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."

Manuela Thames

Manuela Thames is a photographer originally from Germany, now living in the US. With a background in nursing and alternative healthcare, Manuela turned to photography after the death of her brother and birth of her son in an attempt to make sense of the contrast of both loss and creation of new life.

You've said that after the death of your brother and the birth of your first son that you gravitated towards photography. What is it about this medium that you love?

I have always loved photography and felt drawn to it, but for most of my life it didn’t really occur to me that I could pursue it as anything more than an idle hobby, partly becuase I did not really have any confidence in my own artistic abilities. But still, I consistently found myself admiring artists, and photographers in particular. I strongly connect with photographs, but I cannot say exactly why.

I found out I was pregnant with my first child only a couple of months after my brother passed away, so obviously that was an intense time. I was in such shock over my brother’s death that I felt incapable of embracing a new life. The words that come to mind about that year are sadness, anxiety, loneliness, extreme nausea, and guilt (especially because I did not feel very excited about the pregnancy). In a way I disappeared for months and withdrew from the world around me, even people closest to me. It was such an interruption of my life that I think deep down something shifted directions, and despite the pain and distress (or because of them), new possibilities were opened up to me, as well as a new urge – indeed a need – to express myself as a way of dealing with all the confusion and tumult.

After my son was born, my husband bought us a DSLR camera because he wanted to take lots of pictures of him. I ended up starting to just take pictures everywhere and of anything. I began studying other photographers and taking self-portraits. The combination of birth and death, grief and joy really changes you and shows you a lot more about life, and I found this was the perfect time to start using photography as a way to explore, ponder, and express some of this.

How do you think your background in nursing and alternative health care plays into your practice as a photographer?

When I decided to become a nurse, I had very idealistic intentions – helping people, being there for your patients, possibly going to a developing country for a while, and so on. But when I was in nursing school, and especially when I started working in a hospital, I found it to be quite different than what I had envisioned – it was mechanized and impersonal, very high stress, and nurses were treated with very low regard which led to a lot of antagonism and power-plays among the nurses themselves and between nurses and doctors. I had a strong sense of not fitting into that environment, which exacerbated the more general sense of not fitting in that I already struggled with. Moreover, I was in the lung cancer ward, and so was frequently confronted with dying, terrible smells, bodily fluids, grieving families, etc., but had no way of dealing with that at an emotional level in such an environment. I can definitely say I cared about my patients a lot, but I cared about them in a way that could not be realized in a fast paced, mechanized, and hostile environment. I think I naturally approached patients holistically, which, after I had moved to America and left nursing behind, led me to become interested in alternative health care. The sense of health that this represents – a kind of “wholeness” that encompasses body, mind, spirit, community, and nature – informs a lot of my photography, including the corresponding sense of “disease” as fragmentation, separation, lostness, and the like.

What was your motive behind producing the work from Broken Mirror?

We had a mirror hanging in our living room that I always wanted to use in my pictures.

I had a vision of an entire series using just a mirror and myself as an object, which then evolved into the idea of using pieces of a broken mirror and playing with the distortions and partial reflections. Before I start photographing, I often have a very clear sense of what I want a picture or series to look like, and then I just need to get it out. In this case, I just took the mirror off my wall and broke it myself so that I could play around with the pieces.

I had been thinking about the way we see different reflections of ourselves throughout the day, not just mirrors but also windows or other surfaces. And each time I am surprised at how different each reflection is and also how different I probably look to others from what I think I look like. This has always brought up the questions of perception, truth, reality, and how a reflection can be really deceptive, even though it’s usually assumed to be true.

Broken Mirror examines themes of identity and the returning gaze of ourselves in the mirror. What kind of research did you undertake around this subject?

I didn't do any “formal” research, in the sense of devoted studies to literature on this subject. However, I have long been drawn to literature of all sorts – fiction, popular articles, essays and biographies, and so on – that explore these kinds of themes of self-perception and distortion.

But I think most of the inspiration simply came from my own thoughts and reflections on this topic, as well as conversations with others.

Where do you draw inspiration from?
I often get inspired when I wonder around in nature. I love the beauty, solitude and quietness. While going for a walk or hike I think about life, relationships, struggles and my thoughts can just wander. Occasionally I then get an idea for a picture or concept. Sometimes it is very clear and I know exactly what I want it to look like, and sometimes it is something I need to pursue and just experiment with.

