Mike Kear

Mike Kear is a London based documentary photographer. His practice primarily focuses on work for charities and NGOs both in the UK and worldwide. In his project Surface Tension Mikes reflects on the thoughts and experiences of the suicidal, producing abstract images taken at various sites of suicides along the Thames Bridges.

How did Surface Tension come about? What drew you to exploring suicide?

I was working on a project along the Thames looking at different aspects of the river as it passes through London. Whilst editing I was contemplating some images that looked straight down and how that might be the view of people contemplating suicide by jumping into the Thames. This led me to visiting various sites of suicides along the Thames Bridges. I then realised the shocking statistics of how frequently suicides were attempted on the Thames - often more than one a day! Suicide is the largest cause of death in young men in the UK and there has been very little dialogue on the issue. Organisations like CALM are now doing some amazing work. I am a survivor of three suicide attempts and I wanted to help increase the dialogue on the subject which is something very close to my heart. I have very much moved on from the issues in my life that made suicide seem a viable option for me, I am nonetheless very aware of a fine line that a lot of us tread. Choosing to participate in this interview was more difficult than I had initially thought, but despite the stigma around suicide, I feel it is important to show the very personal side to this work.

Your text is very moving and really transports you into the mind of the person contemplating jumping. I'm curious about what went through your mind as you stood there photographing each spot?

Sometimes I was very sad, other times I was quite scared when fulling engaging in the process, but often there was a certain calmness, somewhat difficult to describe.

Vauxhall Bridge
Tower Bridge

The images are quite hypnotic. What was your motive behind photographing in such an abstract way?

Suicide is such a complex and individual issue. By producing a series of abstract images of the surface of the water, the idea being to enable the viewer to engage with the subject without being too prescriptive; to allow the viewer to consider themselves in the position of the person contemplating suicide and allow them to bring their own thoughts to the issue.

Most of us have looked over the edge of a bridge, down into the water. It maybe whilst watching to see whose stick is the winner whilst playing Poohsticks or enjoying the playfulness of the water. Or it might be more contemplative, watching the allure of the water, possibly even imagining what it might be like to jump with no intention of actually doing so. A less common thought, though, is that of the person who is looking down into the water as they decide to jump to end their life.

With this series I seek to enable an emotional engagement with a very personal and intense issue - the issue of a person feeling their only option is to take their own life. These images are not merely an abstraction, they place the viewer in that very vulnerable position - one of a person in despair. Might it be that the person in despair is actually very similar to you and me?

Vauxhall Bridge

Where are the accompanying texts from?
The texts are from a variety of sources including some interviews I carried out with RNLI lifeboat crew from Kew and Tower lifeboat stations. Others are quotes from family members left behind and some texts are poetry. I was concerned that the poetry might over romanticise the issue, but being interspersed with the other quotes I hope they help with the contemplation of the images and the issues.

Tower Bridge
Blackfriars Bridge

You mention on your website you're working on a new project around suicide. Can you give us an insight into what that is?

This is an ongoing project and I’m continuing the series with other locations around the UK. I bought a camper van this year so I can spend time at different bridges and to connect with the people who look after the bridges and live or work nearby who are often affected by suicides. This work is also incorporating the stories of people who have survived suicide attempts. Alongside this I’m looking at the role and responsibility religion plays with suicide in the UK. Because this is a very emotive subject at this stage it’s probably better I don’t say anything to prejudice the project.

If any of your readers would like to be involved with this work they would be very welcome to get in touch with me.

@mikekear on Instagram.

Marianna Cardenio

Italian Photographer Marianna Cardenio, now based in Madrid, presents her work A Personal Truth as an allegorical journey through the process of depression.

"This project was realised with the aim of sharing in a subtle and implicit way a personal experience that lasted for about two years.

The bedroom was my refuge during that time, the private space where I could finally take off my strong and happy person mask and look deeply - through the reflection of my image in the mirror - into my feelings, my state of soul, my inner struggles, to face the many questions and no-answers and the uncontrollable urge to get out of the tunnel, contrasted by the lack of strength and energy to do it.

People usually tend not to arise too many questions about what there might be behind the appearance of others. I have always been very good at hiding my torments at the time, not to disappoint my loved ones and especially because I have always firmly believed that no one could ever help me or understand me, considering that sometimes I could not understand myself either.

The idea for this project was to create a sort of panoramic image in which the bedroom - shot from a certain distance in the first and last photograph - represented the way in which such place can generally be perceived from an outsider and the close-up on the subject happening in the middle, depicts the what is actually going on inside the bedroom.

