's hard to do, especially as I work unpaid and fund everything myself, and seldom few desire to commission such stories. However, I never began this journey for financial gain. I began it for I felt a void in reporting of this fashion and felt compelled to fill it.

Is there a long-term goal to Small Town Inertia?

To be the best conduit I can, to do justice to all the stories and events that fellow human beings share with me, so I might in turn pass those stories on to other human beings.

Your work often document moments of vulnerability. How do you manage issues of consent or showing images that may later cause anxieties for the subject? Are they involved in the selection/editing process?

Trust. It's key. From minute one of day one on any story the people I work with know everything — what will happen with images, where and how they are shared. Photographs from stories are always and only shared within the context of the story, I've never sold (and will never) an image for stock usage for example. So, these photographs have homes, that work and serve the stories, on site, online features, exhibition, book and print, all of which serve the same role as the photographs... to pull people towards the stories and testimonial. There is little point working upon a story with the function of raising awareness and then not carrying on the job after that 1/50th second shutter click, and putting in the hours and days and weeks work, getting it seen. The stories are long form, and so is the work, to have them seen. It's life. I seldom question it, I just get on with it.

As I remain in contact with everyone I document and in a very large way this is a collaboration, it makes things run very smooth. I'm more prone to edit hard than the people within the stories. Often I've been pushed by them to include a photograph, that I might have left out. Why? "Because it's the truth, why else are we doing it, than to share that?" is the answer most given.

Everyone I work with wants to share their truth as much as I do and usually they are so passionate to do so for one single, simple fact... Until those moments when we embarked on a long form story, no one gave one fuck.

So in a big way these stories are a call, a cry, not for attention, but of validation, of 'I exist', of 'this reality exists', within a time of great apathy, stigma and a blame culture where the poor and most vulnerable are so often used, stereotyped, damned and discussed, singularly, in patronising tone, or as pawns in a game, a game they, we, so often are never allowed to win and are engineered only to lose. When the poor begin blaming the poor, you know, everything is wrong. When they are able blame the disabled, again, you know everything is wrong.

I've never sought to 'take' images, rather to make them with the people I'm so lucky to document.

I prefer to build a relationship than buy one so I never pay for shots. For example I don't use a model release, I earn trust just the same way we do in any relationship. I've never related to this notion that a camera sets up a relationship, different rules, to any relationship without one.

What is next for you?

Hard at work on coming stories.

smalltowninertia.co.uk

@jimmortram

Small Town Inertia is self-funded by Jim Mortram. If you would like to support his project please check out his website and Facebook where he often sells prints from the project.

MARKET TOWN : TILNEY1 : MIXED MEDIA PROTECTION COCOON

"When I was completely and utterly depressed, but, like a nice depression, I was still able to take films in, but, I was watching them all on my own."

There is a chilling echo.

A reverberation, a continuation, a thread of stitches, a commonality, a mirroring of the ‘memory loops’ that occupy and feed upon Tilney1.

In writing these opening paragraphs – The hours, days, weeks and months roll on. Not filled with evolution as one might expect. Chaos is not permitted to intervene and gift chance meetings, no friendships born from new seeds, blossoming, growing. No tenderness, no love, no lingering kisses shared to be savoured, no holidays, these are days of no surprises. There is little escape from the barren landscape of Tilney1’s day to day, a landscape left scarred and sterile by his schizophrenia, his medication and continual isolation – words, written almost a year to the day ago, still, as relevant, as though on repeat.

A day repeated, on repeat.

In the absence of profound change, of change in diagnosis, of change in environment, relationships, isolation, in being, still a ghost. Seen, yet unseen, on the fringe, on the outside, alien, alienated, misunderstood, maligned, marooned.

Still, in this vacuum, Tilney1, as though a last man on earth, endures. Fights, minute to minute, day upon day, weeks, years, through a lifetime.

How then, to breathe and be?, to face a day that is a forever echo, pulsating with past traumas and the scars of yesterday and yesterdays, alive with them. How to navigate the walls of this invisible maze, walls that are unyielding, forever steering, pushing, forcing. How?.