I also get inspired by poetry, music, film, and most especially by photographers whose work I admire.

What's next for you?

I am currently in the process of working on a new series titled “Milk Bath”. This time it won’t be a self portrait series, but portraits of a variety of people, and they all have to get in a bath tub filled with milk water. I don't want to give too much away, but very broadly speaking this series will explore themes of dependency, equality, and unity.

Fairly recently I began working with musicians and bands and shooting work that they can use for promotions or album covers.

And of course, I am always working on getting my work published, exhibited and expanding my portfolio.

Maren Klemp

Maren Klemp is an artist from Oslo, Norway. Klemp's deeply emotive images incorporate the magic of the Scandinavian landscape, using both herself and her children as her subjects.

In your artist statement you mention that your work is "a plunge into the darker sides of the human mind." How did this theme in your work come about and how has it developed throughout your practice?

Well, ever since I was a child I have seen great beauty in dark art and literature. I had a passion for writing poetry and short stories when I was younger, and my writing was quite dark as well. When I started photography it felt natural to continue on the same path. My images are products of my thoughts, so I guess that my mind is quite dark.

The subjects in your photographs consist of yourself and your children. Has this been a conscious decision to focus on your family?

Yes! My experience is that working with self portraiture and close family gives me full control over the creative process. it is not that I enjoy seeing my face in pictures so much, but I find it much easier to convey the meaning behind the picture by using myself as a model. The children looks wonderful in front of the camera, and they know exactly what I want them to do, so I feel that we have made many of my images together. Another good reason to do self portraiture is that you are always available for shoots!

You've often mentioned that your work aims to raise awareness and create a dialogue around mental health. How have your own experiences (if any) played into the images that you create?

Yes, I have. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a couple of years ago, and it really brought the pieces together for me. I decided to be totally open about it, and to photograph my experiences with mental illness. This resulted in my first solo-exhibition called "The Veil Of Fog" here in Oslo.

What is your favourite photograph that you’ve taken and why?

My favorite photograph these days is called "The Bird Tamer". This picture really calms me down, and I have had so much positive feedback on it from people saying that they experience peace by looking at it. The picture shows a woman setting a bird free from captivity, and I think that brings out strong feelings in people.

The Bird Tamer
The Bird Tamer

What is your creative process like? How do you get from an idea to the final image?

I have a rule that I always follow, and that is to never pick up my camera unless I know exactly how I want the photograph to look like. First I draw sketches and makes notes of props, location, settings and so on. By planning the image that carefully, the shoot itself does not take that long. I can spend several hours on post processing just to make sure that I haven't missed anything.

In a lot of your self-portraits you’re photographed with your eyes closed. Is this a conscious decision?

Yes. For some reason I find it hard to stare straight into the camera, and I think that is because I reveal so much about myself and my own disease through my images. I feel naked with my eyes open, and I feel much more comfortable with my eyes closed.

Your work often feels like a continuous flow, not broken into projects as some photographers work. How do you view your work and each image that you create?

I found my own voice and style quite early in my career, and I have always stayed true to that voice. The images just pops up in my head, and I get a strong urge to create them. I try not to think too much when I create, I just follow my mind and work with what it gives me. Although it is important to me that the pictures conveys the right mood and emotions that I had when I created them.

Could you talk us through your collaborative book Between Intervals with Jose Escobar?

In late 2013 I met Jose' on Flickr, and we instantly felt that our work "spoke the same language", and that we decided to collaborate on a book project. The theme of the book is bipolar disorder, and by putting Jose's landscape photographs together with my portraits was interesting, and made me realize how strong the connection between nature and the human mind is. Nature has played a huge part in my work since my collaboration with Jose'. This is how we describe out book:

Between Intervals, is a joint effort of two photographers across an ocean, is a sequence of images visually depicting scenes, objects and portraits of people as found at the edge, an event horizon, right at the moment of coming in or coming out, emerging and entering, sometimes trapped, with a feeling of isolation from others and the rest of the world.
Decay and darkness, overgrown vegetation spreading through doors and window, lonely scenes, places crumbling and figures which are merely silhouettes and blurs, other looking intently into empty space, are images often used to describe such experiences by those afflicted with this disorder.

