What Are You Going To Do:
I propose a brief that will be the beginning of a series of photos focusing on either a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, or OCD. I would shadow my subject through their daily routines and attempt to photograph a portrait of someone living with a mental health problem, and for this assignment I would focus on mood disorders.
Mood disorders can manifest itself in many different ways, from physical and psychological symptoms, to affecting how that person interacts with domestic spaces and how they communicate with other people. This is a subject matter that I have long explored in my own work, that has predominantly been self portraiture. Within this, I am particularly interested in exploring the relationship of mental health and living with a mood disorder in the current digital age. Capturing mental health on camera is a broad topic, and daunting, so approaching it with a specific point of view will help inform my creative choices, and help me create a theme to my work, and to prevent the images from looking disjointed. The complications of social media and using technology to express yourself, or escape from the reality of mental health is becoming a pervading issue today. As my work thus far has been self examining, I will attempt to photograph a subject who faces similar struggles.
I have chosen the title ‘#mood’ as this form of tagging is popular on Instagram to categorise posts and have your work seen, ‘mood’ is also now a commonly used phrase to express a reliability to someone else’s experience. (e.g.. Person: 1 ‘I feel like I haven’t slept in two years’. Person 2: ‘Mood’). It is also a play on the term Mood Disorder, watered down and commercialised for social media.
I would sincerely love to produce a set of intimate images that documented a realistic portrayal of the complications and unique experiences that living with a mood disorder may bring in today’s digital age.
Why Do You Want To Do It?: Living with a mood disorder myself I know the extent of how much it can effect day to day living and how it alters your perception of reality. It’s a subject matter close to my heart, mental health is something I am committed to representing and continuing to develop my understanding of through my work. I want to continue exploring and improving in my photographic practice, while still staying tune to my individual aesthetics. By turning my camera onto another individual I will be examining someone else’s narrative, it will be interesting work.
How Will You Do It?: I wanted to do this project before but didn’t have the time to have intimate access needed to capture these moments, however circumstances have changed and I have now have access and permission to shoot someone who is comfortable in letting me into their space to complete this project.
I will be firstly working with natural ambient light as I will be in a domestic setting and will not have access to studio lighting. Importantly I will be using synthetic light – my subject often uses lighting to suit her mood (for example, a red bulb when she comes home from work and listens to music). I will also be using the light emitted from phone screens as a light source, this is a tool I have used before in my work (here). Having colours like blue and red infiltrate these domestic spaces (rather than the expected soft amber light of tungsten bulbs) transforms them into something else. It suggests not only that my subject might be engrossed in digital medias but also lost in her own mood disorder, taking her out of living in the present, which is a typical experience for those that do Phones play a major part in my subject’s life, as she lives in a digital age, and uses social media consistently throughout the day and to document her own struggles with mental illness, so it I want to reflect this relationship with the use of lighting.
I intend to shoot in fairly low lighting, and want dramatic graphic, contrasty shots therefore I predict I will be using fairly low shutter speeds to allow enough light into my shots. Therefore, I will use a tripod to capture my images with and use a reflector where necessary/ if necessary. As much of this shots will be candid and naturalistic I do not expect to set up the picture. I will set the camera up on a tripod, making sure to frame it and shoot moments in her routine that fit the brief.
I will be living alongside the subject for 3 days, I will make notes about her routine and locations from her domestic space that I will shoot in. It is important that I shoot my subject in her domestic setting, because I want her to feel comfortable and there is a sense of vulnerability that is exposed in spaces you feel comfortable. Having examined the work of Melissa Spitz, I recognise that some of her strongest work was taken in her subjects home, which is why I will follow a similar method. I’m hoping the combination of the domestic setting with the coloured lighting, will create an interesting quality to the work – taking inspiration from Juno Calypso who frequently uses colour and lighting to create a deep sense of eeriness to her photos. I will shoot both exterior and interior shots for an interesting variety, both in and the areas outside of her home as she would naturally use them. For the interior shots I will likely use focal lengths of 45-55mm as this is flattering for portraits and will allow me to create tight frames on the subject. For the exterior shots I might use a wider angle to capture more of the location details, so we can learn more about who she is and where she exists from these shots. I will work with a variety of depth of fields, deep depth of field for the wider shots and shallow for the closer portraits.
