An initial brainstorm in to the topic ‘photographing the unseen’ formed the following ideas:-
- Pain – physical or emotional or both, and how they might overlap each other. The mental toll of physical pain. Photographing emotionally using abstract forms to symbolise pain or it’s effects on the sufferer or their closest family/friends.
- Invisible illnesses – Mental – anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, personality disorder etc. Photographing broken mental state, fragmented, disorientated, foggy, vibrating, frightening, loneliness. Every day places and things but in a different way, sketchy movements or deeper shadowing etc. Using emotions to paint a picture of what it feels like to suffer from mental illness. Physical – fibromyalgia, fatigue, back pain, cancer (without obv physical symptoms), diabetes, IBS etc. Similar to documentation of pain, very physical, places and objects, perhaps very abstract although doesn’t have to be. Drawing on inner feelings.
- Time – Different people feel time in different ways, why is it that some people are always late and others fill their days with so much and it doesn’t seem possible to another. How can I photograph time? How is time measured by me -photograph this. My typical day between dog walks and work and basic tasks (showering and eating). Moving house and never having enough time, all the boxes, the feeling that you’ll never catch up. Time as a whirlwind, time as a slow crawl when I’m waiting for something to happen. Use different shutter speeds and some movement or very sharp images to show a very present time.
- The Unknown – Frightening for many, yet full of possibility. Doorways and entrances in, glimpses of what lies beyond. Only part of the picture. Alleyways, archways, doorways, corners, gateways, basement doors etc. Add fear, add curiosity, add hope, add monsters as elements to help expand the story and add to the overall feeling.
- Nostalgia – Sweet memories, like the Square Mile but more in depth. More of an emotional response to a period of time in the past. Lots of use of light and light play with interesting shadows.
- Disassociation– becoming unconnected to the world around me. Similar to mental illness, feeling lost, alone and inhuman. Distanced. Tunnelling. Far away. Blurry. Move the camera zoom in and out whilst shooting with a long shutter speed to create a tunnel.
- Fear/anguish/despair/anger/jealousy/frustration/sadness -feel an emotion and document it emotionally. Anger might be very red and bold imagery, fear very black and small, jealousy green and twisty etc.
Here is my research of other photographers in relation to the ideas above, please see my Pinterest board here for the images that correspond to the writing below.
Pain (physical and mental):
I found an article on Hunger TV’s website called ‘Five Photography Series About Heartbreak and Break-ups’ (words by Josephine Platt) which introduced me to the work of four photographers, each with their own unique take on the subject of pain following break-up. Laura Stevens, a 38 year old British photographer living in Paris, took staged photos of women (some she knew and others she approached on the street) that illustrated her own loneliness and heartbreak. The series is called ‘Another November’ which was the month of the break down of her relationship and it is a very personal account, which has been referred to as a photo diary, of the feelings that Stevens experienced -portrayed through many different faces of many different women. I like how intimate the series is, it is incredibly self evaluating and brave in that Steven’s is opening her personal pain up for others to see. I think it was easier for Steven’s to use other women to represent her feelings as it meant that she did not have to show her own raw emotion first hand but I think it also suggests that other women experience the same feelings of loss, loneliness, pain and heartbreak -it is something that others can relate to. Each photograph was taken in a room of the subject’s own home and they are all alone, surrounded only by large empty spaces and their own (personal) inanimate objects. My particular favourites are Lily and Amy and I find these two images captivating and hauntingly beautiful, they tug at me. I love the intensity of the subjects’ pain, the expressions of their deep longing and their incredible sadness, written across their faces as they stare in to the empty space around them.