There is, here, such a force, to equal medication, diagnosis, stigma, indifference, prejudice, of being little more, to so many, than both parasite and statistic.

What equals these boxes and fears, these judgements?.

Hope.

The hope that Tilney1 has. His.

As loud within his being as any invasive thought or voice, at it’s best, as loud as any fear, or state of self loathing, most, imposed by the failings of others around him, for it’s their projected contempt, that breeds Tilney1’s own notions and absence of self worth.

This hope, his hope, that drives him onwards. Hope, for love, for acceptance, for understanding. Hope is the fuel that powers Tilney1’s endurance.

A hope, that goes as un-noticed in life, as Tilney1, himself.

"I always worry if there are holes in my shoes, like when I was really ill. So, sometimes I wear Travel Fox, sometimes Adidas."

"I would like to wear a nice shirt and some nice trousers, but it seems to me, the more and more people, like the Police, come up to me and ask me ‘Why are you taking photos?’ that I don’t want to dress like corporate mainstream, I want to dress like this. Kevin Carter trousers, on the Manic Street Preachers cover, you know?"

"Now, with all my writing, art and photography, I watch films to use as inspiration, I write down sound bites for my poetry, reviews, absolutely everything about them, and I try to do all the things I wanted to do when I was on my film studies course, all that time ago, when all I did then was worry about work."

"All that studying, I mean, it’s nothing you can’t do at home, you know what I mean?. Though, I do think, what’s the point to any film, even romantic films, if you can only watch them by yourself?"

One of Tilney1’s many folders, filled with his poetry.

"It’s very hard, the constant worry about credit card bills, Mum having to help me out with money, but, I am really trying my hardest. I lost my credit card, but another arrived today and the first thing I did was pay off the £70 telephone bill."

Watching the film, Halloween.

"When they said I was unwell at Hellesdon (In-patient Mental Hospital), I had to hang about with all these terribly mentally ill people, rubble on the floor, doors kicked in, and look at my flat, it’s just an art empire!."

"They said I was unwell in the Autumn, Halloween. Relevant. You see?"

"I used to have these love visions come over me, I’d see something and I’d feel like a beautiful feeling come over me, within my heart, inside my soul, but they stopped happening."

Reading through one of the numerous, hand written journals of memories, loops, connections and links.

"Once again, I’m always finding answers, Teddy Sheringham, Southwold, the Trafford Arms was in the Insight magazine, St Stephens Street 1980, the sexual health clinic, a charity shop with Dave Wolverton books, a video games shop, with like, old school DVD’s."

"Going to the Old Trafford to watch football, right?, then ring up Hellesdon hospital and tell them I went to the Trafford Arms, Southwold and Sherringham, all the time worrying about work and everything."

"Constantly all the time this terrible worry, back then. About work. I just, I just try to use my coping mechanisms, and then when I feel I am coping, I draw, make art and write."

"What is the concept of weird?. You can analyse all eccentric behaviour, and I do. The whole concept of the Sun newspaper, slating all people on Welfare and the work shy, but, all I have ever wanted is a life for myself and a girlfriend but that never happened."

"I do try to be an amazing person though. I try and find inspiration in my illness. I never chose to be mentally ill, you know?, it was never a lifestyle choice."

"The thing is, it’s harder, worse, I imagine for ethnic minorities and gay people to live here, how do you explain to people about that Bismark used to amp up the party, self destruction record drops?."

"Once again, if you’re a nice, sensitive person like I am, liking House music, Hip-Hop, Hip-House, who started House music?, gay people!, who started Hip-Hop?, black people!, all people who are oppressed, like me, like all mentally ill people."

About to begin a wall collage.

"I’m always thinking, it’s always going around and around in my head, ‘Will this take the paint off the walls?, will I be in trouble?’. So, I sit there for an hour, then, OK, ‘Put the MMLVC over 90 on the picture’, put that there, do this, put that there, do this, do that there."

"Instead of just sinking into despair and depression and just taking to my bed, I just refuse to give up. So, then, I just cover the whole wall. A nice artistic coping mechanism."

