Portrait photography and mental health projects

21st July 2020

Art and photography and mental health illnesses, a statement with very little words but which when researched opens up an enormous treasure chest of very different visual representations.

The vast majority of these images are creative in that they have been manipulated or use lighting and props to convey meanings and feelings.

As I researched further I found that many of these images are repeated by different artists/ photographers but have a slight change of wording or props and obviously different sitters. Therefore these works are repetitive in theme and visual similarities and do not convey any new messages or build upon the style and themes that are already in the public domain.

This was another dead end in my research because I have seen such images time and time again for years. The research however helped me to come across groups and projects that have been created with mental health and photography in mind. These groups I am ashamed to say I haven’t seen or heard apart from Centrepieces Mental Health Arts project which I was once assistant co-ordinator of, however I am looking into each of them now.

Two of the websites that I am exploring further are:

  1. fragmentary fragmentary.org
  2. Too Tired Project tootiredproject.com

Fragmentary

Exploring Mental Health in Photography

Established in 2015, fragmentary.org is an arts website focusing solely on exploring the complex issues of mental health and emotions through photographic projects and artworks. Fragmentary is run by photographer and Artistic Director Daniel Regan. Fragmentary was built out of Daniel’s frustrations at not being able to connect with other artists whose work focuses on issues of mental health and wellbeing.

Fragmentary publishes works that move, provoke, and stir a dialogue surrounding mental health, the psychology of the self and others, or projects with therapeutic potential. Fragmentary showcases works from artists at varying points in their careers and create a hub of inspiration for those wishing to explore the role of mental health and well-being within the arts.

Fragmentary fragmentary.org

This organisation is amazing. The only draw back for me again is how the website is laid out. Although the layout is clear and straightforward you have to scroll down through many many images and just hope the one you click on is interesting or has something to do with the theme you are looking for. If you have time to look through them all then there is a wealth of different artistic interpretation of mental health shown through photography.

Due to the fact there is so much to look at and take inspiration from I decided to choose images that resonated with me as an artist. Some of the images are completed in techniques that I have already explored and some are images that I like because they have inspired my creative thinking in some way.

23rd July 2020

Dominika Dovgialo

Bio from fragmentary.org

How did Behind the I – a portrait of the mind come about? What was the process for each image?

This project endeavours to understand people’s inner selves through art, and identify who they are and how they feel. It involved a collaborative set of workshops where participants engage in art therapy, learning basic photography and interviews or written words. I find photographing people helps me understand them – yet this approach only captures their outer reality. How could I ‘photograph’ the mind and create a portrait of what is going on inside, as well as outside, the heads of my subjects? The only way that seemed possible was to invite them to be both observer and creator of such a portrait.

I met most of the subjects in a mental health charity where each person participated in a 3-session workshop. This not only enabled the subjects to feel safe and more comfortable in their familiar setting, but also allowed us to spend more time together over the course of 2-3 weeks. My taking of their portrait created a canvas on which they could draw or write an expression of their inner selves. The final drawing process took around 1-2 hours, in a classroom with my presence.

Dominika Dovgialo fragmentary.org
images from Fragmentary website

This series is similar to self-portraits I took using my webcam which I then draw over using the webcam software tools. What I really like about this series is how Dovgialo has questioned the process and end result when trying to capture someones essence, their inner self. This is something I also am interested in and how I got to the series glitch.

Dovgialo however has taken it a step further and like the works of other conceptual photographers, for example Gillian Wearing’s ‘Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say’ they involve the person in the image the subject is able to take part in how the end result will look and make the image personal by adding text, drawing and college etc… onto the image.

This isn’t a new process but I like how Dovgialo has made her concept into workshops for people with mental health illness and it is an area that I can put into my programme when I am up and running next year.

Elegia

What is it about the photographic process that results in catharsis for you?