With a focus on mental pain again my next research interest was the work of Matthieu Zellweger, from Switzerland, who’s series ‘Confronting the Sorrow and Silence of Still Birth’ examines the emotions of grieving parents immediately after the birth of their stillborn infant. In an interview for Lens, Zellweger says that he set out to capture emotions and the way the survivors dealt with their ordeal and tried to reconstruct their lives. In some of the images in the series you can clearly see the pain and despair on the parent’s faces. The image I like the most is one of a couple who are gripping each others hands tightly in a symbol of union and to draw strength from one another, a look of pain and determination on their faces as they cling to each other -this experience has drawn them together instead of ripping them apart as this type of situation often does. I think the image is really intimate and you forget that the photographer is present as the subject’s are so focused on their own feelings and each other. Each individual image in the set is very moving however as as set I don’t think the images flow well. The set starts well with a close up shot of a couple holding their stillborn daughter, the couple’s eyes are both closed and they seem somewhat peaceful in their mourning, the colours of the photo are muted and pastel. The second image is of the same couple, surrounded by nurse and student nurse, the colours of this photo are similar to the first and this image follows on from the story of the first -like a mini series, which I find very interesting. This is an extra jig saw piece to the whole story and in this picture the mother does not look peaceful, she is crying heavily in to the arms of a family member. The third image follows on from this and also uses the same colour palette and style. The father’s steely gaze as he tries to deal with his pain while he places his stillborn daughter in to her refrigerated crib really gripped me, I really felt it. The fourth image skips backwards in time to when the couple spent the night in hospital prior to the still birth. I think the display of emotion from the father as he rubs his eyes with one hand and grips his wife’s hand with the other is very moving and adds some further information to the series but I am a bit confused as to why Zellweger decided to place this image after the others, it seems to be in the wrong order without reason. The next image seems to follow set again as it shows the couple at the funeral of their baby daughter, the father carrying a tiny coffin -most of the audience have their eyes down or look on sorrowfully and the mother struggles with her pain publicly. The colours are very different in this one, but it would’ve been hard to carry on a pastel theme with all subjects dressed in mainly black. The next image shows the couple releasing balloons in their daughter’s honour and the colour is back to a pastel theme. This image shows the couple with smiles on their faces as they do something to honour their baby girl and it is nice to see yet another piece of the puzzle that is their story -that it is possible to smile and grieve at the same time. However the series then skips to a very dark and grainy photograph of a faceless man stoking a fire in a crematorium with the caption ‘A crematorium where stillborn babies are cremated. Lausanne, Switzerland.’. I thought it was an odd photo choice to follow on from the lovely hopeful photo of the young couple, raising their balloons in to the air. This post is informative but it seemed to come out of thin air and was pretty morbid in comparison to the other photos in the set, it was quite lacking in human emotion and only seemed to serve to shock the viewer and add information on the general topic of baby deaths. The next is a collage of many stillborn babies in a maternity ward in England and I was confused at this sudden leap again from a dark eery crematorium to a collage of stilborn baby photos in sepia, monochrome and pastel pink, it doesn’t flow and I’m not sure what information this addition was trying to add. Int he remaining images in the set there are some exceptional shots (such as my favourite image of the couple holding hands) but they do seem to leap from one idea to another and they all use different techniques and formats that seem to clash in series. I think Zellweger succeeded in capturing the intensity of the emotions felt by all parties involved but I think that he could have made the set fit together better if he had thought more carefully about what his message was and how to portray it. I wonder if the images with inaminate objects and out of place colours, or large leaps in available light should have been a different additional series. The set is very journalistic, with more emphasis on informing in general than on making the photo essay flow well and to only add what was needed to tell a story of emotion and extreme grief.
Moving on to the subject of physical pain, in the form of an invisible illness, photographer Brooke Shaden created a triptych to raise awareness for fibromyalgia sufferers like herself. Shaden is an American fine art photographer with who takes very beautiful and surreal portraits. The set of three photographs features a swarm of blue butterflies that represent her own emotions throughout her own experiences with fibromyalgia, namely weakness and vulnerability, power and acceptance. Shaden writes about her work on an online blog and she spoke of the importance of the blue butterfly in her set on fibromalgia. She says that the blue butterfly was especially important as not only do butterflies represent change, beauty and grace but they are also the symbol for The Caterpillar Walk which she helped to run which was an event to help raise awareness for invisible illnesses. The triptych is surreal and magical and very beautiful, the three images show a woman in a beautiful in a beautiful yellow dress, her hair flowing behind her as she is bathed in vibrant blue butterflies. The first image shows the woman in a thoughtful pose, with her head down and her hands across her chest -Shaden noted that this image was supposed to indicate weakness and vulnerability and I think that it shows this well -I like how the butterflies are lifting the hair up as they fly, as if to keep her spirits up. The second image shows the woman opening up her soul to the sky, with her chest pointing upwards and her upper body leaning back in an ultimate sacrifice pose, Brooke commented that this image represents power and to me I think it feels as though she is letting go of fear. The third image is the now naked form of the woman, leaning backwards to the point where she would naturally fall and yet she is being held up by the blue butterflies which are now bathing her entire body. This image represents acceptance and I think that this shows the concept of acceptance well, the trusting form of the graceful other-worldy woman being held up by beautiful butterflies. I like the idea of this but I find it a little too focused on the up-sides of having an invisible illness, I prefer a more moving and honest approach that highlights the ups and downs and the ‘flats’ of the condition. I do think that for a campaign these images worked well however as they are uplifting to sufferers and intriguing, yet not overwhelming, to those who wish to be further educated on the subject of invisible illness.