In the grip of his compulsive addiction to smoking.

"It’s just crazy, though, I bought a red and a blue one (Vaping electronic smoking device) and I’m just using them to get myself through the nights, and then smoking (Regular cigarettes) through the day when my Mum gives me the money to buy cigarettes, I mean, that’s not the right thing to do is it?, that’s just very sad."

Vaping

"It is a struggle, to stop, the whole eccentricity about smoking has always been there for me."

"Believe me, I do try my hardest (To stop smoking) I really, really do. Even in my loneliness, I do try my hardest. The whole concept of smoking being cool, it’s just so stupid."

Newspaper headline about vaping.

Taken by a memory loop, vaping.

"I’m a nice looking kid there, like a model, with my hands on my hips. How you love football when you are a kid!. Before everything that happened to me when I was an adolescent."

Tilney1’s collection of second hand games.

"A lot of collecting games is about my loneliness, they all remind me of the past, people. The thing is, the diagnosis I have is there and there is nothing I can do to get away from it."

"They say that mentally ill people go on shopping sprees, with me, I do have insight, but I still do it. It’s a coping mechanism."

Upon a cursory glance, it would have been easy to believe his past compulsions to make art, to write, had been replaced with hoarding, but looking deeper, seeing, Tilney1 has in fact become his art, for every item has purpose, is a reflection of his memory loops, his walls, cut and paste collages, all have import, all have meaning, nothing is without thought, nothing an aside.

Tilney1 is constructing a cocoon, a defence, a protection. He is his art.

Journals, filled from page one, to one hundred, cover to cover narratives documenting memory loops and observations, fill his apartment, walls become collages, every book, record, C.D, every item, and at the epicentre, within these walls, he creates, he hopes, he endures.

"Coping mechanisms, they are a constant thing, for me, really. All the time, with me. Don’t spend any money until the Manic Street Preachers play the Holy Bible, pay all my bills. Nice, logical plans. My D.L.A. (Disability Living allowance) will be paid into my bank in about a week, hopefully, that will all go to paying my bills, that’s a nice, logical plan."

"It’s better to spend money on games for my PS3 than heroin and end up in prison."

"My compulsive spending will stop and it has, like I said, incredibly interesting coping mechanisms, all my money will now go on bills, that’s being responsible."

"I mean, every time I buy something, anything, it’s always a coping strategy, like, I went into town when England played Lithuania at football, suddenly, all these kids were chasing me down the street, so I lit a candle, lithium, you see?"

"These brain dead kids wearing hooded tops that cruise the streets in cars followed me, then I went to Tesco’s. I’d gone all along the railway line, round the back way, and they had turned their car around and come the other way, stopped their car and got out and walked up to me, then the Police turned up and I said to them “You’ll probably arrest me instead of the kids!"

"Then I bought some Haribo cupcakes. I lit the candle, for Kurt Cobain… lithium… Lithuania, Cobain died for our sins, you see?"

"The fear of being hit is incredibly worrying. The funny thing is, the Police said ‘What do you do for a living?’ which was exactly the same things as the kids said to me."

The mail arrives, often a moment of heightened anxiety, terror.

"I’m taking more money from my Mum now but it does seem like she understands, you know?. When the mail comes, bills or benefits letters, I drink like, five cups of coffee and smoke ten cigarettes before I can open it."

Overwhelmed with stress.

Any news only serves to exacerbate his struggles with paranoid schizophrenia. The telephone, an invasion, now, even the thin sliver of his mailbox, is something new, to fear. Letters regarding bills or his DLA benefits cause instant confusion, sustained panic. The information always hard to process, to untangle, to make reason of, is magnified by aloneness and his condition, it’s easy to worry, and this fear spirals and causes greater panic, a poisonous catch 22.

"I’d freaked out in town, the day before, I got scared as I’d had some crap in the street said to me, but I had to go into town to visit the bank, just to see if my benefits had been paid into my bank."

Consumed with confusion and fear, a result of the incomprehension of mail describing changes to the time of payment, to Tilney1’s benefits.

