Danny Day is a fine art photographer and recent photography graduate from the Cleveland College of Art and Design. Through his background in healthcare and through his own experiences, he uses photography to explore and express the complexity and difficulties of mental illness. In his project You & I he revisits his childhood school in an investigation into memory.
Can you remember the first moment that attracted you to photography?
I wouldn’t personally say I was ‘attracted’ to photography, rather, I fell into by accident. In my early 20’s I experienced a lot of chest pain, thankfully nothing serious, but of course to me it was, and I’ve only just recently concluded that it was actually due to anxiety. During that time, I found that taking long walks would help, and on one particular occasion, I took my parents digital camera with me, and my journey with photography began from there. I discovered that it kept my mind occupied, and the outside world transformed from something that just ‘existed’, to something that I wanted to document, observe and examine. Gradually, my chest pains alleviated, and so too did my anxiety.
How did the fascination with re-visiting your junior school come about?
The truth is, I’ve held a fascination with my memories from junior school for a long time, even since my late teens. I would say, less of a fascination, more of a fixation. I used to tell myself such a fixation was unhealthy, because how can you move forward in life, when you’re stuck in the past? None of those memories would ever let me go, and in a sense I became somewhat obsessed by them. They weren’t hurtful or upsetting memories, but rather a collection of moments in time when my childish mind posed questions that, interestingly enough, a child cannot even understand themselves. Those memories, and those questions, have stuck with me throughout my whole life, and it’s only now, after being able to revisit the school, have I finally gotten close to being able to provide myself, and my inner child if you will, something of an answer.
You mention that your background in health care (as an Emergency Medical Dispatcher) and your own experiences with depression, addiction and anxiety have led you to create visual works exploring mental illness. What is it that photography provides for you that other mediums or forms of expression can’t?
Photography, I’ve discovered, is the only medium that provides me with the opportunity to both question and learn about myself. In fact, it sometimes tortures me. Its most powerful images remain burnt into my visual memory, almost becoming a scar that lingers. I have no control over this, instead, I’m left with more questions, than answers. Its stillness and silence demands study, provoking my imagination into filling in the gaps. What can I hear? What can I smell? What do I feel, and furthermore, why? Why am I even looking at this picture? What am I searching for? Why am I searching? What do I hope to discover and learn about myself? The questions never end, and that’s why I love photography, or even at times, hate photography for this continuing questioning of self, rather than being able to find comfort.
What did it feel like to be back in that space? How accurate did your memories feel once back in the school?
To be back in that space was somewhat overwhelming. For all those years I’d held onto all of these memories, and suddenly I was left with a stark realisation, quite simply, that I have grown up. My memories were intact, but my experience of some of those memories, were the experiences of a child, and there I was now, an adult. Suddenly, those hallways didn’t seem as big and daunting as I remembered, that tree didn’t seem as quite as powerful and overbearing as I recalled, those things were still there, but my experience of them, 20 years later, was different. Walking around the school was strange, I felt like a giant, and rather than being back in those memories again, I felt myself watching myself as a child, as if watching the ghosts of my past as they played.
What is the importance of putting yourself in the frame within this project?
Placing myself within the frame became integral to this project. I felt the use of the hand worked well here. My hand, clearly that of an adult, reaching out to touch these spaces and objects once more, in an attempt to reconnect, rediscover, and learn. Accept 20 years later, the lessons are no longer that of Maths or Science, but of the ‘self’. One of my favourite images from this series is the one in the bathroom. Everything clearly designed for children, the small urinals, the mirror placed at the height of a child, reflecting my feet. As a child, I always used to play with my hands and feet, being remembered of that, and seeing my own adult feet in this Junior School was a unique feeling. But again, important for the project, to visually represent this idea of ‘growth’ and ‘growing up’ – essentially, trying to suggest that ironically, in order to ‘grow up’ or ‘accept’ the idea of ‘growing up’ – I have to return to junior school.
How has You & I changed the way that you think about memory, if at all?
This project has provided me with visual proof, that memories change over time. The memories we have as a child, are just memories, and can only be examined and studied as such. Revisiting a place may provide answers, but those memories can never be re-experienced in the same way. In context of my project here, the issue was simply physical – I wasn’t a boy anymore, I was an adult. I’ll never be able to re-experience those huge hallways or those towering windows again.
What are you working on now?
I always aim for my work to be very personal and as emotive as possible. My You and I project concentrated on previous experiences of the world. I’m now looking at my current experiences of the present rather than the past. I’m discovering I tend to fly between extremes, I either hate the world, or I love the world! My research is heavily visual, and can be seen through my Instagram account. Recently, my interest has been examining anger, frustration and anxiety. I’m very interested in the combination of image and text, in the context of anger and frustration. I’m experimenting with free writing, writing the first thing that comes to mind when I look at a particular image. Again, serving as a way to question where such anger, frustration, and anxiety comes from, ultimately serving as a form of visual and written therapy.