On the topic of mental health and photographing the unseen I found a website called Fragmentary which showcases the work of a range of both amateur and professional photographers who suffer from mental illness. Most of the work on the website was very fitting to what I was looking for as mental illness is such an invisible condition in so many cases and so photographing aspects of it that are personal to an individual is to capture the ‘unseen’ – perhaps it’s more ‘felt’ than seen and these artists have transferred their feelings to a visual representation. I’ve evaluated a handful of my favourites found on this site below:
Alicia-Rea Poole, London
Poole’s series is called For J and is a photo set that she made for her mother to help her understand her daughter’s struggles with depression. Poole decided to use herself as the subject in the series as she hoped that it would help her mother to connect with the work and that others might also be able to see themselves in the imagery. The set is very dark and deep with very muted colours, some of the self-portraits are faceless or contorted, all are shrouded in shadows, blurring or screens. I found the set to be aesthetically pleasing whilst also being very honest and moving, with lots of emotion -not just in the expressions in the portraits but also the angles and the way the props were placed to show just the right amounts of shadows or highlight. In an interview for Fragmentary Poole comments that taking the photographs and working on the series helped her to cope with her depression and she hopes that it will help viewers to better understand depression and that they will see the strength it took to lay her self bare, given the stigma surrounding mental health. Poole also hopes that others who may be suffering themselves will see that they are not alone.
‘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.’ Alicia Poole on ‘For J’, Fragmentary.org
I felt that I identified with Poole’s work and it is the type of approach that I would most probably take if I were to do a set on the topic of depression. The energy is clear throughout the whole series, there is a lot of creative flow and she is clearing working straight from her heart, using her emotions to shape the work without too much planning. I find this sort of work much more interesting than an overly-planned and much more clinical approach. I think you must deeply feel something to be able to accurately document it with the correct emotion. I also like that the set is in colour, albeit very muted, as lots of photographs on the topic of depression focus heavily on black and white misery and it gets quite boring after a while. I also like the fact that Poole featured her tattoo in the set yet none of her personal belongings made the frame (if they did they are heavily blurred), I think it is an important part of her identity, a little piece of her that makes up part of the whole story, she isn’t hiding anything.
Mike Kear, London
Mike Kear is a London based photographer. His series ‘Surface Tension’ is featured on Fragmentary.org alongside an interview with Kear about his intentions. The images in ‘Surface Tension’ are very abstract and Kear explains that he wanted viewers to be able to consider themselves in the position of a person who is contemplating ending their own life. The images were shot at common suicide points along the river Thames in London and each image has its own prose accompanying it, – there are extracts from newspaper articles, statements from RNLI responders, survivors, victims’ families and poems that add extra insight in to the subject of suicide. For me the text helps to bring the abstract in to reality – you are free as the viewer to interpret the images in any way that you like but the prose reminds you that the issue is a very serious and very real one and that it effects many people from all walks of life in one way or another. At first I thought that Kear’s aesthetically pleasing, sparkling waters might give the wrong kind of feel to a more somber issue but in his interview with Fragmentary.org he explains that these very views, and similar, were likely to be the very last thing that suicide victims in London saw before they jumped -it wouldn’t be accurate to document them as turbulent stormy waters on a rainy day only for example. Click here to view the series (which is still in progress).
