Nicola Davison Reed

Nicola Davison Reed is a photographer based in Nottingham, UK. Her dark and often haunting black and white work toys with themes of identity, fragility and gestures.

What was it that attracted you to photography during that long hot summer of 1976 in Blackpool?

The Instamatic Camera and the fact that my muse, my big sister who was a shy teenager, refused to have her picture taken, so it was fun trying to grab her portrait. Also photographing my parents chilling out in rolled up trousers and a bra (my mum not my dad). Capturing them taking time out, the four kids were safe playing the the sand dunes and their work was miles away. Blackpool was where it was at that moment in time and I was enjoying the instant capturing of it.

Nicola Davison Reed

In a number of your images each of your images there's the removal or obscuring of the face — is there a specific reason behind this?

When I shoot portraits, the face and they eyes are everything. When I shoot conceptual the face is a mask, so I am playing with the idea of identity, the soul versus the body and also using the body more as a frame, a structure to convey a mood. Also the face blurred retains anonymity which I like.

What is your creative process for each shot? Talk us through from idea to shooting and editing.

Each type of photography has a different approach. If I walk you through conceptual... I might be working on edits from a business shoot, perhaps a family portrait. I may have been working flat out, after busting a gut in the shoot, (believe me I really do work up a sweat), and then re-focusing just as hard on the processing and creating of galleries. So within that my mind may wander, I think it rescues me, it says "time out, do something personal, something creative." I may be listening to some music at the time, or I may refer to a note I had made about a picture I wanted to create. Then i set up my tripod and experiment. I fail a lot, I experiment again. The first idea may metamorphose into something completely different or I may just bin the whole experiment. It's all trial and error. With street photography I take my camera with the same lens I always use for street portraits. I take my street cards, which have photos of of all my past portraits and hit the streets. If i see someone who takes my eye, it might be because of their style or the way they walk, their eyes, or the way they look at me with eye contact without even seeing my camera. I approach them, never from behind, and explain my 30 Seconds of Street Portrait project and hand them a card and hopefully if the wind is blowing in the right direction, the birds are singing and the moon is on my side, we make a portrait together. My business work is done in my natural light studio. I shoot mono portraits with available light.

What is it about black and white photography that appeals to you? Do you ever work in colour?

I love the old masters Atget, Kertesz, Adams, Maier, Woodman, Arbus, Claude Cahun, Bresson, Duane Michals and contemporaries like Sally Mann, Giles Duley, Bernd Schaefers, Lawrence Del Mundo, Betina La plant, Sarah Lawrie, Brett Walker, Chris Floyd, John Free and so on. BW just appeals to me, conversely I love the bold colours of Parr & Dougie Wallace. Yes I work in colour, if colour shouts "hey don't change me to BW you fool" then I do.

The way you work with identity and anonymity is really compelling. Each single image leaves the viewer with questions. What feelings are you hoping your viewers are left with?

When I add images to my Saatchi site they always ask you three questions. One of which is this question you have asked. The answer is always the same. I do not want to impress anything on the viewer other than that of their own feelings. I cannot possibly know or begin to imagine what a viewer will feel, I only know how I feel when I make the picture. After that the rest is up to anyone else. It's for them not for me.

Is there an element of therapeutic practice within your work?

Absolutely, I have always taken photographs, beginning with that summer. Then as a teenager my dad bought me an SLR with developing kit. In my bedsit I would take and develop and enlarge my own pictures. This continued for some years, I moved to London, needed some cash or probably owed rent and flogged my camera to my then boyfriend. Photography stopped. Years later I moved back to my hometown, met my husband, had a family, bought myself a bridge camera — a Sony Powershot with Carl Zeiss lens. My love affair with photography recommenced, this time digitally. I photographed everything, I took my camera to bed and took those early morning shots of my babies when they toddled into my room. I was getting older. I had done a bachelors degree whilst having my babies in the hope that I could get more than farm or bar work to help put food on the table. I was wrong. I was not even on the shortlist for a receptionist at a museum and I failed at an interview for a secretary on a flower farm, the same farm I had picked flowers for years earlier. Everything was starting to look a bit bleak. Then I became pregnant with my third child. This was not meant to be and at my 3 month scan I learnt that my third child had not survived inside. Through grief and a sense of confused maternal longing, sitting on my doorstep smoking rollies, wondering where my child was (the invisible bond takes time to dissolve, if ever it does, but it does become easier) I made a decision. That a job with photography would become my third baby. I knew I had miserable attempts at finding work and I knew that I had to work, so at my lowest I decided I would raise my work in photography as if it was that child I lost. I would nurture it, I would comfort it, learn from it, research it, behold it, cherish it, go through many stages with it, get exasperated by it, worry about it, be fearful for it but most of all love it. So yes, there is a large element of therapeutic practice to my work. ...not all doom and gloom though, it's all very good in the hood.