They even get the sensation at times of being inside an organic membrane from which it is difficult to emerge. Many times they feel they have been marked by the grip of darkness, touched by a sense of sadness, of not belonging, of living inside a world where few can enter and understand. This is what "Between Intervals explores and dives into."

What's next for you?

My plan is to make another book, travel in order to gain more inspiration, and build on my portfolio.

Rossella Castello

Rosella Castello is an Italian artist currently in her last year of studies in Photographic Arts at University of Westminster. In her work Careful Dissipation Rossella looks at the experiences and difficulties of living with eating disorders.

In your work Careful Dissipation you look at what it's like to live with anorexia. Can you explain a little about how this work came about from your own personal experiences and how living with the condition translated into the work?

My project Careful Dissipation is about eating disorders, in particular anorexia and bulimia. I have to admit that I have never suffered directly from anorexia or bulimia, but I suffered for a while from general eating disorders. I was absolutely sure that food and everything related to the idea of eating was damaging my body, and that was making me feel sick every day. Therefore, I started avoiding eating too much, limiting myself only to a little amount of food. I was having only a little bit for three days in a row. At the fourth day, I was starving. Thus, I was stuffing myself until I was feeling sick, since my body was not used to taking that big amount of food anymore. The following day, I was avoiding eating again, thinking that the food itself was what made me feeling sick.

Years later I decided I wanted to translate into an artistic work what might be the difficult conditions of living with an eating disorder. I decided to exaggerate them, translating them into a proper physical installation in order to make the viewers experience some certain feelings. I did not want to show directly what it means to live with anorexia or bulimia, like showing images of bodies as we are used to see in visual media, but I wanted to use a more subtle way to communicate the same meaning.

The room installation created for Careful Dissipation is small, borderline claustrophobic even. What was your intention for the viewers experience?

The description you gave about the room is absolutely complete. My intention was to create a narrowed and claustrophobic space where the viewers could feel uncomfortable, surrounded only by the red colour that does not make feel them at ease. When someone is experiencing a mental health problem, in this case an eating disorder, they feel like their health condition is like a huge burden that is oppressing them.

Has making artwork about your eating disorder been therapeutic in any way. If so, how?

I have to admit that my eating disorder was already solved when I created this installation. At the beginning, my eating disorder was causing me personal and social problems and I did not want to deal with it or solve it. Once I understood that I completely overcame the disease, I was ready to translate my feelings into artwork. My art has been therapeutic since it has helped me to feel that I had completely overcame the disease, since I was ready to express it and make everyone aware of it.

How has it felt to share such personal work? What have responses to the work been like?

At the beginning, I did not want to admit that the installation was related to personal experiences. However, since my attempt was to make the public more aware about common diseases that are often underestimated, I thought that sharing this artwork with the public would have been really constructive both for me and my viewers. In fact, the responses were positive, and most of the viewers were surprised by the visual strategies I used in order to make the public aware of this disorder.

How do you see your practice evolving? What inspires you and what are you working on now?

In terms of future projects, I would love to keep creating artworks related to mental health.

I am currently working on my final major project for my last year at university. The idea beyond it was born when I started noticing how the tendency to document wars, mental illness, poverty, crime (negative facts in general) etc. is always more popular in photography. I decided I wanted to show that shocking images are not extremely necessary in visual media to make the public aware of the current problems. I often consider some images really intense just because the subjects are powerful themselves. Portraying someone who has a disease makes an image strong enough to achieve viewers’ feelings and make them reflecting. However, I think that using allegories or other visual strategies would be a more subtle way to influence the viewers. Since I am still working on it, I will stop myself from revealing too much.

Celine Marchbank

Celine Marchbank is a documentary, editorial & commercial photographer specialising in British based stories, fascinated by the small everyday details of life. Based in London, she spends her time between personal documentary projects, exhibiting work regularly, and undertaking commercial and editorial work. She is also a regular sessional lecturer in documentary photography on the BA (Hons) Digital Photography course at Ravensbourne University in London.

In her project Tulip, Marchbank documents the final year of her mother's life and battle with lung cancer and a brain tumour.