"From the letters, I couldn’t understand them, so I did not know if they (Benefits) had been paid in, or they had been cut, or anything. It’s really stressful, it terrifies me."

Tilney1’s re-mixed, home made clothing.

"Making clothes, re-mixing them, it’s all to do with dreams I was having, dreams are there for a reason, even when I was in the abyss of despair, I figure the dreams were helping me. It’s very punk."

"The Clash, thinking about ‘This is England’, thinking about how medication has affected my brain. England’s dreaming."

A collection of compact discs, arranged in order of related memory.

"I have great musical taste, but, I’ve never had a proper girlfriend."

Wall collages.

Lonely hearts column within the local newspaper.

"I might just go on the E.D.P dateline one last time, but it’s just so hopeless and sad."

"I mean, what’s the point of going on a dateline and talking about the film Halloween, and all the amazing people that Bjork worked with and all this incredibly interesting stuff when people my age, they might be single have probably all got kids and do normal things. I am a lovely person though, and if I was with a lady with children, because I am such a lovely person, I’d stay with them 24/7."

"I look at what my Dad is like with me, and I’d do the opposite, I’d really care for them. I am trying my hardest."

"I did used to be able to talk to women, but, since my diagnosis, since that’s been written down in my records, now, now, I just can’t do anything, so how are they, writing this down in my records, helping me?"

"After they told me I was a Paranoid Schizophrenic, I turned my back on girls, let alone going up to them and actually talking to them."

"I wanted to ring every number on the dateline, but if my phone bill is going to be £70 every time, I’ll just logically plan it out, maybe call one or two, or just not bother at all, any more. I’ve called a few, left messages, just in the hope of a girl talking to me, but, no one has ever called me back."

Tilney1, writing, within his apartment, April 2015.

Click here to read more stories about Tilney1.

smalltowninertia.co.uk

@jimmortram


Andy Barmer

Abide with Me is a 15 minute film short about three generations of one family – daughter, mother and grandfather. From the perspective of the present, it explores how the past has influence in the family.

The film was shot in the centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, when the daughter, Beth journeys to France, Yorkshire and Scotland to explore her grandfather’s traumatic Great War history. In a parallel second journey, a metaphysical one, we see that despite the passage of time, each of the family’s psychological issues are subtly intertwined. The grandfather’s ‘chronic mania’, and subsequent incarceration leave a legacy for Pamela, whose own experience of depression shows a vulnerability that Beth, the granddaughter, carries forward into her life.


Racquel Fortuna

Racquel Fortuna's series Overcoming Anxiety places herself in the frame as a way of battling her anxiety issues. Racquel's series of black and white self portraits were inspired by her experiences with writing, encouraging her to look back and 'write about what you know' — in this case, photographing herself as a means to challenging the anxiety she experiences. Fortuna writes:

"I find comfort in the idea that we are all connected through our emotions and experience. Through this bond, we understand more about each other and, more importantly, ourselves. My group of self-portraits portrays my personal journey in conquering my issues, beginning negatively and progressively becoming more positive as the series develops. I desire to share this experience in order to inspire viewers. By revealing my vulnerability, I hope to form that emotional connection with my audience and convey that the struggles we go through in life makes us human."

racquelfortuna.com
instagram.com/racquelthephotographer


Jennifer Wells

Jennifer Nichole Wells is a 24 year old fine art photographer out of Jacksonville, FL. She uses a variety of materials- including clay, paint, cardboard, foam and HO and dollhouse scale miniatures to create small-scale dioramas. She then transforms her miniature creations through her camera lens, using various photo and post processing techniques.

She strives for a nostalgic and ethereal or dark and meaningful feel to each of her images.

As far as mental health is concerned, Jennifer struggles with anxiety and PTSD. Her work serves as an outlet for these often dark feelings, while the process aids as a type of therapy.