What are you working on next?

Keep loving and respecting what I do.
@nicoladavisonreed on Instagram.

Barbara Dean

Barbara Dean is a painter and performance artist living and working in London. Her work has been presented both nationally and internationally for events, exhibitions and festivals, working with a wide range of audiences: museums, galleries and public arenas. In this interview Barbara explores her recent ADHD diagnosis and the importance of the act of walking within her practice.

"Whilst visiting family in San Francisco during 2014, I used my smartphone to document a series of pavement marks I’d noticed whilst out walking in the Castro neighbourhood. They reminded me of a body that was unable to control itself, the impulsiveness of the marks, suggested the inescapable act of something that could no longer be contained, seeping out. The marks clearly resembled an outpouring of bodily fluids, and I got the sense of a narrative about someone being dragged down a street there they didn’t want to go."

How would you describe your artistic practice?

I am a live and visual artist, working between paint and performance. I've just returned from San Francisco where I was on a short residency facilitating paint and performance workshops with the not for profit arts organisation Creativity Explored; I also teach basic painting and drawing skills for Mind-In-Enfield.

I've worked with Mind since 2008, and in that time I’ve become fascinated with how the art making process becomes therapeutic without being art therapy. Students at Mind, regularly comment on their embodied experience of the art materials as being therapeutic, I’m sure this embodied experience is synonymous with all art disciplines, the question I am always thinking about is; why do artists make art?

I love paint, and I think I work between paint and performance because one is timeout from the other. When I am thinking about making a piece of live work, I can become quite hyper-focused, it is all about control, you strategise for every detail, including the anomalies of audience engagement; these are the risks that accompany making a live work; it’s all about logistics. The margin for errors in socially engaged work often becomes an unknown, and its one’s openness to problem solving that makes something new happen. Painting also requires a deep sense of focus but this happens more quickly, because it is a physical action, it’s not about imagining what will or may happen, you actually apply the paint, it happens and becomes a body, and then the paint tells you.

Could you explain a little about ADHD (for those that aren’t aware of it) and how it affects you?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; I heard a friend recently describe ADHD as being neurologically diverse, and she said that she hated the term disorder, which I agree with, because the word ‘disorder’, suggests a negative, and that maybe the person with attention difference and hyperactivity, is the instigator of trouble or baaaad behaviour, I don’t like the ‘disorder’ label. I think differently to the neuro-typical way of thinking. Apparently ADHD relates to the lack of chemical uptakes in the brain, our thoughts and ideas queue and queue to take the neurological leaps into executive functioning, but they don’t quite make it across the chemical divide. All my life I have had a sense of running on a spot and never arriving. I saw a performance once in the Live Art platform VAIN in Oxford, where two young men presented a work that involved them both running on the same spot for the duration of the entire evening as other programmed performances continued to be presented. By the end of the night they both looked like they had run a marathon, even though they had actually gone nowhere.

I realise now that having attention difference and hyperactivity is what has led to me becoming hyper-focused on occasions within my work, which means that I can think about the same concepts and issues for very long periods of time, and not knowing can be highly seductive. Artists need to be able to justify their practice, after all why do we make art, why do we become artists? What are we trying to say? For most of the time I have been practicing I could not wholeheartedly say that I was making work about a particular issue. I’ve just been putting one foot in front of the other, often from a place of not knowing, just feeling that it was the right thing to do. To say it was about being a female and being an artist; or that it was a feminist issue I feel strongly about, seems to me to lack integrity. I have been struggling with the activity of thinking, and the feelings that arise; yes my body is female but what about this stuff inside my head? I become so overwhelmed by feelings; how can I ignore that as an artist? I haven’t felt able to move onto the question, how does my work relate to my identity as a female yet, but I suppose I better hurry up at 58 and a half. For me the first question was always what are these feelings? That’s how the ADHD has affected me.

At what age were you diagnosed with ADHD and what impact has that had on you?

So in March this year at the age of 57, and after 6 years of waiting for a diagnostic test within my London Borough, I finally got the full Monty of a diagnosis, which took me through some challenging mental anguish. To begin with it felt tough getting a diagnosis so late in life, as I reflected on my arts practice, I suddenly felt like I had been lying about who I was, but I also felt a relief, people do put you in a pigeon-hole, they think they know what your work is about.

The diagnostic test involved me re-visiting a very traumatic childhood experience, to prove that my ADHD symptoms of hyperactivity and inattentiveness, affecting memory function and organisational skills, with bouts of depression, were not related to Post Traumatic Stress disorder, but were actually stand alone symptoms. The test was concentrated, hard mental endurance, but I was determined to get to grips with longstanding issues that not only affected my relationships with friends and family, but also my work as an artist.

