Laura Hospes is a photographer from The Netherlands using self-portraiture to connect with the world around her. In her project UCP-UMCG Hospes documents her stay in a psychiatric hospital, using photography to illustrate her emotional experiences.
What initially drew you to photography?
When I was 15, my cousin took some photographs of our family with a Sony Alpha 230. The pictures that came out where so beautiful! I asked if I could try making some photos, too, and it was a magical thing to do. For my 16th birthday I asked money to buy my first camera, the exact same Sony Alpha 230.
Is the process of photography (in particular self-portraits) therapeutic to you? If so, is there a process behind this?
It is quite a discussion what is ment by therapeutic. If it means that it heals you, then no, it wasn’t. Making self-portraits is not healing me. As a matter of fact, with the diagnose I got, a personality disorder, it is not possible to heal completely. But it did really help me “surviving” the day and especially the night. The decision to make new work feels like it is not a decision. It just happens, because I feel a need to make photos. Healthy people talk to each other when they feel bad, but that is a hard thing to do for me. So I pick up my camera, watch the light, background and check my settings. Then I just sit and wait till the conversation with my camera starts. I don’t even know I’m clicking my remote anymore after a couple of photos. It is just such a natural thing to do. When I feel lighter, like the big weight is off my shoulders, I put the photos on my laptop and convert them to black and white. I immediately start selecting, because that is part of the proces. It is also the reason I can’t shoot analogue. I have to see the photos after I shot them, so I can close that day.
What was it like making work whilst within the hospital setting? Were you open about your photography with doctors and other patients?
In the beginning I was all a insecure about making the photos in hospital. The doctors knew obviously that I studied photography and also asked sometimes what kind of photographs I made, but I didn’t share them at first. I also was too depressed to do anything with the photos. I just made them and that was it. After a while I realized that the photos could be pretty good, so I carefully shared the first picture on Facebook. People liked it indeed, so I started to share more photos. It helped me to share it. I felt I could do something I was good at and I could share my situation where I felt so alone.
What has it been like to share such personal images with the world?
It is very scary to share such a personal story with the whole world, but I keep telling myself that I don’t have to feel ashamed for this period in my life. There are so many people who go through such times. Sometimes, somebody tells me that a photo is exactly saying what he or she feels. It means so much for me to hear that. It means that I am not alone, but also that I can show that they are not alone. I can do something for the people around me. And that at the time I asked myself if I was useful to the world. It gave me answers I needed at that moment.
How does it feel to look back at these images, taken in a dark time of your life, and see the positive recognition that they have gained?
I have seen my pictures so often, I don’t see them like “that photo of that hard time anymore”. But sometimes it’s like they talk back. For example, I’m making a book of the whole period. It’s called UCP and will come out September 23, 2016. While making prints for the limited editions it somehow got me so hard. The picture was staring at me and suddenly I felt all the hard feelings again, but also the relieve that the hardest part is over. I cried. And I hope that it will have that same effect on others.
What do you hope your viewers will take away from you images?
As I said before, I hope they recognize themselves in it. That they can see they are not alone. And for the people who haven’t suffered from something like this, I hope they see how bad it is. How hard life is for people with depression, caused by whatsoever. That the people suffering are not crazy, but are working só hard to overcome the situation. That everybody can get a depression or other mental disease. It don’t have to be a taboo, just ask about it. Many depressed people want to talk about it, but feel uncomfortable because nobody asks them.
What’s next for you?
I am still making photographs almost on a daily basis. But I’m not in hospital anymore. This summer I will start with a treatment that lasts 12 months. I think it will be a hard time, but I hope it will help me in the future. After the treatment I want to work on my first solo exhibition, that would be really cool.