The viewer's reaction has always been silence, but a silence which told many words. I think the journey through depression is something that almost anyone, if not personally, through relatives, experiences in a more or less direct way. My project attempts to tell one of the aspects of such a journey, aiming at leaving the viewer with unanswered questions.

Many photographers inspire my work, both stylistically and conceptually, although I must say that I really like the idea of producing images which somehow recall paintings. I always try to create a series of photographs that can stand either alone or combined with others. Therefore I guess that maybe art in general inspires me a lot more than other photographers' work when I think of how to organise a project."


Ella Macnish

Ella Macnish is a photographer affected by mood instability and impulse control difficulties. Her mental health conditions and dyslexia provide challenges in studying, working and maintaining relationships, but her passion for photographing her support network is hugely beneficial for her.

"These photos are deeply important to me because of the way they capture the expressions on the faces of my two favourite people in Melbourne. I recently moved back interstate and having to leave the beautiful support network of people I found in Melbourne has been the hardest part of moving. These are friends who really got me, and who make me proud everyday for the way they are working through there own mental health issues. I hope the people viewing these photos will do so with the knowledge that not only are my subjects struggling they are also fighting and not giving up. I think the traits of resilience and kindness are evident in my subjects faces."


Ashley Hilgarth

Ashley Hilgarth is a photographer currently studying documentary photography at New England School of Photography in Boston. Hilgarth has spent a year photographing her younger autistic sister as a way for the siblings to grow closer, as well as showing how her sister views the world and the challenges she faces.

"What drew me to photographing my sister is that she is autistic and with so many different spectrums of autism, I wanted to show her story. My sister was a little confused when I started photographing her, she didn't know why I had picked her as my subject. As I have been photographing her for a year now, she slowly started to open up to me as I am now more part of her life than ever before. We grew closer together. She started to realize that I'm not always there for her in Maine and that photography is my life. She is not like most kids her age. We have a ten year gap between us so it's common that she looks up to me.

She inspires me as I inspire her. Her daily life can be hard to get by sometimes but with how our family is so loving, she's never alone."

Noela Roibás

Noela Roibás is a photojournalist from Galicia, Spain, currently living and working in London. Her project Irmá is centred around the relationship with her sister, Sara, who is affected by Cri du Chat syndrome, a rare congenital disease. Photography has always bound the sisters together as way for them to bond, with Sara as the subject and Noela as the photographer. This life long project has become a way for the sisters to interact and understand each other's worlds, using the camera as a toy, but the photographs as memories.

"It's hot and the bedroom window is open. The sound of gulls nesting on the roof reminds me that I'm home. Childhood memories pop into my head, when we played at her being my model and me her photographer. Years later, I watch her again and the glass of the lens filters reality. As she looks at me closely, the playful light drawing planets on her face. I touch her nose with my index finger slowly, intermittently. That is my way of hypnotising her and she lets me. I cannot help but wonder what the world she lives in is like and whether she's also frightened."

What was your relationship like as younger siblings? How did you feel towards your sister?
At that time, and also sometimes now, it feels frustrating and stressful. I love her so much, of course, but the situation makes our relationship complicated. Communication is really hard with her and sometimes she gets mentally blocked and it becomes impossible to get through to her. We're all able to deal with it better now but when I was little it wasn't easy to understand the situation.

How did you begin to photograph Sara as a child? What was and is her reaction to being photographed?
When we were younger it was really hard to play with her. There was pressure from my parents to spend time with her but she wasn't able to focus her attention on games and she used to just destroy everything. When I got my first camera for my birthday I started photographing my own world and Sara was a big part of it. I was around 10 at that time and she was 4. She loved it. She is quite smug so she loved to model. I used to make her up and dress her in my own clothes. She was really excited every time we had a photo session and I enjoyed it a lot too. Photographing her became a habit and enabled us to share really good times, all thanks to photography.

The photographs are very tender and soft documentations of daily life. How comfortable are both Sara and your family with this way of working?
Sara is always happy to be photographed. She also loves to look at the photographs and check if she looks good or not. My parents found it difficult at the beginning because they had no idea of what it was that I wanted to do, but as soon as they saw the pictures they were OK. It is not a work about my sister's syndrome, just a game between she and I, so I intentionally hide some images.

Which is your favourite photograph and why?
I like the one where she is diving on the ocean. Sara loves being in the water and she learnt how to float and "swim" naturally, which is really curious because she is really clumsy.