Receiving the diagnosis was like a giant light bulb switch going on in my head. With so many years under my belt of trying to fit in, of trying not to annoy others, it suddenly felt like it’s okay, I can be impulsive, that’s who I am, I can get it wrong, I can ‘not know’, I can say, ‘I don’t know’. Maybe people reading this will think, well what’s the big deal? But, when you’ve had years of not being able to say the right thing; I can’t tell you about the amount of issues of bullying, I’ve experienced in the workplace, of trying to reach out to people, and just not being able to say the right thing. You reach a point where you think, I don’t want to be this person who puts their foot in it by upsetting people all the time. Getting this diagnosis is just liberating!

To celebrate my new identity, and after spotting an artist callout for open mic presentations, I proposed a piece of work that performed the activity of thinking and walking in my arts practice. The event was called Walking Women, and it was produced by the artists Amy Sharrocks and Clare Qualmann for the UTOPIA 2016 festival. I performed a live reading of the 18 questions that feature in the ADHD Adult self report scale, it was entitled ‘Walking as Reading and Memory’. The questions were interspersed with texts on walking and thinking, from Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Rebecca Solnit’s book ‘Wanderlust’. There were also other contributions from other artist and the secret facebook page, ADHD Women with Loud Voices. I presented the open mic against a backdrop of screen projected photographs taken whilst out walking alone, and with groups.

What is it about walking that becomes therapeutic and a key part of your practice?

I’ve always used walking as an activity for thinking, to take my mind somewhere else. I love the way that I can just put one foot in front of the other and change my location and my environment; I can just go; the older I get the more thankful I am for having the ability to do this. I tell people I walk like a maniac; the hyper-focus is not a good place for me to be, and walking somehow seems to dissipate this, because it forces me to look outside my over-thinking. I often visualise the hyper-focus as a concertina of ideas building up and building up into a massive structure of folds. The activity of walking seems to be like a soothing action that rolls over all the folds, smoothing out my thoughts.

During the last three years walking has become such a key element in my arts practice, it feels like this third space where thoughts and actions become synthesised. It has nothing to do with seeing the geographical landscape or even the sounds; it’s neither of these things. I have 3 or 4 main routes I use for walking, and I choose a route depending on how I am feeling. I regularly walk these same routes, and they have become like another body, I’m sure I could walk them with my eyes shut; maybe I will. In Rebecca Solnit’s book on the philosophy of walking, she talks about how walking the same route again can be to think the same thoughts again, and how walking is reading, even when it is imagined, and she describes the landscape of the memory as a text, fixed, in the same way that the labyrinth or the stations of the cross are.

How does your photography tie into the act of walking?

I’m not really a photographer; I like to think of myself as a closet photographer. The smart phone is so easy to use, and it becomes a part of my body, as it slips in and out of pockets whilst walking, it’s not heavy and it’s quite hidden; it feels like a sketchbook. During the Paint & Performance workshops however, when I am sharing the activity of walking with others, I need to be fully present, and that’s when I value having a photographer. I have been very fortunate to receive the generosity of other artists who are photographers. Mel Hardwick of the Free Space Gallery in Kentish Town, and artist and painter James Randall, both have produced some fantastic photographs of the Paint & Performance workshop, images I could not hoped to have captured whilst being fully focused on gathering and enabling participant engagement.

When I am out on solitary walks I don’t go with the aim of capturing an image, usually things present themselves. Whilst visiting family in San Francisco during 2014, I used my smartphone to document a series of pavement marks I’d noticed whilst out walking in the Castro neighbourhood. They reminded me of a body that was unable to control itself, the impulsiveness of the marks, suggested the inescapable act of something that could no longer be contained, seeping out. The marks clearly resembled an outpouring of bodily fluids, and I got the sense of a narrative about someone being dragged down a street there they didn’t want to go. When look at these photographs now, I feel like I was seeing something that I needed to know, and I think the art making process does this. For me it is that moment before explicit knowledge, where visual information is becoming tacit, and whether it’s photography, painting, performance, digital gaming, the art making process becomes a vehicle between the mind and body; as if the body knows something that the mind needs to know, before it actually becomes known.

To sum it up I think photography has the speed and capacity to capture what it is to be in full observation mode as thoughts and ideas present themselves whilst I am walking; in a way that a sketchbook never could.

Jasmine Blanchard

Jasmine Blanchard is currently a Photojournalism and Documentary Photography student at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham, UK. In this series Blanchard aims to illustrate the feelings of anxiety to bring greater understanding and awareness to the disorder.

What attracted you to photography? How long have you been photographing for?

I have always loved being artistic. When I was younger I loved taking photographs on my Dad's camera, after a while I got my own and I would take photographs of anything and everything because I was so passionate.

What brought you to choosing anxiety as the subject of your work? Do you have a personal relationship with anxiety?

As someone who has dealt with anxiety myself and also knowing many people who have also dealt with it, I wanted to bring this subject into the light and show people that even though you can't necessarily see it, it is there.

