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.

Kristianne Drake

Kristianne Drake is a photographer from Southampton, UK. She is interested in the human relationships that occur within a place and the (sometimes) incidental observations that occur. Kristianne lectures in BA (Hons) Photography at Southampton Solent University and also works at the John Hansard Gallery delivering part of their education program working alongside the Southampton Youth Offending Services.

Here we feature two of her projects, You Were Here and Sometimes Things Just Disappear. Her project You Were Here began when Kristianne Drake began to fall ill. As her OCD worsened her observation of the never-ending piling up of teabags in the family home began to frustrate her.

"These photographs represent an inability to assess rationally. They are the injustice in a household that conspires; the crisis felt when rational thinking becomes clouded, and the instability of a brain whose chemical imbalance does not allow these things to be resolved simply.

Mental health does not have an off switch. Mental health problems don’t discriminate. Some of us have got really good at hiding it until we hit crisis point.

At first when I noticed the piles of tea bags I just got angry, but left them there to see how long it would be before they got cleared away, I guess it became a game that only I knew I was playing. This is one of the manifestations of my mental health illness, I only see the problems that affect me and they become overwhelming and over exaggerated: some might say selfish.

They were these defiant towers that irrationally engulfed my sense of normality every morning. I thought that by dragging my 6x6 camera into the kitchen on its tripod would give me a better advantage - it became like a war between me and the teabags only I was both victim and perpetrator.

This went on for months.

I never touched the piles of tea bags and nor did I ever clear them away.

I didn't tell anyone I was making a photographic documentation of them either."






Kristianne's project Sometimes Things Just Disappear was made in 2011 as a response to circumstance. Using her bedroom — a place she was increasingly withdrawing to — as her backdrop, these photographs are coupled with texts from recorded conversations with a family member. In these recordings they discussed life changing decisions, living with choices we make and how we affect other people. Each photograph is hand printed.