How long have you been working with this miniature diorama format and what attracted you to this way of working?
I've made 3-D things out of paper, and played with the tiniest of tiny toys since I can remember. The first time I made small items to photograph was for an English project in High School. I illustrated As I Lay Dying. The first time I used miniatures for a fine art project was Freshman year of college. I used quarter machine monkies and placed them in various locations. I didn't come back to this way of working until a couple years later. I had been determined to do dark room photography because I liked the hands on process, and taking digital classes forced me to further explore other ways of working. At first I made large scale 80 - 100 image panoramas, but working in Photoshop didn't quite satisfy the urge I had to work with my hands. I made a series called WWII in 2012 in response to a narrative photo assignment. I fell in love. I liked being able to design every aspect of a scene - to make it as simple or detailed as I preferred, to give life and an emotive feel to these tiny objects, to obscure their scale by the way I shot the image, or the size I printed it, to be totally in control of the lighting. For the purpose of assignments, I still shot non-miniatures off and on for awhile, but as soon as I was able, I settled here wholeheartedly, and I've never looked back.

What is your working process, from conceptualising and building to shooting?
I think about an image forever before shooting it. First I have a vague idea of the scene I want, sparked from something I've heard, seen, read, been considering lately to any degree. Then I plan out what I need to construct the scene. Do I need to order props? Will I be building any specific items? If I'm building something, what is the best material for it - clay, paper? If I'm buying props, where should I look, what do I want them to look like? For props I scan my go- to hobby sites/stores for hours, looking for something that I can use at face value, or modify slightly to fit what I have in my head.

Once I have everything ready, I set up the scene, light it and shoot it. I have a table top studio that's 16" x 16" and came with 2 small studio lights. I typically only use 1 light. I prefer the more dramatic lighting, and often times I'm using the light to emulate the sun. Occasionally I skip the studio and just set up the scene on a table and light it with a desk lamp. For tinier items, I've lit with candles, or LED hobby street lights.

I start with an idea of what angle I want to shoot the image, but as I'm shooting I always end up playing with a few different angles and depths of field, and adjusting and readjusting pieces within the scene and the placement of the light. I aim for symmetry, simplicity, the rule of thirds, interesting/ directional shadows, color play, etc. Once I have a shot I'm happy with, I import it into my computer and begin working on the image in Photoshop. I always adjust levels and color balance, and depending on the shot I may blur out more of the background, spot edit out a few things, crop, etc.

What is it about the process of working in this way that you find therapeutic?
I always have an urge to create and creating helps me feel like I'm doing something productive. On top of that, working with my hands, and creating something from almost nothing is a fulfilling process. Sometimes I even surprise myself that I was able to achieve the final product. I can have confidence in my skills as an artist, even on days that I feel unsure about everything else. On my lazy days, I bring all my supplies over to the couch, and build on top of a laptop lap desk, cutting, gluing and molding while I binge, uh listen, to Netflix.

Where do you draw inspiration for each piece?
I like to draw inspiration from everywhere. When I see something that intrigues me, I make note of it. I try to figure out why I think something is beautiful or interesting. Being able to analyze what I like and don't like better informs my art.

As far as artists that inspire me, I really enjoy the work of Edward Hopper and Gregory Crewdson, and greatly appreciate the work Laurie Simmons and David Levinthal have done in the world of miniature photography.

For your most personal piece, Awaken, has the process of making work surrounding such sensitive emotions transformed the way you look upon that period in your life?
Yes actually. It's helped greatly. It forces me to work through those emotions and thoughts, but in something outside of myself. It's like a release into that clay as I mold the ocean, as I add paint, as I press the figure into the waves. A letting go of sorts. I think I'm able to look at that period in my life a bit more objectively than I was able to before.

jennifernicholewells.com
@JennyNichole_


John Keedy

John William Keedy's series It's Hardly Noticeable is the visual epitome of neurosis and anxiety. John describes the work as an exploration of "the world of a character who navigates living with an unspecified anxiety-based mental illness. He negotiates situations constructed to highlight the impacts and implications of his differences on his thoughts and behaviors, and by doing so raises question of normalcy." The series provokes us to question what is normal, and how we define normality.