What was the inspiration behind your work?

I researched into this subject a lot before I began to shoot, my main inspiration for my images was Steph Wilson's series on anxiety. The way her images showed the issue in a more positive light, unlike many images I had seen before.

What do you hope your viewers take away from the work?

At first sight I wanted people to find my imagery beautiful but intriguing. After looking more closely, I would love people to begin to understand what having anxiety can be like.

What are you working on now?

At the moment I am working on expanding this series but also bringing together other ideas for future projects.

Claire White

Claire White is a 22 year old from Scotland, currently completing her BA in Photography at Edinburgh Napier University. White has a passion for creating projects that evoke a reaction from her audience. She is "interested in stories that matter, from real people who are willing to share their experiences with me."

What was it that first attracted you to photography?

That’s quite a funny story actually. While selecting the subjects for my sixth and final year of high school, I was really keen to study Advanced Higher Art and Design - it has always been a huge passion of mine. Due to how demanding the course was however, the school usually allowed students to have 2 free study periods that could be dedicated to this subject. My guidance teacher unfortunately thought otherwise and only allowed me to have one free study period, forcing me to choose another subject. Being an art teacher himself, he suggested I take up Higher Photography, seeing as I was 'so into art and design.’ I made a huge deal out of it and went out of my way to let everyone know how annoyed I was. Months later, I applied to a number of universities to study Primary Teaching, as had been my plan for the past few years. When it came down to prepping for my interviews however, I realised my heart wasn’t in it and it wasn’t for me after all. That’s when I turned to photography. I found I was able to express myself in a way painting never quite measured up for me - and I fell in love with it. I applied to college straight away, having only a couple of weeks left in High School, and to my surprise I got in. That’s where it all started really. You could say I owe it all to my guidance teacher in high school!

How did the theme of mental health become a key part of your practice?

My younger brother was my main inspiration for my turn to mental health projects. He had recently opened up about his suffering from severe anxiety. The reality of it shocked me at the time and everything about him suddenly made sense. I felt like I understood him so much better, purely because of one conversation. That’s when it hit me. I wanted everyone to understand what he was going through, to help him. After this I began to see more and more people in my life battling with a version of their own mental illness. It just took that one experience to open my eyes, and suddenly it was everywhere. That’s when I decided I wanted to do something about it, to raise awareness and try to get across just how common it is.

How important was it for you to sit and talk with Sophie, Craig and Shona about their illnesses? What impact did that have on the work you’ve created?

Usually when I experience something or form a strong opinion I try to incorporate it into my photography, it’s a way to express who I am and how I feel. This project was very different. I was trying to visualise someone else’s emotions, their thoughts and feelings, therefore I had to take an entirely different approach. It was very challenging at first, but I have learnt so much from the experience. Having all three individuals describe their illness to me is what made the entire project. Having never experienced any kind of anxiety or depression before myself, I had no idea where to start. Each of them gave such diverse perspectives on mental illness, it left me speechless. Their words were a very big part of the project. I asked each person, if they could draw their illness, what would it look like? From there we each built a visual representation of what their portrait would look like. I can’t begin to explain how open each of them were with me, I’m extremely grateful. Sophie even sent me pages of her diary as part of my research. It’s such a huge thing to open up to someone you barely know. I owe it all to them.

“I would wake up feeling anxious and have no particular reason for it. My chest would get tight and I would get what I describe as my anxiety headache. It was a feeling that I couldn't shift and one that got worse as the day got on. I’d feel panicked, trapped and frustrated having got no answer for my feelings. Some days it's small and I'm not really aware of it and some days it's huge and consumes me, I find it harder to get rid of then.” Shona (Isolation)
"I’ve always heard of depression described as a black dog - but I’ve never identified with that. For me, a better analogy is a parasite; vines engulfing a house. At first, you barely notice it. You think you can just shake it off. It saps your energy, just making everything a little harder, until its too hard to do anything at all.” — Sophie (Parasite)
"If I could describe it I’d say it was like a really slow car on a motor way and everyone whizzing past you at 100mph when you’re only going 30. Or just a simple cut, you cut yourself and its sore at the time, it bleeds. You can see the scabbing and the scarring after, I think that’s what depression is like. It doesn't just stop, it takes time." — Craig (Scarred)

Who or what are your greatest creative influences?

My creative influences are a difficult one. I am constantly influenced by so many people I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to one or two people. My style is constantly changing and adapting too. I’m the type of person that will see a shadow on the ground or the light on someones face and feel inspired. I’m very observational, I love to people watch. This is where I usually find my creativity blossoms, when I’m not looking for it. My friends and family are also a huge influence for me. I love being able to bounce my thoughts and ideas off of them. Its a really big part of the creative process for me. Having someone to talk to about an idea for a project can go a long way. Being an artist can be an extremely isolating process otherwise!