How do you think using photography as a way of interacting has affected your relationship?
It definitely brought us closer. Sara is sometimes hard to handle, so when photography is involved, I don't know how to explain it... she is in, it feels like she is there with me. And also, because we both have fun taking pictures, it means that we spend quality time together.

Has photographing Sara given you any resolution about the way you've felt towards her?
No, I don't think so. I think my feelings about her change over time, the same time as I change. Photographing her is a way to connect with her and to have some fun. Now, as time passes, it's a way to get closers into her world, even when I know that I can't.


Kev Hawken

Disorder by Kev Hawken (midlands, UK) came about during his studies at Nottingham Trent university in 2012. Tasked with a visual practice brief called A Subjective Approach and drawing upon references from photographers such as Antoine D'Agata, Nan Goldin and JH Engstrom, Kev initially shied away from creating such personal work. Suffering at the time with generalised anxiety disorder he finally found the courage to share work with his class, despite his fears surrounding the stigma associated with mental illness.

Kev's work highlights his frustration, despair and sense of isolation from living with anxiety for the past twelve years, using his student accommodation as the site for Disorder.


Stephanie Boreham

Stephanie Boreham was born in Kingston, Greater London in 1991. Stephanie works in a predominately moving image medium at present, but her main passion and starting point has always been photography. Stephanie has just completed her Fine Art Degree at the University of Westminster, London in 2015. Stephanie has been involved in various exhibitions in the last 3 years. She lives and works in London.

This project is a visual documentation of the home I grew up. It is a insight into the domestic space where my Mother and Father live. The project was initially meant to focus purely just on my Mother who suffers from severe depression and OCD, but I also became interested in my Father's presence in the images and what this brought to the series of work. I wanted to show my parents movement in the imagery, while using the domestic space as a backdrop to the photographs.

I was interested in following and documenting my mother's movements every time I visited, and noticed that every photograph looked the same as the last, even in the months that past. I was saddened by this realisation, but at the same time very fascinated by it and it actually became a bit of a compulsive act for me, that I would photograph her every time I visited without fail. My mother appears to exist in the photographs but almost merges into the domestic space, she has no identity; her illness strips her of one. My mother can sometimes appear as an object in the house, a piece of furniture or almost a ghost floating through the space. This is also a reflection of our relationship and her role of being my mother; she is there, but most of the time she is not. She can't be due to being so engrossed in her illness, and this is all I have ever known of my mum. I have only ever known her as 'not being well'.

For me, so much time has passed and things have changed for me since I've left home. Going back now I have realised that the house is almost a time-capture, as if time has stood still; nothing has changed, not the domestic space nor the people in it.


Kristianne Drake

Kristianne Drake is a photographer from Southampton, UK. She is interested in the human relationships that occur within a place and the (sometimes) incidental observations that occur. Kristianne lectures in BA (Hons) Photography at Southampton Solent University and also works at the John Hansard Gallery delivering part of their education program working alongside the Southampton Youth Offending Services.

Here we feature two of her projects, You Were Here and Sometimes Things Just Disappear. Her project You Were Here began when Kristianne Drake began to fall ill. As her OCD worsened her observation of the never-ending piling up of teabags in the family home began to frustrate her.

"These photographs represent an inability to assess rationally. They are the injustice in a household that conspires; the crisis felt when rational thinking becomes clouded, and the instability of a brain whose chemical imbalance does not allow these things to be resolved simply.

Mental health does not have an off switch. Mental health problems don’t discriminate. Some of us have got really good at hiding it until we hit crisis point.

At first when I noticed the piles of tea bags I just got angry, but left them there to see how long it would be before they got cleared away, I guess it became a game that only I knew I was playing. This is one of the manifestations of my mental health illness, I only see the problems that affect me and they become overwhelming and over exaggerated: some might say selfish.

They were these defiant towers that irrationally engulfed my sense of normality every morning. I thought that by dragging my 6x6 camera into the kitchen on its tripod would give me a better advantage - it became like a war between me and the teabags only I was both victim and perpetrator.

This went on for months.

I never touched the piles of tea bags and nor did I ever clear them away.

I didn't tell anyone I was making a photographic documentation of them either."

Kristianne's project Sometimes Things Just Disappear was made in 2011 as a response to circumstance. Using her bedroom — a place she was increasingly withdrawing to — as her backdrop, these photographs are coupled with texts from recorded conversations with a family member. In these recordings they discussed life changing decisions, living with choices we make and how we affect other people. Each photograph is hand printed.


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."