Alice Guardado

Alice Guardado is a photographer currently based in Houston, Texas. She holds a BFA in Photography from the University of North Texas and is currently pursuing her Masters degree at SCAD in Savannah, Georgia. Through photography, she is able to express her experiences to others that might be going through similar complications. Her project Gone was made in response to her parents separation, forcing her to be confronted with memories and recollections leading to emotional instability and anxiety.

What is your background in photography — how did you get your start and what is it that you love about the medium?

I started taking photographs with a small point and shoot given by my mother in high school, where I instantly felt a need to photograph my surroundings. From then, I knew I wanted to pursue a BFA in photography from the University of North Texas. I became passionate about the medium after taking my first history of photography course in college, where I learned about its history, alternative processes, and theories.

How did Gone come about?

The series Gone developed from a need in documenting my emotions towards my parents recent separation. After my father left, I realized his absence was not the cause of my unstable emotions, it was the realization of our distant relationship throughout my childhood. This became the effect of my loss of identity; feeling lost, hopeless, and hollow inside. Documenting these feelings became a way of coping with the struggle.

Alice Guardadoa

Alice Guardadoa

Gone seems to be compiled of fragmented images, combining elements of self-portraits, double exposures and family archives. Can you talk us through the elements of the project and what they represent to you?

The self-portraits are a representation of the emotional component of the work, the double exposures reflect those childhood memories intervening with my current state. There is a sense of duality in the work which is seen through the diptychs. The tangible objects represent an aura of past memories combined with found photographs of my childhood. There is definitely a push and pull effect in my work between the healing process and the anxiety in my self-portraits.

Alice Guardadoa

Alice Guardadoa

Alice Guardadoa

What has the project helped you to work through (emotionally), if anything?

This project has helped me relieve some of the tension and anxiety within myself, although I might still continue to experience some of these emotional factors, they are not as strong as they were before I started this project. In a way, it gave me the opportunity to contemplate on past memories and better identify myself.

How does it feel to share such personal work? What have responses been so far?

Sharing such personal work can be quite challenging and scary at the same time. Initially, I felt self-conscious about showing that side of me, it can become difficult to talk about those feelings, but through photographs I can express them freely in a way where other individuals can come to appreciate and relate to my personal experiences. In addition, demonstrating to the viewer that they are not alone if ever experiencing a similar situation. It is a way to help others cope with their struggles of losing a loved one and at the same time showing that there is hope when facing these personal struggles.

Alice Guardadoa

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am still exploring this subject matter as my thesis project for my M.F.A program. I have always had an interest for exploring my own identity further through photography, and this project has motivated me to continue making work that reflects any mental illness or emotional distress caused by a variety of personal reasons.

@guardado.alice on Instagram

Danny Day

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.

Danny Day

Danny Day

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.

Danny Day

Danny Day

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.

Danny Day

Danny Day

Danny Day

Danny Day

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.
@danny_day_photography on Instagram.
Danny Day Photography on Facebook.

Zoe Amanda Jackson

Zoe Amanda Jackson is a London based photographer who recently graduated from Canterbury Christ Church University. Jackson has a keen interest in still life photography and exploring mental health issues within her practice, particularly social anxiety, a condition she has suffered from since a young age.

What was it that first attracted you to photography?

My first attraction to photography was a present I received from my grandparents for my 11th birthday, which was a basic point-and-shoot digital camera. Gradually with help and tips from my Grandad, I would go out with him on the weekends and take photographs of my local park. My interest in photography developed further when I took up photography during my GCSEs, as my life goal at that point in my life was to become a photographer because of the experience of creating these images with my Grandad.

What has your experience with social anxiety been like? Has photography helped you to manage the condition or does it help you to explore your own anxieties?

My experience with social anxiety was difficult when I was a young child. I had trouble trying to communicate, even with the closest people around me. In result, I became very angry and upset constantly. There would be various points in my life where I could not say what I wanted to because something in the back of my mind was telling me not to. Photography has definitely helped me to explore my own anxieties. For my projects, talking to other people with anxiety and documenting how they feel, has let me to talk about my mental health a lot more, especially more openly to my family.