What do you hope viewers take away from your work?

For the most part I want to raise awareness of mental illness. I feel that it has been a lot more widely acknowledged in recent years, which makes me happy. But it also pushes me toward keeping this going. My main target audience has been teenagers and young adults - I remember how emotionally confusing those years were myself, I can’t imagine what it must be like having to deal with mental illness on top of all that. This particular series was intended to evoke a reaction from viewers enough to ask questions. To raise awareness of mental ill-health and the importance of taking that first step in acknowledging that there is a problem. So many young adults, particularly those in high school like my brother was, are unaware of just how common it really is. Even if my photographs could speak to just one person, get them to open up, this would be an achievement in my eyes.

You’re currently in the final year of your Photography BA. What do you hope to do once you’ve graduated?

Initially I’m hoping to travel for a while once my studies are finished. Travel has always been a great passion of mine! I can take my work with me too which is a huge bonus. There is so much of the world I want to experience, graduating university won’t be the end of my learning process for sure! I’d love to work primarily as a documentary photographer, focusing on environmental issues and social change. You can probably tell I’m a pretty passionate person all around, I feel like I should probably put this to good use out in the real world.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m focused on my final year project. I’m doing some research looking into what a person’s identity is made up of. I’ll be exploring a few themes within this topic; such as appearance, home environment and nationality. Basically the things you would find on an ID card! People fascinate me, I love exploring what makes them who they are, so I guess that’s where this project idea has come from. Its still very much a work in progress, but I’m really looking forward to seeing where it leads me!

Olli Wiegner

Olli Wiegner is a contemporary landscape photographer currently living in Bielefeld, Germany who was born in 1993. Presently, he is studying Photography & Media at the FH Bielefeld Faculty of Art and Design. His projects mostly focus on the interaction of humankind with the landscape and how this relationship changes over time. In Entropy Definition No. 2 Wiegner explores landscape and place in relation to themes of memory, childhood and perception.

Entropy Definition No. 2 focuses on how suffering arises in a person and traces its roots into memories of childhood and youth. The photographs are intentionally vague and open to allow the viewer to search for their own interpretation or relate to certain emotions. They provoke questions without certain answers to emphasise how memories fade and warp over time. This fallible construct is the base for our feelings and perception of the world around us which thus is in constant change — potentially leading to feelings of tension and ambiguity. We never truly are, but merely exist in an approximation in between our past experiences and those still to come.

What is it that attracted you to some of the places photographed throughout the project? Is the work thematic in any way?

The scenes I photographed each have had some sort of influence on me as a person. They are loosely sorted by their associated time period starting with childhood, leading to youth and then finally adulthood. My intention behind the project was to examine how suffering arises in a person and how passing time changes perception. To allow the viewer to find their own interpretations and maybe even themselves, I’ve kept the photos quite open and broad to prevent the work being specifically about myself.

Our relationship to place can change based on varied factors. Are your emotional relationships to these sites forever in flux, or do they represent deep rooted experiences for you?

Both I think. My relationship with the scenes definitely is deeply rooted as I tend to come back to them quite often – both physically as well as mentally. My perception of them and what they mean to me does change with time though. Some become less meaningful, others more and vice versa, so they are in flux. I feel like a lot of confusion might actually stem from that. If a person is made up of the sum of their experiences, but those change through time, how or when can you ever be truly yourself?

Can you tell us the story behind one or two images from the project?

As a kid, I really enjoyed playing with LEGO and sand and water. As the photographs would be sequenced close to the beginning, I tried to make the photos look sort of artificial. It’s quite obvious that they’re set up to show that it’s me looking back, rather than me being or doing which sets the tone for the whole series.

An actual story I remembered was of a school field trip to a local nature park that inspired the photo of the river and the broken down tree. Some of my schoolmates threw three girls into the river shown in the photograph and the parents involved belittled the situation by saying that they were just playing and having fun. A week later, the girls were dating the guys who threw them in. I sequenced the photo to be right next to the shot of the school I went to as this situation is a fitting summary of my experiences there.

What is it that attracted you to creating a book of the work and what was the process (if self-published, how etc)?

The initial idea for the form of presentation was actually to frame the photos at about 30x40cm, but my professor suggested that a book would make more sense as it’s a pretty personal project. I’ve decided to go with that and settled on a size which resembled that of an autograph book. You have to hold the book close to get a good look at the photographs which makes it sort of an intimate experience.

The book wasn’t published in any big, meaningful or traditional way unfortunately, but I might consider doing so at some point. There is a flip through on my website however, so you can get a look at it – minus the physical experience obviously.

What is it that draws you to landscape photography over other forms?