What was the inspiration behind It's Hardly Noticeable?
I've been working on this project for about a year and a half, and in a way it grew out of a previous body of work that examined the creation and maintenance of a personal identity. Issues of psychology have always been a point of interest and influence for me and my work, though this project is much more personal, and the first I address the ideas of pathology and normalcy. My undergraduate degree is in psychology, and years ago I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and both of those things played a large role in creating the images. At the start of the project, I don't think I realized how much I had inadvertently based the character on myself, but soon recognized he is like me in a number of very real ways, and though it's not my main intent by any means, I realized the series could serve as a method of personal investigation. When creating the images I pull both from my own experiences and from writings by psychologists and those experiencing these symptoms firsthand.

What brought you to exploring mental health in your photography?
I have always been drawn both to psychology and photography, and so it feels natural for my work to bring the two together. The specific issue of mental health was one that came later as I thought back on my own experiences, and considered how common these experiences are. I think there is a stigma that accompanies mental pathology, and because of that it is something that isn’t as openly discussed. This can cause those with these illnesses to feel isolated; I hope in some way my work can help open a much needed dialog.

You have a BA in both Psychology and Photography — is It's Hardly Noticeable at the intersection of these two interests?
My work very much is a combination of my two degrees. The images draw from my personal experience, but also from my academic study of anxiety. I have always been drawn to the photographic image, to the point where it has become the language through which I am most comfortable and most able to explore other interests, including psychology.

What was the creative process for these images? From conception to construction etc.
Each image starts with an idea, experience or symptom that I want to express; from there I made sketches of several possible visual representations of that abstract idea. I pick one or two of the sketches that I feel best represents the idea, and begin constructing the scene to photograph. Each of my images is highly constructed and staged, which can take several weeks to complete. I tend to shoot and re-shoot each image several times, making changes to the construction and altering the lighting. Finally, each piece has a fair to significant amount of digital editing.

What have responses been like to It's Hardly Noticeable?
The response to the work has been truly touching. The series began and remains very personal to me, and so I’m honored to have so many people connect and identify with the images. A number of people who have first-hand experience with pathology, either experienced themselves or by a loved-one, have reached out and shared their stories, and I am extremely flattered and honored, and reminded that I am in no way alone.

How have you felt about sharing such personal work — has it been cathartic or helped you come to terms with living with anxiety?
Admittedly I was apprehensive about sharing the work at the beginning. By the time I started making the work, I had learned to manage my own anxiety, but was still slightly hesitant to share such a personal aspect of my life and myself. However, I realized my apprehension was adding to the lack of open dialogue and continued stigma that the work was trying to counter, and so I felt it was important to share the images.

What's next for you?
I am continuing to create work for It's Hardly Noticeable, expanding on the still life images and moving into the moving image. Because the work is so based in performance and accumulation, it seems a natural extension of the series into video.

johnwilliamkeedy.com
@johnwkeedy


Antonia Attwood

Antonia Attwood is a photographer and film maker that has been making work surrounding the subject of mental health for around 2 years. She is a recent graduate from the (London College of Communication) BA Photography course and has been working since with The Institute of Inner Vision on a number of projects and commissions within arts and mental health.

This body of work is as an exploration of a mothers experience with Bipolar disorder, as imagined through the eyes of her daughter. The body of work builds on how the condition is experienced by the mother, scrutinizing her internal and external worlds. By juxtaposing moving image on two screens, I aim to illustrate and visually interpret how the illness ‘feels’. The metaphorical symbols create an attempt to raise awareness and understanding of the mood affectations and the phenomenology of mental illness. The work interrogates how it feels to be vulnerable and overwhelmed by the world living with a medical condition. The viewer is forced into the uncomfortable reality of the illness. It arises from but transcends the mothers experience with Bipolar. It is not about communicating a straightforward message, but it interrogates an idea exploring aspects of that intended message.

What prompted you to produce work surrounding bipolar disorder?
The work was prompted by my mothers experience with the condition. I was inspired by how she dealt with her disorder. We wanted to share our story and raise awareness of the illness. With the hope that it would help people understand what is going through someones head when they are in an altered state.

