Photography can be an extraordinary vehicle for exploring psychological issues, both for the photographer in the process of creating the images and for the stories that the photographs convey to the viewer.
Photographic practice has been an important way for me to deal with emotional confusion and melancholy in the past. Last year, it was the key anchor that kept me mentally secure in the turbulent and isolationist times around entering the pandemic.
I have been inspired by the approaches of many other photographers to talking about emotion and mental well-being in terms of their work, and would like to highlight two whose projects are exceptional.
Siân Davey - Life and Photography
Siân Davey is a documentary and editorial photographer from the UK. Her photographs are incredibly intimate portraits and group shots in family situations, using what she describes in many of her projects as the mother's gaze. Her idea that imperfection in life tells us everything she needs to know about those she is photographing really strikes a chord with me.
Davey was a psychotherapist for fifteen years before returning to studying art and developing her photography. She did this in conjunction with being the mother of a little girl, Alice. Her photographs of Alice show an inner and relationship life poignant because Davey describes Alice's Down syndrome as the fact that she is fundamentally barred from society because she says: "No one wants her child to come into a world where she is not invited. This is the experience Davey and her daughter have had to go through, and she is honest that she had to overcome her precondition of the difference to have the conscious conviction to fall in love with Alice and communicate the relationship to the outside world
Davey has made a book from the series of photographs called Looking for Alice and you can see some on her website, there is also a great interview with her on the 1854 photography website.
Joshua Lutz - Beauty and ConfusionJoshua Lutz is an American artist who works with large-format photography and video. He has also looked at family situations to explore emotional matters and make a lot of human life swept under the carpet, glossed over, or actively concealed with disturbing details.
With his series Hesitating Beauty, he uses archive photography along with his images to reconstruct the story of his mother and her mental illness. By viewing the work, you are carried along with the disturbing changes of the happy young woman through a young mother who brings her child into paranoid delusions and her process of ageing and experiencing increased care and reduced autonomy. You can see images from the series on Lutz's website and here is the publisher's website for the photo book.
Photography and our Mental Health
Lutz's experience of seeing his mother struggling with depression and schizophrenia, as well as reflections on how this has affected his health, has given him a clear perspective on the dynamics of mental well-being within society as a whole. In Mind the Gap, he has worked through collective reactions to trauma in the series Mind the Gap to engage in dialogue with the subject and find a way to play a "productive role" in a sphere where stressful and confusing emotions are triggered almost daily by world events. The resulting work is somewhere between harsh documentary and narrative storytelling. Through a variety of different photographic styles and techniques, he creates an assemblage that tells of the collision of hierarchy, class, and privilege in our contemporary lives. The series exposes the fragility of humanity and presents a world in which tragedies such as school shootings, addiction, and extensive homelessness occur around the basic routines of daily life. You can read more about the book in this article by Jacob Charles Wilson for Paper Journal.
As the title implies, Lutz hopes that this project can encourage us to rest between thoughts rather than be overwhelmed by their accumulation of pressure, and that sounds like a good approach to me.
Photographer and visual storyteller based in Bangkok
BRYCE Watanasoponwong is a Thai-Australian photographer and visual storyteller. He is interested in producing a narrative series that evoke emotion and make a personal impact. Becoming more involved in how is photography is... read on