The lack of people to be honest. They’re really hard to photograph in my experience due to their lack of patience or me thinking I am somehow not “allowed” to take up more of their time. On a more positive note, there’s just something about wandering through nature, hip high grass and in between trees and getting lost. It’s so disconnected from the stress and the pressure of life really which makes it very enjoyable. Photographing in such condition is very easy for me as well, as it allows me to take my good five minutes composing, framing, measuring the light for a single shot without disturbing, interrupting or suspending anyone. The resulting photographs have a certain quality to them, a sort of romance thats broken up by a darkness or something that seems off which I find really fascinating as well and haven’t found anywhere else yet.

Does photography have any form of therapeutic element for you? If so, how?

I feel like photography in itself isn’t that therapeutic to me. However it does distract me from all of the struggles in life right in the very moment of actually being out there, photographing. I just walk from one photo to the next and everything else just isn’t there, of no consideration or any relevance. Looking through the viewfinder and setting up the shot is one of those rare moments I’d describe as “happiness” experienced in the click of the shutter. That being said, art in general and specifically photography did help me to get closer to the person I am supposed to be I think.

What are you working on next?

A project about the neighbourhood I live in. Located at the edge of the city I want to focus on the non-defined space between the functional architecture of living spaces and the untouched beauty of nature.

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.

Annabella Esposito

Annabella Esposito is a photographer based in north west England. When creating her imagery she is highly influenced by states of mind and the stigma attached to mental health. In her series Dissumulate she combines the use of materials within portraits and self-portraits to obscure her subject's identity, aiming to evoke the viewer’s subconscious.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: where are you from, how long have you been photographing and what got you into photography?

My name is Annabella Esposito and I am a fine art photographer based in a small town called Blackpool (UK). I have been fascinated by photography throughout my life, but initially gained interest at the age of 16. This came about when I had to select my GSCE subjects in high school; creativity was always my strong point so selecting photography as one of my subjects enabled me to explore my creativity and discover my passion for art and photography.

How did Dissimulate come about?

Dissimulate first started whilst studying photography at college. I got given a project based around 'identity' and decided to place myself in front of the camera and experiment with in-camera techniques and a variety of materials. This was a whole new experience for me and it was something I had never attempted before. I felt content within my environment and was excited at the prospect of producing a body of experimental works.

You've mentioned you were initially very private about your mental health. Was there a turning point that led you to being more open about your experiences with anxiety and OCD?

For me the turning point was in 2014 when my mental health was very bad, I was in the 2nd year of my photography degree and decided it was time to revisit Dissimulate. When my peers questioned me as to why I produced such imagery, I could never give them a clear answer. I felt like people didn’t understand my photography and decided it was time to explain the real reason behind why I created such works. This gave me an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health and allowed me to explain the real concept behind my images.

The use of materials to obscure and trap the subject helps to create a sense of interiority and leaves me wondering what each person is thinking and experiencing. Was it important to work with people that had experienced mental health difficulties themselves?

It wasn't necessarily important, however I did ensure the people I worked with had an understanding of mental health and the reason behind my project. However some of my models had experienced mental health difficulties and it helped bring real emotion to my images.

I'm curious about the relationship you have between your photography and mental health. Does the creation of the work serve any therapeutic purpose for you?

As much as I enjoy producing experimental portraiture, I don’t feel it serves that much of a therapeutic purpose for me. I get great pleasure producing different bodies of work, and you could say Dissimulate has given me the opportunity to talk about mental health more freely. So in a sense it’s therapeutic talking about my practice and engaging with practitioners who produce similar works to myself.

What do you hope the viewer will take away from Dissimulate?

For me it is important that the viewer connects to my photography and deconstructs the images in relation to themselves. I hope the viewer, when witnessing my imagery gains a unique understanding of coping with mental illness and importance of raising awareness of it.

What are you working on now?

At this current time I'm in the process of updating my website and arranging some photo shoots on location. Dissimulate was primarily self-portraiture, so I aim to start a whole new project and take models out on location, obscuring their identity and experimenting with low angles and crops.

Naomi Woddis

This is a guest post from artist Naomi Woddis on how the power of photography has transformed her experience of living with Lyme Disease. Her current project Whoever Was Using This Bed is an exploration of the relationship to our beds through photographs and text.

Light. Shade. Colour. Line. Shape. And love.

Some years ago I was at a pub celebrating a stranger’s birthday. Afterwards we ended up at a mews house in Camden that was small but sparsely decorated with a magnificent altar in the corner adorned with brightly coloured cloth flowers, half burned candles, incense and a large golden Buddha. I forged a temporary friendship with the woman who owned the property and we chatted most of the night. I was impressed by her candour, warmth and the seeming ease of her relationship with her new husband, and how this small house was beautiful in its own carefully chosen way. There were no superfluous objects and like the life she lived appeared entirely tat free.