What role did photography play in coming to terms with your mother's death?

I think at first it didn’t feel like it played a part at all. The year she was ill was the most complex year of my life. Whist I was going through that, especially at the start, I didn’t feel like I came to terms with the fact she was dying at all. I struggled to reason with myself why I had introduced a camera to this unbearable situation, but as the weeks went on, and especially after the terminal diagnosis I could see why I had chosen to use photography to remember my mum. These were our last moments together, and in a way I wasn’t experiencing them then. When you care for someone who’s dying, you don’t get the chance or space to really think, you are so in that moment of unbearable shock and numbness that the little things slide. All that was important was mum, but the camera allowed me just a couple of split seconds a day to record the things that would go on to mean so much to me, the little things that would be gone.

I think after her death the photography has helped more, when I look through Tulip now it’s like a time capsule, it takes me right back to that moment, but it’s not an as painful one anymore, the project helped me process the emotions, and all the photography I’ve done since her death has really helped me through the longs years of grieving.

My Mother's favourite flower.

How did your mother feel about being photographed at this sensitive time in her life?

She actively wanted to do the project, we spoke about it lots first, she was actually excited by it. I was her full-time carer, and I think she always felt guilty about how hard it was for me, and in a way this might have been her way of trying to give something back. Though that wasn’t the reason for the project, or the way I saw it as such. She kept saying I will look at it all when I’m better. It kind of gave her something to get better for.

Mum would ask me what I wanted to photograph some days, we would chat about it. Mostly I didn’t know, I don’t like to plan things to photograph, I just like to wait till I spot something that means something or a little moment that might not happen again. I think mum liked this, it meant we just spent lots of time together, chatting and drinking tea in bed. It was nice, I really miss that time.

All mum felt like eating today.

Do you think photography brought you closer together?

In a way yes. We had a very similar taste in art, and I think we did in photography too. She loved my images, and would look at them lots. Though she didn’t want to look at any of the Tulip project until it was finished. I don’t think mum ever came to terms with the fact she was dying, she never spoke about it, but I think her allowing me to photograph her was her way of admitting it was happening. So in that way it brought us closer, and the project itself allowed for us to spend lots of time together, so that was the perhaps the most meaningful part.

My Mum has the most amazing blue eyes.

As her mobility declines Mum stays in her room more and more. Her windowsill becomes a substitute for the garden.

The use of flowers as a metaphor for both life and death is very poignant. Is this something you were aware of at the beginning or something that became apparent as the project developed?

It was not something I was straight away aware of. I photographed everything in the house repetitively, not always realising why, I just had this need to record it all. It wasn’t until later on when I started to show the work to other photographers that they started pointing out all the repetition of things and how together they told a story. Flowers were so important to mum, she had new ones every other day. I started to see them then as such a metaphor of what was happening, and then couldn’t stop photographing them.

The garden chairs she never got to use.
Mum insists the hallway light is kept on all night. When she’s in hospital my brother turns it off, and it reminds me of what it might be like without her.

Tell us a little bit about Tulip, the book, and how people can support it coming to fruition.

Tulip, the book, is a very personal story, but since making the project public it’s the response I’ve received that has made me want to publish the book. So many people have been through the same thing, and it’s nice to think the story can be seen by more people.

The book will be published by Dewi Lewis, but only if I can raise enough of the funding with my Kickstarter campaign. I’ve been so touched by how the campaign has been received so far. So many kind and generous people have backed the project. We are over 85% of the way there, but need to hit 100% for the book to happen.

If you would like to be involved in the success of this book, then please take a look at the campaign and also please share around with people. The deadline is this Friday 13th at 3pm. I would love as many people as possible to support the project.

Mum never really asks for help, in fact she refuses it. She was determined to do as much for herself as possible, and never lets on how hard it is for her.
I worry looking at her empty bed, will she ever return from the hospice.

I imagine there a lot of images that didn't make it into the book. What was the editing process like?

There are thousands of images that didn’t make the book. I started editing the project just a few weeks after my mum’s death, it was a cathartic experience, but sometimes very hard, especially looking at the images of my mum in pain. I decided that was not the type of book I wanted to make, there was no need to see these images, that was not what I wanted to remember my mum by and they were not representative of her life. I wanted the beautiful moments we had shared, along with the very distinctive things she had to be the focus, that was what made her her.