What/who are your influences?: – I looked at other artists who had tackled similar subjects in their work for inspiration. Melissa Spitz is a big influence, she is known for photographing her mother who suffers from an identity disorder, the photos are raw, honest and aesthetically bold. I also love the work of Juno Calypso, a photographer who uses locations beautifully to fit the narrative of her image. Other influences of mine include Nan Goldin, Maisie Cousins, Agnes Varda, Robert Mappelthorpe etc
When: – The shoot will take place on the week beginning 28th May, observational work prior to the shoot will take place on the week preceding (21st May). Some photos may be a staged, some might be spontaneous and observational. I cannot complete this project in one day or one shoot, it requires patience, sensitivity and communication with my subject, I want the pictures to be the least invasive as possible. I will create a shooting schedule for the this brief and gain permissions to shoot where necessary.
Location Floor Plan
I drafted a quick floor plan of the location I was shooting in and made note of all the natural light sources, this made it easier for me to envision where I might place myself to capture shots with good lighting. It was good to familiarise myself with the location too.
- Digital SLR: Nikon D3400
- SD cards x 2
- Battery Pack x 1
- Battery Charger x 1
- Reflector x 1
- Tripod x 1
- Zoom Lens 18mm – 55mm x 1
- Camera bag & additional equipment x 1
- Release forms x 1
For the protection of privacy, I have concealed private information, but I got a release form to shoot on location.
Further Analysis Into Intentions For Brief & Research
Ever since being diagnosed with a mood and anxiety disorder, I have long been interested in mental health. Specifically, women and mental health in today’s digital age. Much of my previous work explores these narratives and relationships, and I am committed to developing these observations as well as my own creative style.
It has long been in the news that social media has an impact on mental health, yet it is far more complex than just being ‘addicted’ and feeling pressure to maintain an image. Social media platforms are being used by women to document their struggles and thoughts and feelings about their own mental health, some using it as a story telling platform and others more like a personal diary. Existing with a mental illness is a hard enough experience as has been expressed through photography by artists like Melissa Spitz, but the new dynamic of using your phone to document and express is a fairly new experience unique to the social media age.
Sharing your most vulnerable parts of you online for others to consume has many effects; using it as a tool to heal and process complex emotions and experiences relating to mental health and receiving support from an audience of people who understand you is liberating and encourages discussion about difficult topics. However, social media platforms are for-profit companies and thus raises a question of ethics, what does it mean to project your experiences for consumption. Does your voice get lost in the constant flood of updates? Is it for you, or is it for validation? Does it promote healing and recovery? To what extent is it truthful documentation and to what extent is it performance? These are all questions that I have, and often try to express through my own work.
With this is mind, this is how I came to realise my brief, I knew I wanted to portray mental health for my project. This is a very specific experience but a common narrative on these platforms.
Research and articles continue to flood out regarding the impact of social media on our mental health:
“Other research has found that the more social networks a young adult uses, the more likely he or she is to report depression and anxiety. Trying to navigate between different norms and friend networks on various platforms could be to blame, study authors say—although it’s also possible that people with poor mental health are drawn to multiple social-media platforms in the first place.” – The Times
This narrative is complex and needs unpacking, both with research, study and art. It’s important to analyse our behaviour, and express how it makes us feel in our art. This is especially true for those who suffer with a mental illness, art is an excellent non-verbal communication tool, and is actively encouraged in managing and recovery from mental health disorders.
Using social media to express and document mental illness
Most people use social media to share images from their lives, we live in an ever increasing visual age with fast and easy access to each other’s lives and information. However, a growing trend sees individual use the platform to document and talk about their own mental illnesses. A positive and important step in normalising and ending the stigma that still surrounds mental health. It gives those who previously didn’t a voice, a platform and audience where they might not have had one before social media. Thousands of important stories are being shared and discussed online through posts and stories.