Looking at physical health problems and the problems they create which are often overlooked by others I found the work of photographer and writer Naomi Woddis very inspiring. Woddis suffered from issues with self-worth and life purpose before contracting Lyme Disease and her work is very revealing and open. In an interview for Fragmentary.org Woddis wrote of her illness-
‘Lyme Disease has stripped down my life and my creative practice to the bare bones. This stripping down has allowed me to see the essence of my work. And that has been invaluable. Light. Shade. Colour. Line. Shape. And love.’ -Naomi Woddis, Fragmentary.org
Woddis has created two bodies of work, one called ‘The View From Here’ which examines her very limited view of the world around her whilst bed-ridden with Lyme Disease and another called ‘Whoever Was Using This Bed’ which is an exploration of different beds /bedrooms and the stories behind the people who rest there. There is a sample of Woddis’ work from ‘The View From Here’ on Fragmentary.org and I felt really inspired by it, I like the simplicity of the images (a slither of light here, a slice of the garden through a small gap in the blind there, a close up of her mother with a band of light across her hair) and the depth of emotion within them -they throw me in to contemplation. In ‘Whoever Was Using This Bed’ I enjoyed the images very much but I also loved the descriptions that accompanied them about the inhabitants of each individual bed. It was clear that Woddis takes some time to learn the essence of a place and the atmosphere and the individuality of the owner before photographing each bed as each shot is very different and works very well with the personal declaration captioning it. In relation to my upcoming assignment I have been very inspired by Woddis’ techniques and the overall ‘feel’ of her work. I want to use this simplicity in my assignment work, I haven’t worked in this way before, with a ‘narrow’ kind of focus on a particular aspect or subject. I aim to really hone in on my feelings and on what I want to portray and take some very plain yet very interactive and open images that beg for personal interpretation. My favourite images by Woddis, on Fragentary.org are this, this and this. The first image is one of my favourites because of the time of day, the lightshade is emitting a warm orange glow and I feel cosy when I look at it, it reminds me of chilly autumn evenings where the light is fading outside and I’m sitting inside with a book or a bowl of soup. The second image is a favourite of mine because of the little glimpse seen through a gap in the blinds/window frame, it reminds me of being sick once in summer time when I was too weak to go outside yet but I could see outside and it was a beautiful summers day -this image brings a feeling of longing. The third is a favourite because rain is always a powerful nostalgia evoking subject for me, it reminds me of being a child, car and bedroom windows and feeling grateful to be dry but in fascination of the little droplets rolling down in small patterns and streams that I could watch for hours. I like the colour of the photograph and the flatness of it as though there is nothing else but here and now, the rain and the viewer.
Time (and nostalgia):
Time is very subjective and there is no sure way of knowing if any one person truly perceives the passing of time in the same way as another. There have been numerous studies, all inconclusive but suggestive of certain factors which could influence a persons perception of time. In Expressing Your Vision we briefly looked at the use of time in photography and how to capture Frozen Moment or Motion (such as motion or camera blur) using different shutter speeds and I don’t want to overlap that with this assignment at this time so I will not waste time researching this further at this time. However, I am interested in trying to document the perception of time from the perspective of different people (young vs old, fearful vs inspired, the affects of empathy and rapport, depression vs good mental health). I don’t feel that the work could be documentary style as this would require much more certainty and knowledge on the scientific side of time perception but a more abstract series with narrative from those involved. An idea might be to ask a young child for a memory (and specifically their perception of time, such as one day from their life) and a very old lady and using my own experiences I would photograph their memories as best I could in abstract forms and shapes and see how the two images were to differ -their descriptions of the memory captioned below.
Almost everyone, as human beings, can be fearful of the unknown – it’s in our nature. Some people, myself included, struggle more with fear of the unknown than others. I think it would be really interesting to try and photograph the unknown as I’m not sure how it is actually possible to do so. An idea I had in to photographing ‘the unknown’ was to photograph four people infront of different doors. Two sets of each person, one image highlights their hopes for what is behind the door, the other highlights their darkest fear. This idea would aim to show that the unknown can have two sides -if you never walk through the door you will have limited opportunities in your life and if you do you are also at risk of something you consider to be bad. The fears and hopes could be painted on to the subject’s skin on different body parts corresponding to their individuality.
Connected to mental health (see Mental Health above for research and ideas).