How did Disquiet come about?

Disquiet came about through my interest in exploring personal subjects to myself as I explored family issues in previous photography projects. The subject of mental health is something that I am passionate about exploring and understanding more. I felt the need for more people to know that it is okay to talk about your mental health, regardless of your gender, age or background as I did not talk about these issues growing up in my childhood.

Notepad and phone


How did you go about interviewing young people about their anxiety? Was it difficult finding people to be open about their experiences with you?

Before I went to university, I belonged to a support group for people with anxieties based in London. I decided to interview people from the group as I found that they was more likely to open up freely to a person who they knew and had a bond with as we went through the same support together. The people’s names have remained anonymous as requested by themselves, through fear of being judged. Through the still life images I have created, I have allowed them to have this powerful voice to remind people how important it is to talk and think about your own mental health as statistics show, that 1 in 4 of people experience a mental health condition a year.

What is it that you enjoy about still life photography?

I love how through still life photography I can have full control over all aspects of the photoshoot. Especially when photographing in the studio, as the lighting, composition and technical aspects can be carefully adjusted by me to get my images as perfect as they can possibly be. Dare I say, objects are definitely easier to position and compose the way you want them to, than people.

What is your process like — from your initial idea through to shooting and editing a concept?

It takes me quite a long time to think through my initial idea as I try to research thoroughly into the different directions and paths that I can go with my project idea. After I have my idea together, shooting starts straight away with test shoots to see what’s working best for me. To edit down my concept, I tried to get as many people as possible to look at my work as I always want to continue improving my photographs to see if I am going in the right direction and maybe find out things from others that I did not see myself.



There’s a really strong graphical/advertising quality to your work — yet on closer inspection you begin to see details which highlight the anxiety. In Pencils you see the chew marks and in House of Cards its the solitary missing card, which makes me think of the split second of anticipation of something going awfully wrong. When viewers look at your work what it is that you hope they'll take away from it?

I hope when viewers look at my work that they are enticed in by the bold, cold colours portrayed in my photographs. On closer inspection of the photographs as you said, small details begin to appear, as I want the viewer to take away the feeling of ‘everything isn’t always as it seems’. Referring back to the subject of mental health, these two things relate well together as people might seem to be coping on the outside but you never know what’s going on in someone’s mind.


What are you working on now?

I have just graduated from university so I am a bit slow with project making at the moment but I hope to work on a project soon focusing solely on my own mental health with my family responses but I am not sure what kind of direction that is going to go in at the moment. I hope to use still life again in my next project to see how I can develop my still life/studio skills.
@zoe_amanda96 on Instagram.

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet is a UK based photographer dealing with themes of loneliness, nostalgia, anxiety & light through analogue photography. Leanne states that her photography has helped her to "overcome anxiety and fears over life & mortality, using the creative practice of photography as a calming mechanism, and a form of escapism."

How did you get your start in photography and what are your earliest memories of your first adventures into photography?

I started with a little digital camera that I got as a present off my Mum for my 18th birthday I think, I just started taking photos of anything and everything. I then started buying disposable cameras & playing around with film & was gifted a 35mm SLR. I explored lots of different film & processes. My earliest memories of photography adventures are when I was in my early 20s with my partner back then, we would drive around and find old abandoned & dilapidated buildings and I'd take photos. It wasn't until a few years later during college and mainly after that I started taking self-portraits.

You work primarily with analogue photography, a mixture of film and instant cameras. What is it that attracts you to working with analogue in a world that’s becoming increasingly digital?

I started off early with analogue and it just felt natural to me. I shot a little with a DSLR in college mainly because they encouraged us to do so and it was cheaper for me to produce work then, but I soon sold that to fund my love of film photography. I haven't even thought of going back to digital since, apart from taking snapshots on my iPhone. For me analogue is just much more honest and rewarding to shoot with. I've always had a soft spot for instant film too, I think if I had to choose one medium to work with from now on it would be Polaroid.