“It was in the midst of severe depression that Binny Debbie started making memes under the Instagram handle @scariest_bug_ever. “I’d post, like, a video of me chugging straight bourbon with tears running down my face, and at the end I’d smile and wink. I thought that shit was hilarious because at the time. It was my everyday. I was incredibly unstable, and my profile reflected that.” – Dazed
When you browse some of these accounts, you will find bold, honest, raw images, videos and text posts exposing some of their most vulnerable parts of their psyche. When at it’s best it creates communities of care, raises important issues, spread vital information that does not make the news and encourages important conversations about the state of our mental health. The platform is however without it’s flaws, and the constant streaming of our lives and accessing to other people’s lives can be very overwhelming, addicting and can be used as away to escape problems rather than face them.
“Carmen Papaluca, a researcher at Australia’s University of Notre Dame, chose to focus her PhD on the impacts of Instagram on the wellbeing of 18-25 year old women, after earlier research findings indicated that its visual focus presented a far bigger risk factor than other platforms. “The image-based environment seems to be much more pervasive for socio-cultural influence,” she explains. “It’s just so visual; we already know that social media is such a risk for social comparison, appearance comparison, and comparison of life satisfaction, so when we’re only seeing tangible images, of course it’s going to increase the salience of those transmitted ideals.” – Dazed
I shared my thoughts and feelings about this with my subject; Emily, who uses the platform in similar ways, documenting her life and having open conversations about mental health in her posts and stories. The amount of time spent on this platforms increases and is now part of daily routine, the use of social media it some cases has become intrinsically linked with mental illness. Sometimes sharing and expressing your experiences online can be validating and others, draining. Lines are becoming blurred. How much is it helping? How much is it adding to symptoms? Managing a mood disorder needs a lot of accountability and time to practice healthy habits. Comparing lives or narratives seems combative to the healing process. I want to capture in my photos this sense of the digital world encroaching into everyday life. To do this I will use expressive and synthetic colours, that saturate her life. Her face will often be illuminated by the phone to show how consistent and integral it has become in her everyday routine.
I think this will look unusual within the setting of her domestic home. Homes are meant to be warm and inviting, somewhere to relax and seek sanctuary. Typically we expect the home to be filled with soft natural lighting, or warm tungsten tones. Having colours like blue and red infiltrate these spaces transforms them into something else. It suggests not only that my subject might be engrossed in digital medias but also lost in her own mood disorder, taking her out of living in the present, which is a typical experience for those that do. I hope to capture some candid moments of her, both on and off her phones to begin my portrayal and exploration of this complex topic. I hope to continue to develop it in my future work when I progress to university.
Mental health is a sensitive topic and should be treated as such, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be addressing these issues – talking about them, analysing them and bringing them into the public’s conscience. We should, however, be cautious and sensitive to the needs of those who have a mental illness. For this project I must ensure that I treat my subject with respect, understanding and empathy. To make sure she is comfortable with sharing a vulnerable side with me, and avoid any feelings of exploitation.
I came across this article detailing the works of Laia Abril, a photographer who documents very intense and sensitive issues such as abortion
““There are so many stories,” says Abril, “and it was important to find ways of telling them visually. The image of the handcuffs is a reconstruction because, of course, I was not present. No one was. The stories are true, the research is journalistic, the imagery is sometimes imaginative and sometimes documentary.” – The Guardian
I think photographing and visually exploring difficult is essential and I feel like my work crosses the boundaries between documentary, research and imaginative. This is where I see my work developing. This is the direction I want to take these photos.
“because I am really dealing with an invisible subject” – Abril
It is important these stories and narratives around mental health are continued to be told, shared and discussed and it is important that we do so in an ethical, sensitive way with the wellbeing of those most vulnerable prioritised.
To ensure the wellbeing of my subject I will take frequent breaks to check she is comfortable, I will share the results with her and ask if she is okay with me sharing them in a public sphere. I will share her words and her story so she is not lost from the narrative, to do this I will record it or take notes from our exchanges.