Following a conversation with a friend, I realised that I kept painting myself as the victim and didn’t take any responsibility for my own well-being. This body of work mirrors the way I began to hold myself accountable in order to aid my own mental health recovery. The phrase ‘you’ve made your bed, now lie in it’ is one that has echoed in my mind throughout the creation of this project, and I feel that these images rebel against that. We are able to take autonomy over our own actions and we do not have to lie in our own mess.
I have used my own mental health as a muse in my photography before. Documenting the bad days. The ones where doing the simplest of tasks felt impossible. This time, I wanted things to be different. This project was the result of a change of mindset, an epiphany if you will.
One major source of inspiration for this project was a painting by Sir John Everett Millais named Ophelia. It depicts Ophelia, a character from Shakespeare’s Hamlet who was driven mad when her lover, Hamlet, murders her father. As Ophelia was picking flowers, she falls into the river and slowly drowns, singing all the while. Her face looks hopeless as she lets herself sink into the river. I could see myself reflected in the painting, which shocked me a little. It acted as a wakeup call that I didn’t have to let myself slip, that I could help myself.
Recovery is a long and tiresome process. It requires you to constantly challenge negative thought patterns and behaviours. Therefore, I wanted to use a method of photography that I felt gave this process justice, one that would require me to slow right down and think about each composition in detail. Hence the choice of medium format analog film. I had never successfully used medium format prior to this project, so the prospect of doing so conjured feelings of both excitement and anticipation. The weeks building up to my planned shoot date, I spent time getting to know my camera, a Bronica ETRSi that I had borrowed from college. It was a small, lightweight and easy to use. A nice introduction to the world of medium format. Then came the time to shoot, a warm early evening in June. The act of setting up the tri-pod in various locations, getting a light meter reading and composing each frame felt cathartic, as if the very process of photographing mirrored what I was trying to portray in the photographs themselves.
I wanted these photographs to be a reminder to myself that I am in control of my own recovery. It’s strange to look back on in retrospect, as a few months have passed since the creation of this project and I still find myself dipping into old habits and ways of thinking. But I am still a strong advocate that the process of making photographs can act as a form of therapy, a way to ground yourself and connect with the world around you.
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