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Self portraiture is such a huge part of your practice. I’m curious about what it feels like to make self portraits in a space where you are both the photographer and the subject. Are your images born out of an emotional need to express?

Yeah I think there's definitely an emotional need for me to express myself through self-portraiture. I've always said that I'm not great at communicating verbally so photography is the main way I express my feelings, emotions and anxieties. I think that I shoot the same whether I'm taking photographs of myself or of other people, it obviously just takes longer to shoot a roll of film of myself and I also have no idea what I'm going to look like in the frame, which is one of the exciting things for me working with film as well.

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Can you walk us through how some of your images come about? Do you meticulously plan or do images develop spontaneously and organically?

I mostly just shoot when the thought pops into my mind, or if the light attracts me to a certain part of the room. I'll normally just grab whichever camera I feel like playing with in the moment and set up my tripod, find a space and composition and go from there. I rarely plan my photographs unless I have a specific project or idea to explore. I definitely believe in taking one photograph of a certain scene and if it's meant to be it will be, I can't be doing with deciding between two or five almost identical photographs. In this image (below) I was on holiday with my Mum. We went to Spain after I graduated university. It was a really lovely relaxing holiday and a great time for me to take photographs. I think my Mum was having a nap in the afternoon so I just hung around the hotel room and played with my Polaroid SX-70. I hadn't taken a tripod with me so I used piles of books or shelves as a surface for my camera. The afternoon light was so inviting and fell softly through bright white sheet curtains, I placed the chair in the middle of the window, put the self-timer on and just slumped into the chair and it turned out to be one of my favourite photographs I'd ever taken.

Leanne Surfleet

In Hospital Diary you write about coming to terms with the experience of being diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis at the age of 15. When did you start to document the hospital visits and what does photography bring to the experience of being in hospital? Has photography helped you to explore and understand the condition?

I think I started to document my visits around 2010, so when I was maybe 22 or 23. My hospital appointments are very long and drawn out and they used to be held in a small clinic outbuilding which was getting very tired and old. I'd be shuffled off into a room separated from my sister (who also has CF) so that we wouldn't cross infect each other or any other patients and then sometimes left for hours in this small room, with a specialist or dietician or nurse popping in to do their rounds every now and then. You were lucky if you got a room with a window. All the time spent in there in the silence, alone, just inspired me to start taking photographs as I realised this was a huge part of my life undocumented. I don't think it helped me explore or understand my condition any more than I already knew but it helped me cope and to process what I was going through. I've been in hospitals all my life but bringing a camera into one is challenging as well as very interesting, you find a lot of very intimate and moving scenes when you actually take notice of where you are. I created the project for a university brief so it was very scary to show all these very personal photographs to other students that didn't really know me at all, which then gave me the confidence to publish my story online.

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

In your artist statement you mention how photography has helped you to come to terms with anxiety and fears over your own mortality. Where do those anxieties come from and what kind of legacy do you hope your photography will leave behind when you're no longer here?

I think the majority of my anxieties stem from my health, although I am generally very well and keep healthy when I was younger and a only a few years after being diagnosed with CF I experienced a lot of anxiety. I used to think very negatively and think that if I had CF without knowing all my life what else could I have without knowing? I ended up experiencing something called SVT too which is pretty much just palpitations and the feeling of a skipped heartbeat, I just couldnt get over it for years and am still on medication for it although it is so much better controlled after realising it was a vicious circle with anxiety. So it basically started from there and snowballed into panic attacks and general anxiety, I never wanted to be far from home either incase something happened to me which is where a lot of my self-portraits at home came from. I feel safe at home and taking photographs at home was/is such a calming experience for me. I often receive comments from people saying that they relate to my photographs and it has helped them to come to terms with their own different types of anxiety or loneliness, so as long as my photographs are still around to do that for people that makes me happy. I take such comfort in the work of Francesca Woodman who died young and before she was really discovered as a photographer and knowing that her work is now seen and loved by millions.