Although I had spent a great deal of my later teenage years writing and taking photographs, here I was in my early thirties working my way through a handful of working to live jobs, hungering for both intimacy and purpose and here was a woman who seemed to have it all. Outside daylight was yawning in to view. She told me about all about Feng Shui. By the time I left I had a plan and that plan was going to change my life. I knew it sounded crazy, but if it worked for her perhaps it could work for me. I would no longer be the whirling dervish at the centre of my own existence.

The next day, with a roll of black bin bags I set about getting rid of everything I didn’t need. Clothes, chipped crockery, stained teaspoons, paperbacks, vinyl from my days at Virgin megastore that had come with me from flat to flat to flat, and finally the folders of negatives and contact sheets, the lovingly printed ten by eight portraits were all put in to the bin bag, along with rotten food and cigarette ends and teabags, then taken away with that week’s rubbish collection.

It happened again. This time with a charismatic self-appointed therapist. I never knew exactly what his qualifications were. He also ran a therapy group whose members I mistook for cool, well-adjusted types with perfect unstained cutlery and clothes that never ran in the wash. There was a lot of pillow punching and guttural vocalising. We would go away for long weekends and it was, at times, exhilarating to share our mutual madness. After a pretty detailed guided visualisation he told me that the ‘guidance’ was for me to burn all my work and I leapt at the chance.

The next day, under the bemused eye of my then flatmate, I dragged the wonky three-legged barbecue to the centre of the patio and began to burn my work, my juvenile poems and diaries, teenage anxieties captured with urgent scrawling pen, my later work after taking creative writing courses, short stories from my early twenties, the last year’s work – my writing, myself – the sugary smell of burnt paper and charred flakes of black and grey carried away by the breeze.

After a period of unremitting depression I crashed in to writing again, much the same way I crashed in to photography. I had no desire to garner status or a career. It was a breakdown that enabled me to pick up a pen again. I even had my own radio show and was part of a community, at last. I was a writer. From the rooftops – I WAS A WRITER. My gluey depression was finally becoming less sticky. I was also taking portraits again and had an exhibition.

Then something happened – the Gods of getting rid of things stepped in. I contracted Lyme Disease, which has left me feeling exhausted and in pain for long periods, sometimes housebound for months at a time. Along with the Lyme came short-term memory loss and word finding difficulties. At first it was near impossible to either read or write. Remarkably my ability for visual language and composition has increased. I don’t know if this is because I had to find a home for my creative expression or whether the Lyme bacteria has just ignored a part of my brain. Either way I am very grateful – photography has saved me from falling off the cliff and drowning in a sea of despair.

I’m still working, less on a recovery, more on an extended remission. In my worst moments of ill-health I have been bedbound for months at a time and at last I am able to venture a little further than my immediate environment. Pure stubbornness has kept me going, that and the prevailing idea that everything is worthy of the camera lens.

Most of the photographs here are from a project called The View from Here, which initially began as a result of being too ill to even sit up in bed. I started by taking photographs on my phone, playing around with various apps in order to edit them. The project now has expanded to include the tiny flat I share with my 88-year-old mother and is as much about our relationship in our differing states of physical frailty as it is about my illness.

Some years ago when I was a yoga devotee my teacher explained the purpose of a regular practice, whether it be meditation, going for a run or walking the dog. The practice remains the same whenever we engage in it but it is us who changes. The fluctuations reveal our own seasonality as human beings, the good days and the bad days. This project has meant that I have had to re-visit the same subject repeatedly. It’s taught me about seeing the new in the familiar.

Lyme Disease has stripped down my life and my creative practice to the bare bones. Instead of throwing away many of belongings in the hope of living an exalted life, or burning my work in an attempt to curry favour from a heavyweight patriarch, this pared down life has been gifted to me by fate. It is entirely out of my control. Winter reveals the skeletal beauty of a tree without leaves. This stripping down has allowed me to see the essence of my work. And that has been invaluable. Light. Shade. Colour. Line. Shape. And love.

@NaomiWoddis (Instagram)

Dianne Yudelson

Dianne Yudelson is an award winning photographic artist from San Francisco. In her project Lost Yudelson documents the mementos of the children she lost, breaking down the social stigma of miscarriage.

Above: Lost: Bryce

Miscarriage is still very much a taboo subject. What brought you to create Lost?

Last July, after helping a friend through a painful loss I reflected on my own personal experience. These thoughts propelled me to take down the big white box in my closet which safeguards the mementos of my lost babies. It had been quite a while since I last took each item out and as I laid them on my bed I felt their story needed to be documented. I have read the assertion that meaningful art occurs when you share yourself and create from the depths of your soul. So I shared. Hopefully, in sharing the images I can touch the lives of numerous women who have experienced or are in the midst of experiencing the painful loss of a baby. They are not alone in their journey.

Lost: Charlie

What role did your photography play in providing closure or resolution (if any) to these experiences?

