Chris J Roe

Chris Roe

Chris J Roe is a photographer based in Hampshire (UK). His recent project (and photobook) Shadows documents his "struggle with depression in an attempt to visually present the inner workings" of his mind.

What's your background in photography? How would you describe your work and how did you get started?

I would say that I started photographing very young. I was brought up by my grandmother who tirelessly documented my early life in an attempt to provide a positive spin on the negative circumstances that brought me into her care to begin with. Over the last ten years I have dipped in and out of photography as my love for it was never consistent until quite recently. I dropped out of a college diploma in photography six months into a 2 year course due to the anxiety of being in a classroom environment (something I struggled with in school and lead to me leaving prematurely there too.) I think I was also still a child mentally. I didn't really appreciate the opportunities I had at college.

I came across your work on Instagram and was instantly struck by your dedication to shooting black and white. What is it that attracts you to shooting in that format?

I sometimes shoot colour images although I rarely share these. There is something simple about black and white that perhaps appeals to my lazy tendencies. I find it much easier to capture a mood, or convey emotion through monochrome. Without sounding too pretentious I think it represents me best. I am a fairly straightforward 'black and white' person and I find it hard to see the beauty that others do in is almost as though its a distraction to me.

Chris J Roe

Chris J Roe

Your recent photobook Shadows documents your experiences with depression, combining image and text. How did the book come about?

The book, like many other final product ideas had been swilling around in my head for about six months. I had originally intended to offer it as print only as I had been so inspired by many other's zines and books that I got into a bit of a habit of buying but felt that digital first would make sense. Not everyone has the money to spend on books and I feel generally weird about the idea of asking for money for something I was likely to be doing anyway. Regardless I wanted to bring some of my favourites images together to see them contribute to an 'end game' a final process. I always feel there has to be a conclusion.

Shadows is full of often quite bleak images of solitary figures taken amongst the urban city landscape. What is your process for shooting like?

My process for capturing the images in the book is almost subconscious. I don't ever go out with a specific idea of what I want to photograph, rather I let the scenes develop in front of me. I prefer harsh light and shadow so rarely go out on a day when it is raining and despite spending a lot of my weekends in London I am drawn to the alleyways over the brightly lit tourist areas...I am too easily frustrated by the packed streets as I walk fast and tourists just generally get on my nerves (like I probably do when I travel to their countries haha). To be honest almost all of the images in the digital book are taken on my phone...I was fairly far into this project before I started shooting film again so when it comes to editing all images go through a preset on Snapseed to crush the shadows and isolate the subjects the best I can.

Chris J Roe

Chris J Roe

Chris J Roe

What is it that you like about phone photography?

The phone appeals for many reasons. My impatience is satisfied by the ability to not only see the final product instantly but to have such a large live viewfinder that no other camera can offer. I used to enjoy using an X100T for its EVF (electronic view finder) but I got rid of the camera because it wasn’t portable enough.

The phone is always with me and is not intimidating, while I’m not shooting aggressively on the street like Bruce Gilden, my entire ethos in life is to carry the least amount of weight as possible and be swift with my decisions. The phone does all I need it to. This is coming from someone who owned a full frame DSLR just three years ago so I have a benchmark to compare it to but image quality isn’t that important to me. Flexibility is paramount.

I'm curious about the emotional process of making your work. What does it feel like to be shooting these images and are you waiting to construct an image with a specific feeling to it, or recording fleeting moments of strangers?

When I shoot I am usually numb. While I have no real plan when I go out I fall into this sort of robotic subconscious march until I've run out of good light or I've done at least 10 miles and my legs hurt! I think I get immersed in the process to an extent where it becomes almost meditative. It is only when I look back on the images at the end of the day (I try to avoid even looking at them until I have finished as I feel my wins and losses can break the flow discussed above) do I feel something. It is usually a mix of adrenaline from getting something that really resonates with me on a certain level and intrigue about who the person was in the frame. I try to capture a sole figure in the frame, a metaphor for how isolated I feel a lot of the time from others. While I am not a 'loner' I definitely find it hard to connect with other people and spend the smallest amount of time possible in social's not for me. I think I try to show that with these images.

What function does writing serve for you and what made you choose to combine both image and text together in the book?

Writing was my first love. I used to fill pads of paper with stories when I was younger about my toys going on adventures and exploring the fantasies of a young mind sometimes as a distraction from my childhood. My upbringing prior to living with my grandmother was without love or any sense of recognition so I turned to writing as an act of control. I could create whatever I wanted in my stories and so I used them to escape. While some prefer to storytell solely with photographs, I feel that the written word and an image can compliment each other. Certain emotions lend themselves to different mediums as the best form to communicate them, so I thought why not combine the two.

Chris J Roe

Chris J Roe

What made you decide on a book format for Shadows?

I wanted to communicate the project in an easily digestible way. To be honest the book format just happened to work when I began playing the Apple Pages on my iPad. It took about three hours but I got into a period of deep concentration and before I knew it I had a few less than 20 pages staring back at me. I still feel that the project is not complete until I have a printed copy in my hand though. Only then will it feel real.