Last night we were told Mum only has a week to live. Today I looked at the tomatoes we planted together and wondered will she ever see them ripen?

What are you working on now?

I’m actually working on another project about my mother. She was a well-known chef, and one of the things we did when she was ill was teach me her recipes. After she died and started to clear out her house I found a whole load of her recipes and old menus from her numerous restaurants.

I’m doing a book that is a mixture of me retracing her life, along with learning her recipes and cooking her food. I think the food will flow through the book in a similar way the flowers did in Tulip.

I’ve spent the last 5 years working on it, whilst I suffered through grief, so the book will reflect my journey through grief also, showing my moods, emotions and feelings through these hard past years.

I have thousands of images again, but have not started to edit it yet. I’m looking forward to dedicating sometime to do this soon, and hope to have the book ready to publish next year.

You can support Celine's Kickstarter to publish Tulip here.

Max Kellenberger

Max Kellenberger is a Swiss photographer based in San Francisco, USA. He tells us a few words about his on-going project Carry, a street photography style project that metaphorically explores the emotional burdens that strangers carry.

How did your project Carry begin and how long were you working on it?

I started photographing Carry about 3 years ago. It is all related to my work with a psychoanalyst in downtown San Francisco. After a very invasive and painful medical intervention I lost the ground under my feet and decided to "dive under" and investigate the bottom of my abyss. Being a photographer, I am so used to carrying (speaking of "Carry"...!) a camera all the time. One day walking to the therapist's office and waiting at a cross walk for the light to turn green I noticed that just about every single person is carrying some thing(s). I started to point my DSLR at people, focusing on the area between neck and feet. It's an ongoing series. I am still shooting but not as regularly as I used to. I seem to have become a bit less dependent on carrying my camera...

Your photographs look like they're taken surreptitiously — do you ask subjects if you can photograph them?

Yes, your assumption is correct. I am shooting from the hip, without people noticing. That also means that I end up using only about 1% of all the material. Out of focus, bad framing, bad exposure etc. A lot of editing! I do not feel bad about not asking people's permission. I am not showing any faces, it's not about individuals, it's about the human condition, the fact that we seem to need to carry something, holding on to objects. It gives a purpose, meaning, reason.

Has working on Carry brought you any closure on your own emotional difficulties?

Realizing how people share this common human trait is comforting. Realizing that I am unique and at the same time so similar to the 7 billion people is a grounding quality. Observing other people and imagining what kind of emotional loads they might be carrying helps me looking at my own.

What are you working on now?

On September 3 my solo show with the title "Le Scarpe" - Italian for "The Shoes" - opened in downtown San Francisco. It's a series of twelve large format toned cyanotypes depicting empty shoe boxes. The titles of the prints are the names of the designer of the shoes which were inside the box, like "Gucci", "Saint Laurent" or "Fendi" to name just a couple. It's been on my mind to do something with those shoe boxes ever since I started to collect them well over a decade ago. I believe that working on Carry has enabled me to look more inside myself and see a void, an abyss, a longing which is so well expressed in these empty boxes. My next project however will be sort of a retrospective of 50 years of photography in the shape of a handmade artist't book which hopefully will turn into a traveling show. I am very excited about it!

Max's exhibition “Le Scarpe” currently runs until October 17th at Corden/Potts Gallery, 49 Geary St., San Francisco.

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.

Ashley Whitt

Ashley Whitt is a fine art photographer whose work deals with themes of duality within the self, psychological states, and mortality. She uses a variety of photographic techniques including dass transfers, digital manipulation in Photoshop, sculptural bookmaking, and traditional darkroom processes. Ashley is a Texas native and currently resides in Dallas.

How did the idea for The Haunted Mind come about?

I began the series in 2012, shortly after I graduated from Texas Woman's University with my MFA in photography. My biggest fear after graduation was that I would not continue making art. I didn’t want to lose that fire to create, so I began to think about what was most important for me to portray in my work.

