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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.
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!