Photography has enabled me to tackle, manage, study, but also document some of the disorders that I have. It has helped to desensitise me to my own image because I have had to look at so many photographs of myself from so many different angles. Whilst I still perceive myself as flawed and the things I see wrong about my appearance still very much exist, I’m able to see past those in order to create work. I think one of the huge things that it has given me is the desire and want for something, a sort of sense that I’m aiming and working towards a goal. I’ve had to travel a lot to shoot with people. and that’s meant I’ve discovered ways to manage my disorders away from home and around strangers. I enjoy photography so much that even things that scare me I find that I can face in order to further my work. In my teens I wasn’t able to leave the house just to go to the shop without four hours of preparing myself, whereas now I can get on a train or an aeroplane on my own. Even though I still have the same fears and anxieties, I am able to take them on in order to do the things that I want to do.

Elegia fragmentary.org
images from Fragmentary website

I am intrigued with Eligia’s images because she suffers with body dysmorphia something I have battled with since the age of 17 years. It is awful for me now to look back because I can see how my body was a very good healthy size and looked good and not enormously overweight as I had seen myself. I even hid all mirrors in my homes growing up and only put them in for the first time last year after my abuser was convicted, an ending too an abusive relationship which jolted me out of the shock I have been living in all my life.

I chose to write about these due to the simplicity of the compositions, true photographs without props to lead the viewer to a conclusion. The careful consideration to the simple colour schemes used also add impact in their simplicity to the overall feel of the images which bonds them together as a series.

Stephanie Boreham

This project is a visual documentation of the home I grew up. It is a insight into the domestic space where my Mother and Father live. The project was initially meant to focus purely just on my Mother who suffers from severe depression and OCD, but I also became interested in my Father’s presence in the images and what this brought to the series of work. I wanted to show my parents movement in the imagery, while using the domestic space as a backdrop to the photographs.

I was interested in following and documenting my mother’s movements every time I visited, and noticed that every photograph looked the same as the last, even in the months that past. I was saddened by this realisation, but at the same time very fascinated by it and it actually became a bit of a compulsive act for me, that I would photograph her every time I visited without fail. My mother appears to exist in the photographs but almost merges into the domestic space, she has no identity; her illness strips her of one. My mother can sometimes appear as an object in the house, a piece of furniture or almost a ghost floating through the space. This is also a reflection of our relationship and her role of being my mother; she is there, but most of the time she is not. She can’t be due to being so engrossed in her illness, and this is all I have ever known of my mum. I have only ever known her as ‘not being well’.

For me, so much time has passed and things have changed for me since I’ve left home. Going back now I have realised that the house is almost a time-capture, as if time has stood still; nothing has changed, not the domestic space nor the people in it.

Stephanie Boreham fragmentary.org

Boreham’s portraits remind me of the ‘Rays a Laugh’ series by Richard Billingham, a link to my post on this series is here. The similarities are not in the visual representation of their subjects but the concept of producing true ‘real life’ images of their parents within the family home. What you see is literally what you get.

Borham’s essence, the movement within his images, the blur, creates an illusion of time. It reminds me of how my dissociation feels, zoning in and time loss, memory loss and then zoning out again. It represents how some mental illnesses and medication can make you feel and actually shows that which some of us can actually visually see, my ocular migraines look like this although sometimes I also have double vision and prismatic flashing colours.

The other aspect that I like connected with this series of work is the movement from the light sources which are the television and lamp within the works above. These symbolise to me the light that awakes the senses now and again when you are depressed or the light that breaks through the fogginess and blur of your surroundings when dissociated.


25th July 2020

Too Tired For Sunshine Project

Based in Vermont, USA and Warsaw, Poland, the Too Tired Project is a 501c3 non-profit photography initiative committed to helping those struggling with depression by offering a place for collective creative expression. 

Launched on Instagram in 2018, the Project quickly gained more than 16,000 followers and has received more than 20,000 submissions. Recent press includes NPR, Huff Post, and Polish Vogue.

We have hosted Sideshow Exhibitions—each featuring a digitally projected photo exhibit followed by a panel discussion with photographers and art therapists—across the US, as well as a show at the Leica Gallery in Warsaw, Poland, and one in Melbourne, Australia at the Noir Darkroom Gallery. 