I began sketching storyboards and scouting locations for inspiration. I knew I wanted to make a series that tip toed the line between truth and fiction. I found the truth of the work in my struggles with depression and anxiety that I have battled since I was in high school. The fictions through dreams, memories, desire for narrative and inspiration from literature and film. Through the solitary performance of the work, my unconscious mind began to reveal underlying issues of my mother’s passing, and a fascination with death.

Can you explain a little bit about the physical process of creating these works (with dass transfers etc)? What drew you to working in this way?

The process I use within my work is called Dass transfer. The image is inkjet printed onto a special transparency film that has an emulsion coating on one side. Hand sanitizer or a special medium called SuperSauce are the two most common mediums used to transfer the image from the transparency to any final surface including paper, metal and fabric. The transfer technique allows for manipulation, and I use several methods to create my desired aesthetic. By applying more medium, I can create blurred areas in the image. I also use a bone folder to create different marks. I first learned about the Dass transfer process during my time at graduate school. I instantly fell in love with the technique and aesthetic.

What inspirations do you draw on when thinking of new images?

Many of my aesthetic inspirations come from film and literature. I particularly love horror and thriller films. A Tale of Two Sisters is a Japanese horror movie that I’ve watched over and over. I also love Alfred Hitchcock; Vertigo and Shadow of a Doubt are a few of my favorites. A short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne titled The Haunted Mind, has provided a well of inspiration for the series. Hawthorne writes about the edge of conscious and unconscious thought achieved on the edge of sleep. I saw many parallels to the imagery in the story and how I felt inside.

How do the chosen locations play into the images from this project?

I love exploring secluded parks or wooded areas that I can get lost within. A sense of solitude in my location choices is important to my meditative and deeply personal working process. Currently, I'm lucky because a quiet wood where much of this work is photographed is within walking distance of my apartment.

Has making the work for The Haunted Mind helped you in any way deal with the death of your mother or the subsequent depression, and how?

I lost my mother to cancer 7 years ago, right as I began studying photography. For a while I made work based on fairytales and children's literature as a means to escape reality. As I started developing my voice as an artist, my work shifted and became a combination of fantasy and a fascination with death. As grad school ended, my work shifted again and began to discuss mental illness and its effects. Since grad school, my work has focused less on mental illness and become more about the psychological experience of loss and living with anxiety.

As an artist, I feel it is necessary to make work that reflects my own life experience and what lives in my mind. I think about my mom constantly, and wish I could talk to her and ask her questions. When I make art, I create a visual interpretation of my longing for her and the questions that will never be answered. There are ideas I cannot express through words, and only images can act as my voice. This is why I make art.

Since these images are one offs, how are they usually shown within an exhibition environment?

I can recreate similar techniques with the Dass transfer, but no two images are ever exactly the same. Each image is unique. I usually show the series in one setting or have a few pieces in a group exhibition at a time. I use magnets to suspend the images from the wall, which allows for the paper to move as people walk through the gallery. I also use grids to display my images.

What's next for you?
Since April, I have been on hiatus from photographing for The Haunted Mind to pursue other projects. I still draw storyboards for images and scout locations for but I am not actively shooting images. Currently, I am making handmade sculptural books out of lumen prints layered with sewing, which I call Anxiety Studies. The books focus on the act of sewing as a visual interpretation of anxiety

Aleksandra Stone

Aleksandra Stone is an artist and photographer from then Yugoslavia by way of the U.S. Her delicately intricate self-portraits straddle both photography and sculpture, taking an incredible amount of time to construct with a high production value. Her self-portrait work aims to express her feelings around living with depression and human vulnerability.

Could you explain a little bit about your background — where you're from and how you found your way to Louisville, Kentucky?

My mother, father, and I were admitted to America in 1998 as refugees evading war and persecution during the political upheaval in what is formerly known as Yugoslavia. Prior to our arrival to the United States, my family had been residing in Germany for a number of years following a difficult and perilous escape from the country of my birth. Our move to the U.S., and more particularly to Louisville, Kentucky, was one of a handful of options presented to us by the German government following denial of our request for permanent residence. Actually, Germany approved two out of three of us for permanent residence, but my parents chose not to split up the family, and we packed our life into four suitcases and headed into the unknown.

How old were you when you began to take photographs & what drew you to photography as a medium?