What do you hope people take away from the work?

There was no real intention behind the creation of the book other than personal therapy I guess. While I enjoy the social aspects of instagram and value some of the friendships I have made there over the past year or so, when it comes to my hopes for how the project is received by others, I have no particular expectations. If someone were to come across the book and the words and images were to resonate with them on a deep level, I would be flattered but it is hard to gauge how an outsider will view a personal body of work. I think this is the best way to approach a creative work. Do not let yourself be led by expectation or influence and put something out that you would have created regardless of whether you had an audience or not to begin with., then it is honest and genuine....I think people are attracted to that.
@chrisjroe on Instagram
@chrisjroe on Twitter

Olivia Gerard

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.

Olivia Gerrard

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.

Olivia Gerrard

Olivia Gerrardhow 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.

Olivia Gerrard

Olivia Gerrard

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.

Olivia Gerrard

Olivia Gerrard

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.

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

Alicia-Rea Poole

Alicia-Rea Poole is a photographer from London, UK. Her project, For J, was created for her mother who struggled with the photographer's battles with mental health.

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

I was born in North London, Enfield in 1994, and grew up in Enfield until the age of 10, and then moved to Cheshunt in Hertfordshire. I first began photographing properly around the age of 14/15, during secondary school, when I also received my own camera for a birthday present. I had a friend during secondary school who loved cameras, and he used to let me play around on his Nikon at the time - this made me fall in love with cameras and also made me become incredibly more interested in the medium!

I studied the first year of my BFA Photography degree at The New York Film Academy based in Los Angeles, California. I then transferred to Falmouth University in Cornwall, to study the second and third year, where I am currently now almost finished.

How did the theme of mental health become a key part of your practice?

The theme of mental health within my practice came around halfway through college, when I was around 17; I was suffering with a recent diagnosis of depression and wanted to try and portray that within my work. It felt difficult to do, purely because the work I was creating felt so different to that being created by other photographers in my class; but I continued, as I felt it helped myself cope. I felt as though if I could create work that meant something to me, hopefully it would mean something to somebody else who had suffered with mental health issues or know somebody who has.

How did For J come about?

For J came about when I was beginning my third year of study at Falmouth University. I had felt my mental health begin to decline and visited the doctors to find I was re-diagnosed with depression. It was a definite shock, even though I had felt it creeping up on me, as I never thought I would be having to experience those same struggles as I did previously. During my first diagnosis of depression, my family was incredibly supportive, but it hurt me to see that my mother couldn't understand the difficulties of what I was going through - and I couldn’t imagine how that must have felt for her to see her daughter struggling as much as I was. Therefore, once I was re-diagnosed, I decided that my first semester project would be based on mental health and depression, and that I would be creating this for my mother. I wanted to create images that showed my mother that everything I was feeling - I wanted the images to represent me in a way I couldn’t explain to her.

How important has it been to place yourself within the frame in this work?

I found it was very important to place myself within this body of work. I had never, before now, taken on any self-portraiture projects, but for this I found it rather crucial. If I was to create a project for my mother, to try to aid her understanding in my depression, it seemed obvious that I had to represent myself by placing myself into the work. Not only did I feel this would help my mother connect to the work, but I felt it may help others. They may see themselves represented in some of the photographs I took. Whenever I look at some of the photographs, they do upset me - purely because I can't see myself looking back. I think that's what I mainly struggled with; losing myself within my depression. I could know myself one moment and not know myself the next. This is another reason I felt it imperative to document myself throughout this project.

Has creating this project helped improve the relationship with your mother?

I would say that it has. Not only was she able to see how I saw myself, but I also think it could be a comfort for her. With not being at home, and being away from my mother, I think it may have helped her to see that I was showing her how I was coping, within the images. It’s been tough, as relationships always are with mental health disorders, but I really do hope the photographs represent her daughter for her, in a way that’s honest and beautiful.

Have you found creating this work therapeutic at all?

I definitely found creating this work therapeutic. Having a relationship with the camera where I could be completely open and cry, or laugh, meant a lot for me. I found it difficult, and as if I was burdening people when I would talk to them about what I was going through; so having the never-ending possibilities of my camera and photographs, to take my mind off of the loneliness I felt, definitely helped me. I say I felt lonely, not because I didn’t have the support of the people around me, but because I felt I couldn’t talk openly about what I was going through - and showing these images to them helped open up that conversation on another level than just words.

What do you hope viewers will take from this work?

I hope, if anything, that viewers will take a slight understanding that depression isn’t just moping around in your bedroom and feeling sad. It takes over your entire body and it is exhausting. I hope that viewers will relate to the work and feel the emotion it was created with. I also hope viewers will see the strength it took to make myself vulnerable enough to represent my own experience within mental health because of the stigmas attached to it. Mostly, I hope viewers will know that if they ever experience mental health issues, that they are not alone.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I am working on my final major project, which I am trying to balance between intimacy and connection. I’ve been scanning in a lot of old negatives which I inherited from my grandfather, and doing further self-portraiture. I’m still seeing where the project takes me!

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!