Olivia Gerard is a photographer currently studying for a BA in Photography and Visual Communications at Birmingham City University. In Swimming in Darkness Gerard eludes to the crippling nature of depression, hoping to highlight the growing difficulties in mental health that men face today.
What was it that first attracted you to photography?
I suppose I’m going to give a cliche answer and say it was more of photography that found me. I’ve always struggled with finding words to express how I feel- but after picking up my dads camera at the age of 14 I was able to shoot how I felt on that day. I like the fact that no matter how you are feeling, you’re able to express your emotions through images.
There are so many cliché images that attempt to represent depression (for example the ‘headclutcher’). What were your thoughts when you first began to try to photograph the experience of depression?
Although the ‘headclutcher’ is deemed as cliche- its because it’s a true representation thats felt when experiencing a breakdown, often a result of serve mental health illnesses. During a breakdown in which many emotions come flooding in often feeling uncontrollable, grasping the head is an attempt to free yourself from the diminishing thoughts. If something (anything in fact) is cliche, its like that because people have experienced that feeling.
When I first began to photograph depression, about two years ago, it was due to personal experience. I found expressing myself in the form of photography medicinal. It helped me to see the light in situations and express my emotions in a different form, it was also a help to my parents who were able to visualise how I was feeling through the images I created.
My first images were mainly surrealistic portraits, in similar style to my inspiration of Christian Sampson, but I soon got into a more documentary style. Although I enjoyed the freedom of doing surrealistic portraits, as mental health being invisible, I feel as though showing mental health in its true ugly forms gives the viewer more of a sense of the everyday exhaustion of what fighting with your own mind is like, and how it takes over every inch of your body.
how just how much mental health can take over your life- most of us have showers multiple times a week without a second thought. Yet this might be the biggest achievement for someone living with a mental health illness that they have done in a week, and something they ought to be proud of too.
What was it like to photograph your subject? How did they feel about what you were trying to achieve?
My subject is someone very close to me, meaning the feelings he was experiencing at the time were natural everyday feelings in which I was involved in- however just with a camera at the ready.
In both our opinions we feel that mental health is looked more down on in men in todays society, with phrases like ‘man up’ being used in our daily vocabulary. Therefore he was happy to be my subject matter, in order to raise awareness for these particular issues which are so constant in our everyday life.
What do you hope your viewers take from the work?
I hope viewers will be able to see the everyday struggles living with mental health can cause if it is something they haven’t experienced, and if it is something they’ve experiencing I hope they can relate to my images to know they are not alone.
Do you think you’ll continue to explore mental health in your practice?
Mental health is so apparent in todays society, for people who haven’t experienced mental health (or seen someone close to them experience it) it is a hard concept to grasp, due to the invisibility of the illness. I feel as though it is important for me to continue to photograph mental health to change the way in which people visualise mental health, even if it only changes one persons outlook – I have reached my goal.
What are you working on now?
I’m still currently adding onto this particular project, but also photographing anything else that inspires me.