I have always been interested in photography; in fact, it was the only common ground my father and I shared. I remember from a young age it was one of the few things in which he possessed the patience to educate me. I spent most of my formative years dabbling in all types of creative media, but in all honesty, I excelled at none of them. In Louisville, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to attend one of the best secondary schools in the area. However, the only thing I gathered from my experience was that I was extraordinarily inept at painting, drawing, textiles, and ceramics. Even though I felt a great sense of belonging in the art studio, the quality of work I produced was mediocre at best. By the time I made it through University, I had abandoned art entirely. It was not until the passing of an incredibly dear friend in 2012 that I picked my camera up as a means of coping with the grief. Initially, I did not know where the experience would take me, but it occupied my mind, and instilled me with a sense of purpose when I needed it the most. It has now been a little over three years, and my biggest accomplishment has been abandoning variations of the mantra "...if you only know how to do one thing, do it well."

This may not necessarily be true for others, but in my experience, this expression was incredibly detrimental to my artistic experience. In years prior, I spent entirely too long determining what, exactly, my one “well” thing was. It was not until recently that I embraced a different approach, which led to my understanding that it is acceptable to be okay at a multitude of things, and to use these building blocks as a framework for something greater.

Your photographs are highly conceptual in their execution and often have a high production value. What is the process of creating a photograph like, including the headpieces?

From conceptualization, my process of creating a portrait begins with self-made costumes, masks, sculptures, and oft elaborate set designs that are integral in conveying the scene and setting the tone of the photograph. It can take several weeks to months to create delicate pieces out my preferred media, fabric, glass, metal, stone, and animal bones. It is crucial that it all be real and tangible. The production of the three-dimensional pieces is typically arduous and mind-numbingly repetitive. The completed products are incredibly delicate as they are most always made from pieces of something that used to be whole. The entire process mimics different stages of depression; a barrage of the same tiring thoughts day after day, picking up the pieces in attempt to put yourself back together, but what began as strong is now fragile.

Many pieces become irreparably damaged during the photo shoot, casualties of rough or constant handling. The ones that make it get to live on forever as a separate entity outside of the photograph.

You talk openly in your work about your experiences with depression. How has photography helped with your mental health and in what way?

I have a tremendous admiration for storytellers; oral, visual, and written accounts have been indisputably integral to our advancement and enrichment as a society. My presence behind my camera has instilled me with a sense of purpose, and given voice to a narrative for which I otherwise lacked words. Presently, I am on a quest, one I feel every person has the ability to set out upon. It is grounded in the belief that each individual is capable of making a positive and significant impact in the world. I am of the opinion that topics pertaining to mental health have been dwelling in the shadows of history for too great a time. Only as of late have we begun to unveil and understand the stifled voices of the past. The world is now a better place than ever, in part due to social media, which enables individuals rather than institutions to become vehicles for disseminating information about mental health. Photography has become my voice in this ambitious undertaking to share my journey with others. It busies my mind and my body. This is immensely important, as depression tends to feel akin to swimming in an ocean with no sight of land; you can tread, swim, or float but no matter which method you chose, survival requires constant effort.

What do you hope viewers take away from your images?

Through my work, I aspire to illuminate the vulnerabilities of what it means to be human, no matter how unflattering. While life before the camera can be intimidating, I disallow it to be defeating. Behind every self-portrait endeavor is a dedicated effort to create a piece that is exempt from the scrutiny of the self, so that it may convey a message of perseverance and authenticity. My primary goal is to establish a personal connection with the viewer by entrusting them with my narrative, and welcoming them to participate in an open discourse about the prevalence of mental health issues in our society. I have no doubt that each member of my viewing audience has something crucial to contribute to this conversation, whether be an introspective assessment of their own life, an improved understanding of an unfamiliar subject matter, or the discovery of art as an avenue to communicating their own psychological frailties.

What are you working on now, and what's next?

At the moment, I am in the process of creating pieces for a solo show that transpires over the course of two months next summer. I am also attempting to ready myself for a move to New York City later this fall. Presently, I am uncertain of what to expect of the latter, other than the inevitability of having to get even more creative managing a clutter of pieces in what will indisputably be a microscopic space. I am enormously curious to see how that change of scenery will affect my work.

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.