What strikes me about your work is that you to take your viewer to another place, an internal world of curiosity that lends itself to daydreams and interiority. I get the sense that whilst you're making the work you are working through thoughts and moments in your mind. Is there something that you hope viewers take from your work, or is the process of making images more important than the viewer's experience?

You sensed right, I am usually working through ideas and thoughts in my mind as I'm shooting self-portraits. I find it quite difficult to explain what I'm thinking or feeling when I'm taking photographs. I've definitely been through stages where I've thought about the viewer as I'm making work but that can alter things so I stopped doing that. I do care what my audience think and feel after I've finished and published my work and it means a lot to me the encouragement and support that I receive, but the process of making the work has to be seperated from that. I hope that viewers take my work for what it is, honest and emotional.

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

Leanne Surfleet

What are you working on now, and what would you like to work on in the future?

At the minute I'm working on a monthly project with 11 other female instant photographers called The 12:12 Project, we all submitted themes for each month and we have to produce one instant photograph exploring the chosen theme. It's really encouraging and motivating to have something to work towards each month and to see what everyone else produces to the same theme. As well as this I'm trying to continue a series I started on a sleep anxiety I had been experiencing, its just finding the time and motivation to do it. I'd like to work more on portraits of others in the future, I will always take self-portraits and explore that, but I really do enjoy looking through my lens and seeing whats in front of me and being able to press the shutter and get excited about being able to move around more and think quickly.
@leannesurfleet on Instagram
Leanne Surfleet Photography on Facebook

Morgan Cable

Morgan Cable is a photographer currently studying Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at the Swansea College of Art. In his work Isolation Cable attempts to convey his experiences of anxiety and his feelings of being alone.

How did you get into photography?

I got into photography during my first year of sixth form taking it as one of my A Level subjects after my history lessons had shown me some of the earliest photojournalists such as Robert Capa, Eddie Adams and Don McCullin, their stories of adventure and the lengths they would go to in order to capture a photograph was awe inspiring. I got to grips with photography during my A Levels and then applied to the Swansea College of Art to study Photojournalism and Documentary Photography.

What is it that attracted you to explore mental health in your work?

I wouldn’t say I was necessarily attracted to working on the topic of mental health but after two young men I knew growing up committed suicide due to the effects of mental illness and that I was also going through hard times on my own, I felt that it was time to do something about it. Since then I have been creating work in an attempt to get people talking about mental health as I feel the more talking that goes on, the better we will soon be equipped to help deal with the problems.

Morgan Cable

Morgan Cable

What has it been like making work about your anxiety? Has it been cathartic at all?

At times it has been difficult trying to create work on my anxieties as for a number of years I had been subduing a large amount of my emotions so to begin with it was hard to find out my anxieties meant to me, i.e. how they can affect me on a day to day basis, how easy are they to deal with. Once I had started opening up to people, I began to really understand what I was going through and my working process from then on has been much more organised and patient and made it a much more stress-free experience.

Can you describe what making photographs about anxiety means to you?

It's currently one of the major driving factors behind my work. After struggling to gain any opportunity to work with organisations and charities set up to help those suffering from mental illness, my self reflective work allowed me to still begin my own process of helping people and in many ways had more of a powerful effect in my opinion.

What is the significance of the room in your photographs?

The bedroom represents the concept of insecurity. Although the bedroom is seen as a place of rest, a safe sanctum within the home, a secure zone. The fact it is a secure place means it is very easy for a person to get trapped in the zone, refusing to leave only causing more anxieties when the person finally does leave. I have attempted to represent the darkness and suffocating feelings I have experienced.

Morgan Cable

What do you get inspired by? Are there any particular photographers whose work you admire?

As I mentioned before the work of Eddie Adams and Don McCullin has always been a source of inspiration for my work, their grit and determination to capture images had a massive effect of both history and the future.