What kind of research did you carry out on the condition before beginning work on My Mother Tongue?
Most of the research was through direct conversation with my mum. We talked a lot about her experiences and how she felt during episodes of the illness. It was a great way for me to learn more about what she was going through. I also read a lot of books on the condition such as 'Strictly Bipolar' by Darian Leader and 'the Yellow Wallpaper' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Was there an element of catharsis related to making this work, for yourself and/or your mother?
Yes definitely. It helped me understand what my mother had been through much better. We have always been very close but I think it was a great therapy for us to work on this together.

What drew you to work with mental health in your art?
The first time I started working with mental health was when I made a film about my own experiences with panic attacks. I tried to use film to visually interpret how I was feeling whilst having a panic attack. Since making this film around 2 years ago I have not experienced a panic attack since. I felt that my art was a great therapy for me and wanted to help other people too.

Do you think it is important to use art to represent issues relating to mental health? Why? Can it help with wider understanding of such issues?
I felt that many people suffering with mental health problems were misunderstood. Illness is often explained in medical term through complicated reports. I felt that my experience was much more personal and learning about my mothers illness through a visual language really helped my understanding. I think making art about mental health can be a really helpful tool to make more easily understood and accessible.

What is it about the video format that appeals to you?
I think video lends itself really well. Because often what is going on in the mind is such a visual thing. I think using moving image and sound can create an experience, which is exactly what I want my work to portray. That is not to say I don't think other art forms and therapies aren't helpful. But personally film works for me.

What have responses been like to My Mother Tongue? Have you had feedback from people living with bipolar disorder?
Yes I have had loads of great feedback, both from people suffering with the illness and people who know people who are suffering. Many people have thanked me for visually explaining what they have been going through, something they have struggled with themselves. I even had someone want to show the film at a friends funeral who lost her life to the disorder. Which I found immensely touching. I hope that it keeps helping people understand someone suffering with the illness, and helping people who are struggling to explain what they are going through.

Can you tell me more about the Institute of Inner Vision?
The Institute of Inner Vision was set up by Sal Anderson around 2 years ago. The primary aim of the Institute is to create and curate programmes of moving image, performance and public engagement exploring individual and collective inner visions. This initiative endeavours to bring artists, academics, and audiences - with or without lived experiences of mental health conditions - into the heart of interdisciplinary art-science research and artistic practice.

What is coming up next for you?
I am currently working on a commission from the Institute of Inner Vision. It is another short film that follows on from 'My Mother Tongue'. Its still very much in progress but I am excited about it. I am still working closely with mental health and exhibiting work. I recently did a film showing and talk with the 'Acting Out Festival' in Nottingham. If you want to find out about any other upcoming events I update them regularly on my website - antoniaattwood.com/NEWS.

antoniaattwood.com
@antonia_attwood


Sarah Carpenter

Sarah Carpenter's latest series, Emerging, focuses on the issues surrounding mental health, specifically eating disorders. The project explores how seemingly mundane objects and situations can be obstacles from which we emerge on a daily basis.

"It is only by facing chaos head on, battling your own demons and putting yourself into a position of vulnerability / fragility that you can open up and re-learn about life & relationships, make changes and in turn become a stronger person; the person that you wish to be."

It is widely appreciated that artists take inspiration from their own life experiences. Having recently accessed group sessions at the eating disorder clinic at the Maudsley Hospital, I felt compelled to produce a new series reflecting upon my journey. This is my first self-portrait series and is special to me as it has allowed me to see my own body objectively as form within a composition in a more self-compassionate light, something that has become increasingly difficult for women living in the mass media culture of todays society. I have always felt very lucky to be able to communicate through my work, and in my experience, the arts can prove to be a great facilitator for opening up lines of communication. I hope that through this on-going project, others who have / have had similar experiences may take comfort in sharing, that it may help the battle to break down stigmas and perhaps even encourage a new audience to The Long Gallery next year. It is tremendous that I am able to debut the work in the very place that inspired the collection. I feel passionately that what SLaM are doing with the space is a real testament to the healing qualities of art and the role it plays within society, it is an extremely professional and positive gallery space.