When you share a deeply personal experience from your heart and soul, you will find that you touch the viewer of your image on a more profound level. They will identify with the human truth within the message of your piece. It is said that in giving you receive. I have found this to be true, especially when you give from the heart. In helping to heal others emotional pain from pregnancy loss, I have lessened my own.

Lost: Gwendolyn
Lost: Jane

I'm curious about your thoughts as you were making the work. Was it important to emotionally detach or was each session devoted to the individual loss when shooting?

When gathering the mementos for each individual image, I began with a real sense of devotion to that baby. When I stepped behind the camera I worked to maintain a balance of my emotional connections to the mementos and the technical and artistic eye necessary to capture the image.

What was it like to work with and handle such personal and emotionally invested items?

Working with my most private and precious items was humbling. I arranged these items in a manner I felt told the narrative in a humble and pristine fashion in direct correlation to their short and pure lives. When dedicating myself to creating something humble and pristine I decided to produce the images in black and white (white is the color of purity and innocence) using natural late afternoon light– those last bright moments of light before evening begins.

Lost: Jeff
Lost: Mary and Vivian

What personal barriers did you overcome in order to share it?

Personally I found that overcoming the pressures to stay silent about this type of loss is beneficial to a great majority. I believe everyone knows someone who has miscarried, be it mother, wife, sister, friend or coworker they simply have never spoken of it. When experiencing this type of loss other people can, in the hopes of being helpful, make insensitive comments inferring your grief is unreasonable-- so you keep it private and locked away. Never hearing a conversation about miscarriage sets up a social, culture taboo.

Lost: Violet

What do you hope viewers take away from Lost?

I have received emails and messages from around the world from both women and men who have reached out to tell me their experience. What I hope evolves from the creation of my images is a broadening in the conversation and understanding of miscarriage, both physically and emotionally.

I would like to add that just last week there was a woman who spoke to me announcing that although she never suffered a miscarriage she was touched by my images. She said she thought my Lost series was important as it allowed me to document what might have been. I asked her to consider that it allowed me to document what was.

Marta Beltowska

Marta Beltowska is a photographer originally from Sweden, of Polish descent, currently based in London working as a technician at an arts university. Marta's main priority throughout her work "is to tell something through my images, regardless of if it's through a candid street photograph or a staged composition." In her project A Partial Print, she examines the change in family dynamics after her father became ill.

How did A Partial Print come about?

A Partial Print originally came about when I was handed my first self-initiated brief at university. During the same time I went back home for a month in the spring, the first time since my father had become ill the previous winter. I had also just ended a very long relationship so with all of that going on, I was in a rather sombre place. With the freedom of a self-initiated brief, it felt very obvious for me to focus on something personal like the state of my parents.

Was it instinctual for you to pick up the camera when you discovered that your father was ill?

When my dad became ill, I was bottling up a lot of emotion - my relationship with my father was always very distant as he was (and still is) a major workaholic, and he's never been very talkative. Then all of a sudden his mortality came into focus, with this sort of emotional baggage unresolved. To express what I was dealing with internally, it felt like a natural reaction, but also like it was the only way for me to express anything at all. Photographing at this point was like the only way for me to focus myself - my feelings and my energy. Anything else feels as if I would have exploded, if that makes sense. The camera was my tool to catharsis.

Did photography enable your family to bond at all over the shared experience of your father's illness?

I can’t say that it did. My family is very awkward with showing affection, and weakness of any kind. Even if this work revolves around my parents and family, it’s like this very remote thing that doesn’t read on the family radar.

How do your parents feel about the work?

Even though my parents have seen the work, I’m not totally sure they understand what the work is about or what it’s trying to deal with. It’s partially my fault, I think - I’ve never explained it to them bluntly. I think they would take it as a personal criticism, which I can understand.

You cite science fiction as a great visual inspiration for the project. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

I've always found film a major inspiration, and with this work I really wanted to tell a story - without the presence of people. Classic science fiction films often depicts the presence of something unfamiliar and alien in the form of a disembodied light, and I felt that use of light fit with the mood I was aiming for. At the time I was really into story telling and narratives, as well as heavily staged scenarios - some images involved rearranging existing rooms in my parents house completely - watching sci-fi wasn’t just inspiring but also comforting.

There's a real sense of absence in the work, despite it being about family. Was that intention?

That was the intention, yes. Looking at family albums and incorporating these as props into the images, there is absence in what these family memories show and what was going on during the beginning of my father’s illness. I couldn’t use family members in my images because the situation was much too new and raw to handle, but in the end it suited the purpose of the work.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m mainly working on two longer projects, one looking at the history and meaning of neon signs and the other about the significance (or insignificance) of a certain South London building to the people that work in it. I'm trying to turn my focus to external stories and the experiences of others rather than my own nowadays, but I am planning to expand A Partial Print as my family dynamic continues to change.