Rikard Österlund

Rikard Österlund is a Swedish photographer based in Rochester, Kent. Österlund moved to the UK in 2001 where he completed a BA (hons) in Editorial & Advertising Photography at Kent Institute of Art and Design. He also holds a PGCert in teaching creative arts.

The main focus of his work is on portraits and advertising for commercial clients, however in this interview Rikard shares his Kickstarter campaign for his book project Look I’m wearing all the colours, a project exploring the relationship with his wife Zara and the impact of her invisible chronic illnesses. You can back Rikard's campaign up until 1st June.

What is your background in photography? How did you get started and what kind of photographer would you describe yourself as?

I was a teenager when I start taking pictures of friends, bands, self-portraits. I remember skipping PE classes to spend time in the school darkroom, printing the images I’d made. In 1997 I saw an exhibition by Swedish photographer Anders Petersen and it left a lasting impression. My hometown Norrköping had a shop where you could by international magazines and I remember buying copies of Dazed & Confused and i-D magazine, getting inspired by the freedom their photographers seem to have. In Sweden most magazines seemed bland in comparison. I spent some time assisting photographers in Gothenburg but soon I decided to move to the UK to do my photography degree. In 2001 I moved to the UK to study Editorial & Advertising photography and those three years were an intense experience exploring a lot of different types of photography. My course work was entirely autobiographical, but on the side I made fashion images for other students. When I graduated I was offered a teaching job so I lectured part-time whilst building up my client list. I currently divide my time between commercial clients shooting portraits and lifestyle and my own personal projects.

How did you meet your now wife, Zara, and at what point did you become aware of her illnesses?

We had many shared friends but hadn’t actually met until I saw her modelling in a friends fashion show at the university where I worked. I was at the other end of the catwalk taking pictures. We met up soon after and it didn’t take long until we moved in together. I knew about Zara’s conditions from early on. Some of my friends had described them to me, but it was like Chinese whispers and no-one actually had any idea of what was going on.

Has it always been instinctual for you to photograph those around you, including relationships? How did Zara first feel about this?

Yes, I think so. But when I was younger it used to be more arranged - I would book a time to take some pictures - it has slowly become more intuitive and part of day to day life. I no longer feel obliged to use a certain camera, but am happy to photograph with whatever camera I have nearby. The shutter woke her up once when I photographed her sleeping, she looked really beautiful. Looking back at photographs is like a travelling back in time, not just to a specific event, but to a state of mind, an emotion.

How did the project Look I’m wearing all the colours come about?

I didn’t think about it as a project to start with at all. Me and Zara where talking one day and agreed that it would be good to document the flair ups. After that conversation I felt more able to bring the camera up to my eye on the hard days. That was the only conversation we had until a few years later when I felt it was time to compile some of the images. It was important for me to show everything, the great days and the hard. I wanted it to look like life and not a Instagram curated thing. So initially I chose images based on their individual strength rather than how they worked together. The first time I did an edit of what has become the book was at a Self Publish Be Happy workshop in early 2016. It was the first time I showed any of the images (20 of them) and it was a nurturing environment to work in. After that I continued working on it and showing people who didn’t know me and Zara to make sure the ebb and flow of the book translated. I am forever indebted to Swedish photographer Anna Clarén who has been a guiding light whilst working on the edit. It became evident that the core of the project is a love story.

What do you think you’ve learnt about invisible illnesses throughout your relationship?

The first thing is how common hidden, invisible conditions are and that despite this there is a stigma attached to them. It is believed that one third of the population live with a hidden condition. Travelling into London can be exhausting and we need to have regular rests. Asking for a seat on the Underground can be a challenge with a hidden condition, no sling or crutch to ‘evidence’ your condition.

I have also learnt how incredibly complex it can be to live with a hidden condition. A chronic pain can easily leave you feeling out of control of your own body and in turn cause isolation and depression. The response and reaction from people can aggravate and worsen your mental wellbeing. Since it is rarely spoken about it is easy to feel like you are the only person going through this.

How has photographing Zara — both the intimacies of the relationship, and the flair ups etc, impacted your understanding of living with illness, or your relationship (if at all)?

It has helped me a lot, when you are in the middle of a situation it is hard to see clearly. It is hard to understand the emotions and why something is happening. Looking back at the images afterward has allowed me to get more clarity and understand Zara's pain more than I would’ve been able to without the photographs. We have both been very open with each other from day one. Zara used to write very personal and exposing poetry and my personal projects left me quite vulnerable at times. So we never really questioned photographing the intimate moments, it just happened. Obviously you never have the intention of showing them to anyone else.

Why has it been important for you to produce a book of this project, and what advice can you offer to other photographs interested in making their first photobook?

I believe that art and storytelling can have a profound impact on our perspective. When I showed the book dummy in an exhibition last year people responded to the images and several people living with fibromyalgia said how much the book mirrored their life. I received a message yesterday from a lady telling me that it ‘really helped my daughters understanding of what I go though as I hide my pain, smile and try and carry on' You know when you hear a line in a song that explains how you’ve always felt about something but weren’t able to put into words?

I have always made little photobooks for myself and have done the design and print production for a few clients too, but this will be the first widely distributed book of my work. So I am familiar with the different stages of editing, design, paper choices etc. The most difficult thing is to understand is what your story is and then work out how the book can emphasise and carry that story. Oh, and read the colophon pages in your favourite books (to get the details about paper stock, the printer, publisher etc).

How does Zara feel about the project and book?

The first time she saw it was when I had printed the book dummy, so I was very nervous! She sat on the floor in my office and looked through it. It felt like hours passed. After a while she said that she thought it was beautiful and full of all her favourite things. "I think it is the most beautiful and romantic thing I have ever seen, full of hope and love because, despite all of the horrible things we have had to go through, we have always done it together."

What do you hope viewers take from the project?

I am hoping that they will connect to the story and that there will be some recognition. It is important for both of us to get the story out there, to let people know they are not alone. It would be great to create a crack in the stigma.

Where can people get a copy of the book?

People can make this book a reality by backing it on Kickstarter. If you go to the page there is a short film where you can see more images from the book (stay to the end of the video). A signed copy is £35 incl UK postage - until the 8am 1st June 2018.

@rikardolino on Instagram

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.