My last idea for the ‘unseen’ was emotion (fear, anguish, anger, jealousy, contentment, frustration, awe, sadness etc) and I now realise that this section overlaps with my previous research on both mental health and pain (physical and mental). However I decided to look further in to some of the specific emotions listed above and if I choose to pick one of these for assignment I will be be able to form links between differing mental, physical and spiritual states of being.
The first series I looked at was from Romanian student photographer Andrada Dumitrescu which she posted on Boredpanda.com. The series is called ‘The Fear Jar Project’ and features a clear glass jar filled with pebbles along with self-portrait to represent specific emotions and states of being. On the significance of the jar itself Dumitrescu writes,
‘I have used a jar full of stones and pebbles in order to create a metaphor of my life, of my experiences – despite being heavy, the pebbles inside a transparent container makes something beautiful, just like life’ – Chasing Andi, Boredpanda.com
At first glance I thought the series was going to be a bit cliche, like so many other images on social media which picture really obvious examples of specific emotions but as I examined the set further I definitely felt something a little deeper in them. I can relate to them, particularly ‘Fear‘, ‘Loneliness‘ and ‘Vulnerability‘. I have seen plenty of images relating to fear and anxiety which focus much more on the mental state, often featuring monsters in shadows or wires coming out of the head etc but Dumitrescu’s representations of fear are presented with physical responses to the feeling (scrunched up toes, the hanging of ones head, curling up to try to escape from an uncomfortable emotion) which, although coming from a different angle I felt were a bit more universal. Everyone’s monsters are different yet our responses to them in terms of body language are very similar and everyone suffers from an uncomfortable feeling at some time or another, some more frequently than others so it is a body of work that can be understood by a wide audience. I like the simplicity of Dumitrescu’s images, there is nothing within the frame but the props and the body parts which she needs to illustrate the correct emotion -everything else has been emitted from the frame which makes the set easy to view and easy to understand -yet it doesn’t make them boring, there is enough information to convey the desired feeling and that is enough to evoke the viewer.
The next series I looked at was that of graduate photographer Isabel Mendoza which is an A-Z of phobias in image form. I was really inspired by this work as the whole series is varied, from simple phobias to the rare and really bizarre phobias and some of the images are easy to understand and others need a little more thought which makes the set rather interactive but not too complicated overall. I like Mendoza’s detailed and colourful set, each image is loud and jumps out of the page just as a phobia would to a sufferer. As I was researching for this assignment I was under the impression that I’d need to suffer from a specific condition in order to photograph a series that empathizes with it but Mendoza explained that she doesn’t actually suffer from any of the phobias featured in her A-Z, she just researched each phobia extensively. However, I would feel that to fully engage in an emotionally charged photo series that I would have to have a personal link to the topic. Mendoza’s images do not explain the feelings and problems that sufferers have as a result of the phobia, although somehow, the nature of each image -with use of suitable props, does suggest certain difficulties that such a phobia would create and as everyone has fears (even if not to phobia level) at least one of the images in the set will strike a chord with the viewer.
http://www.hungertv.com/feature/five-photography-series-about-heartbreak-and-breakups/ (accessed on 25/04/2017)
https://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2017/04/13/confronting-the-sorrow-and-silence-of-stillbirth/?action=click&contentCollection=Blogs&pgtype=imageslideshow&module=RelatedArticleList®ion=SlideShowTopBar&version=EndSlate (accessed on 26/04/2017)
http://mymodernmet.com/brooke-shaden-fibromyalgia-triptych-butterflies-art/ (accessed on 26/04/2017)
http://fragmentary.org/ (accessed on 27/04/2017)
http://fragmentary.org/naomi-woddis/ (accessed on 02/05/2017)
https://whoeverwasusingthisbedblog.wordpress.com/author/cursesandriots/ (accessed on 02/05/2017)
http://fragmentary.org/mike-kear/ (accessed on 02/05/2017)
http://mike-kear.format.com/surface-tension#1 (accessed on 02/05/2017)
http://www.boredpanda.com/the-fear-jar-project/ (accessed on 02/05/2017)
http://metro.co.uk/2016/01/20/got-a-phobia-then-stay-the-hell-away-from-this-story-5633919/ (accessed on 02/05/2017)