Morgan Cable

What do you hope viewers will take from your work?

Overall I hope to encourage people to talk about their emotions and to help others talk about theirs. In the future I hope through working with organisations, viewers will be able to take the links and the knowledge they need to be okay.

What are you working on next?

I am currently looking for external contacts to work with during my 3rd year of university to create a project, which will be exhibited in London next year.

Matthew Lees

Matthew Lees is a photographer originally from Manchester and now living in Carlisle, Cumbria. He mixes both digital and analogue photography but predominantly shoots in 35mm. Lees is a BA Photography graduate from Cumbria University, 2016. In Therapy. 2 Lees explores the conflict of living with anxiety. The project "acts as self help therapy for myself as I try to heal without the aid of prescribed drugs, as I am in constant conflict with what my head is thinking and what my heart wants."

How did you get into photography?

I first got into photography around the age of 15/16 as it was an opportunity for myself to be alone and leave the house to go out and explore. I first took a course when I went to college and completed an A Level over 2 years. This course and the tutors were a lifeline for me at the time as I was going through severe hardship where I was left homeless and dropped into deep depression. I was not aware at the time just how photography was helping me. In fact I have only just recently became aware of this within the past year when writing my dissertation on the therapeutic use of photography.

Therapy. 2

How did this project come about?

Each project that I carry out helps me with recovery and acts as a self help therapy. I have carried out another 2 parts to this on-going series and I plan to carry it on for a good while longer. The projects first started when in the last year of my degree course at the University of Cumbria I was affected by the severe floods of storm Desmond in December 2015. The flood water reached up the stairs and completely destroyed the ground floor. I was left homeless as I was low priority to the council on rehousing. This set me in a bout of severe depression and anxiety that I hadn’t experienced since my early teenage years.

I lost all of my work ready to be submitted to university and did not receive an extension so failed the first semester, this again adding to my stress and anxiety. I did not attend university for around 2 months after getting rehoused living in a damp house full of mould but this was the only accommodation available.

I finally began photographing but within the house as i still didn’t feel able to face the world. This project turned out to be the first of many exploring how I feel about my mental health and photography.

The second project which you have seen came about with me trying to show people that mental health disorders can effect anybody and everybody and wanted my friends to know this, which was a big step for me, I had spoken to friends in the past about this but having my first project used for my final exhibition and then picked to appear in 2 further exhibitions gave me a massive confidence boost and gave me the ability to carry on in this field. The series of selfies I chose to do because I dislike myself and my appearance so it was to challenge myself to show myself to the world in this light. I chose to then double expose these images with places around me because this is where I feel safe and it is places recognisable to the people around me and to people that know Carlisle therefore showing that mental health does affect people close to them.

Therapy. 2

Therapy. 2

What are you working on now?

I am currently working with Carlisle Mind, a mental health charity. working to raise awareness of the charity and of course mental health. I am photographing the work they carry out and the services they offer to try and make them more approachable so people like myself can feel like they can talk more.

Therapy. 2

Therapy. 2

Therapy. 2

Jasmine Blanchard

Jasmine Blanchard is currently a Photojournalism and Documentary Photography student at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham, UK. In this series Blanchard aims to illustrate the feelings of anxiety to bring greater understanding and awareness to the disorder.

What attracted you to photography? How long have you been photographing for?

I have always loved being artistic. When I was younger I loved taking photographs on my Dad's camera, after a while I got my own and I would take photographs of anything and everything because I was so passionate.


What brought you to choosing anxiety as the subject of your work? Do you have a personal relationship with anxiety?

As someone who has dealt with anxiety myself and also knowing many people who have also dealt with it, I wanted to bring this subject into the light and show people that even though you can't necessarily see it, it is there.

What was the inspiration behind your work?

I researched into this subject a lot before I began to shoot, my main inspiration for my images was Steph Wilson's series on anxiety. The way her images showed the issue in a more positive light, unlike many images I had seen before.



What do you hope your viewers take away from the work?