In the near future we will publish a softcover photobook curated from submissions to the Project, which will be a document of life with depression as seen through the eyes of around 50 diverse artists from around the world. All submissions to the Too Tired Project Instagram are in consideration for the book.

The Too Tired Project was founded in 2018 by Tara Wray in response to the positive support she received for her photobook—Too Tired for Sunshine—in which she used photography as a therapeutic tool to express her personal experience with depression and anxiety. 

In 2019 Zuzanna Szarek joined the team as Art & Communications Director.

tootiredproject.com

I am planning to start my own mental health art and photography project next year when eventually we move to a larger house with basements that will be converted into studios. The Too Tired For Sunshine project is the type of projects I will be running. I find that creating art and photography is therapeutic, a way to express ones anguish and they are a confidence and bonding activities.

The images are not always directly related to mental health as a theme but are taken by someone who has depression. If the videos are via Youtube I have embedded the slideshows on the post, if they are on Vimeo

Links to slideshows of the different work created for the project from around he world:

Too Tired Project Slideshow Exhibitions bring people out from behind their computer screens and together in real life to share photography made in response to depression in order to open a dialogue about the subject and reduce stigma.

Too Tired Project

Too Tired Indy

A slide show showing some of the work from the project Too Tired Indy.

YouTube: Uploaded by Tara Wray. TooTiredIndy -Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Too Tired Melbourne

Playing in conjunction with the exhibition “Some Words Put Together in a Melancholy, But Beautiful Kinda Way,” which runs through June 30th at Noir Darkroom. The slideshow is curated by Tara Wray, founder of the Too Tired Project, Jessica Schwientek, director of Noir Darkroom, and curator Angela Cornish. The slideshow will be played on a continuous loop throughout the duration of the exhibition.

Too Tired Project

Link to Too Tired Melbourne’s video on Vimeo, here. A few of the portraits from the video I have screen shot to include as examples of the photography within this project, these can be seen below.

Too Tired Vermont

The mission of Vermont Center for Photography is to promote the photographic arts through exhibitions and education, and to stimulate dialogue, encourage inquiry, and communicate ideas using the photographic medium as its focus.

The Brattleboro Retreat is a not-for-profit specialty psychiatric and addiction treatment hospital located in southern Vermont. 

Too Tired Project

Link to Too Tired Vermont video on Vimeo, here. A few of the portraits from the video I have screen shot to include as examples of the photography within this project, these can be seen below.

Too Tired Warsaw

March 21, 2019 UNABLE to access the photographs, not on the website.

Too Tired Chicago

March 1, 2019 NO available information or photographs

Too Tired Canton

NO available information or photographs

Too Tired Santa Fe

I really like how the Santa Fe project uploaded their photographs onto Instagram so that everyones were shown. I found quite a lot of inspiration and sadness in the images on the Instagram page which can be accessed here.

I believe that by showcasing them all without breaks with text that as you scroll downwards looking at each image you are over whelmed with emotions.

My chosen images are below.

Too Tired Project

While looking on instagram I managed to bring up the collective work from all the projects combined, #tootiredproject. It has (to date) 26,981 posts which is quite a lot to get through….

I spent about ten minutes scrolling through the images but couldn’t really find too many portraits that I related to the theme of mental health. These below caught my eye, the black and white images at the top although not from the same person have come together very well when placed next to one another.

Conclusion

The theme of mental health within photography is presented in many different ways. Some photographers images show truth, the bare fact of the situation and often show the subject within the environment in which they live or another environment including medical visits in hospital etc… Others create images to evoke feelings and they use lighting, props and body stance and facial expressions to convey their message. I also found those practitioners that add text to their images and those who digitally adjust their images to bring across a theme connected with mental health.

There are many types of images and some combine techniques to get a message or a feeling across to their viewers. I have seen many new photographs some have moved me due to their subject matter, for example those showing patients ill in hospital and some have caused a little stimulating over load as they have started me thinking in different directions.

For now though I have to slow down and remember that my concept is the word ‘glitch’ and how I relate that word to my mental health and the visual connotations that it brings with it.


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