At first sight I wanted people to find my imagery beautiful but intriguing. After looking more closely, I would love people to begin to understand what having anxiety can be like.


What are you working on now?

At the moment I am working on expanding this series but also bringing together other ideas for future projects.

Claire White

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.

“I would wake up feeling anxious and have no particular reason for it. My chest would get tight and I would get what I describe as my anxiety headache. It was a feeling that I couldn't shift and one that got worse as the day got on. I’d feel panicked, trapped and frustrated having got no answer for my feelings. Some days it's small and I'm not really aware of it and some days it's huge and consumes me, I find it harder to get rid of then.” Shona (Isolation)
"I’ve always heard of depression described as a black dog - but I’ve never identified with that. For me, a better analogy is a parasite; vines engulfing a house. At first, you barely notice it. You think you can just shake it off. It saps your energy, just making everything a little harder, until its too hard to do anything at all.” — Sophie (Parasite)
"If I could describe it I’d say it was like a really slow car on a motor way and everyone whizzing past you at 100mph when you’re only going 30. Or just a simple cut, you cut yourself and its sore at the time, it bleeds. You can see the scabbing and the scarring after, I think that’s what depression is like. It doesn't just stop, it takes time." — Craig (Scarred)

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!

Annabella Esposito

Annabella Esposito is a photographer based in north west England. When creating her imagery she is highly influenced by states of mind and the stigma attached to mental health. In her series Dissumulate she combines the use of materials within portraits and self-portraits to obscure her subject's identity, aiming to evoke the viewer’s subconscious.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: where are you from, how long have you been photographing and what got you into photography?

My name is Annabella Esposito and I am a fine art photographer based in a small town called Blackpool (UK). I have been fascinated by photography throughout my life, but initially gained interest at the age of 16. This came about when I had to select my GSCE subjects in high school; creativity was always my strong point so selecting photography as one of my subjects enabled me to explore my creativity and discover my passion for art and photography.

How did Dissimulate come about?

Dissimulate first started whilst studying photography at college. I got given a project based around 'identity' and decided to place myself in front of the camera and experiment with in-camera techniques and a variety of materials. This was a whole new experience for me and it was something I had never attempted before. I felt content within my environment and was excited at the prospect of producing a body of experimental works.

You've mentioned you were initially very private about your mental health. Was there a turning point that led you to being more open about your experiences with anxiety and OCD?

For me the turning point was in 2014 when my mental health was very bad, I was in the 2nd year of my photography degree and decided it was time to revisit Dissimulate. When my peers questioned me as to why I produced such imagery, I could never give them a clear answer. I felt like people didn’t understand my photography and decided it was time to explain the real reason behind why I created such works. This gave me an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health and allowed me to explain the real concept behind my images.

The use of materials to obscure and trap the subject helps to create a sense of interiority and leaves me wondering what each person is thinking and experiencing. Was it important to work with people that had experienced mental health difficulties themselves?

It wasn't necessarily important, however I did ensure the people I worked with had an understanding of mental health and the reason behind my project. However some of my models had experienced mental health difficulties and it helped bring real emotion to my images.

I'm curious about the relationship you have between your photography and mental health. Does the creation of the work serve any therapeutic purpose for you?

As much as I enjoy producing experimental portraiture, I don’t feel it serves that much of a therapeutic purpose for me. I get great pleasure producing different bodies of work, and you could say Dissimulate has given me the opportunity to talk about mental health more freely. So in a sense it’s therapeutic talking about my practice and engaging with practitioners who produce similar works to myself.

What do you hope the viewer will take away from Dissimulate?

For me it is important that the viewer connects to my photography and deconstructs the images in relation to themselves. I hope the viewer, when witnessing my imagery gains a unique understanding of coping with mental illness and importance of raising awareness of it.

What are you working on now?

At this current time I'm in the process of updating my website and arranging some photo shoots on location. Dissimulate was primarily self-portraiture, so I aim to start a whole new project and take models out on location, obscuring their identity and experimenting with low angles and crops.

Dan Wood

Dan Wood is a self-taught photographer from South Wales, UK. His video piece Hypnagogia consists of black and white hand printed photographs that predict a post-apocalyptic world, representing his anxieties and insomnia. Throughout Hypnagogia — the transitional period between wakefulness and sleep — Wood preys upon our inherent fears to create an unsettling world of dark dreams and haunting nostalgia.

How did Hypnagogia come about?

The series came about a couple of years ago when I was searching for some negatives in the darkroom. I don’t have any sort of filing system, so when I need to look for a specific negative I have to look through them all, which can take hours; I always find it exhausting but very beneficial. This particular time I started seeing several images that had been overlooked and never printed; so I decided to print them to see what they would look like. Very soon after I realised that a pattern was presenting itself to me and that the pictures were cohesive. I knew that I was trying to say something but couldn’t quite figure out what. It was a serious departure from what I usually do, so it was a case of trial, error and experimentation.

The images often play into common fears: ominous waters, dark open spaces, strange figures etc. Do these directly relate to your own fears and anxieties?

Unconsciously, and now consciously, yes. I’ve always been a fan of horror movies, death metal music and the darker side of life in general. Becoming a parent for the first time and the responsibility that comes with it was massive inspiration for the series, too, and I suppose a lot of my anxieties were brought on by parenthood itself. Open water, especially the sea, scares me, even though I’ve never had a bad experience involving water. It must come from a horror movie called Shock Waves which I saw when I was quite young; I remember that being pretty disturbing. Lone figures in the landscape is something that has always made me feel some unease too, although I have no idea of the origins of this particular fear, even though it’s something that has been there since a young age.

How did you come up with each image and its concept? What is your process?

The pictures themselves date back as far as 2004, so I guess that this whole series is a documentation of my own life over the past 12 years. Each picture had to be relevant and also tell a story, whether it was dream/hypnagogic related and/or anxiety/depression driven. It's all about different periods of my life and how I was feeling during these periods. The main period fuelling this series was 2003-08 when I was going through a decisive transition from old life to new. There is also a supernatural element to some of the pictures as the house I lived in for 16 years was undoubtably haunted.

Sleep is such an integral part of our well-being. Has there been any therapeutic benefits from working on Hypnagogia?

Absolutely. There has been significant therapeutic benefits throughout the whole process. At the start of the project I had no Idea that I was self medicating, but it soon became evident when the pieces started fitting together; when I made the first draft of the video I knew that this was exactly what I had envisioned right at the start of the work. In regards to sleep, the hypnagogic visions are now expected but have in no way become less horrible; they definitely don’t cause the same rate of anxiety as they used to.

I found the video both oddly soothing and anxiety provoking at the same time. What was the reasoning behind presenting the images as a slideshow with sound?

Once the series of photographs were made they just sat in a folder for a while as I didn’t really know what to do with them. Something was missing. I needed to find a way of presenting the work to complete my expression, interpret what I was trying to say and conclude the series; randomly putting the pictures up on my website just didn’t feel right. One evening I had an epiphany to make a slideshow with music and the search for a soundtrack started. I tried many different types of music from light jazz to roaring death metal, but nothing seemed right, until I stumbled upon the work of Simon Wilkinson (via You Tube). The subtle science fiction-esque creepy horror music that he makes fitted perfectly and really brought life to the series; it was the best 79p I ever spent.

What are you working on next?

After that delve into the darkness, I’m now back working on more documentary/topographic based projects. I’ve just come back from shooting a mini series in Wick, in the North East of Scotland. My Father in-law’s family live up there and we try and visit bi-annually. It's such a great, unique and interesting place that’s rich in history and I really felt that I had to make some work there. Another project which I’m currently working on is ‘Bwlch-y-Clawdd’ (Gap in the Hedge) which is a mountain pass that connects Bridgend - my hometown - to the South Wales Valleys. This is going to be a long term project which documents the villages each side of the Pass and also the Pass itself.