A View From Inside (2012)

In this work a set of pictorial conventions have been re-appropriated to represent the experiences of people whose sense of reality does not always coincide with that of others. ‘A View From Inside’ draws on the principals of 18th century portrait painting to give form to some of the unique realities encountered by different people during psychosis. Visual, auditory and other sensory phenomena that occur during a psychotic episode contradict accepted notions of 'reality', and yet for one person they are absolutely real. In each photograph the external appearance and the internal experiences of the subject are depicted within a single, formally structured portrait using Photoshop. The aim is not to exoticise the ‘unreal’ or bizarre perceptual experiences of the people portrayed, but to use digital media both to explore this notion of 'reality', and to find a visual language that will provoke discussion and add to our understanding of the experience of mental illness, and of psychosis in particular. Each participant has contributed a short written statement to an accompanying book.

Full Description

Ten digital C-Type prints, 76 x 100cm, mounted on aluminium and framed + limited edition artist’s book.

How do we define 'reality'? In this new series of digitally manipulated portraits a set of pictorial conventions have been re-appropriated to represent the experiences of people whose sense of reality does not always coincide with that of others. The ten photographs that make up A View From Inside draw on the principals of eighteenth century portrait painting to give form to some of the unique realities encountered by different people during psychotic episodes. Whilst the people photographed here all appear entirely ‘normal’, their ability to function within society has, to varying degrees, been affected by the experience of a psychotic ‘disorder’ such as Bipolar or Schizophrenia.

Visual, auditory and other sensory phenomena that occur during a psychotic episode contradict accepted notions of 'reality', and yet for one person they are absolutely real. In each of these photographs the external appearance and the internal experiences of the subject are depicted within a single, formally structured portrait. Based on the physiognomic belief that a person's appearance mirrors his or her subjectivity or 'inner' identity, a traditional concern of portraiture has been to create an external 'likeness' of someone. In these photographs, however, the physical expression of the subject reveals nothing of his or her inner world. It is the (highly constructed) setting, incorporating a view through a window and an array of significant objects, that gives some clue to each individual’s private world.

The aim of this work is not to exoticise the ‘unreal’ or bizarre perceptual experiences of the people portrayed, but to find a visual language that will provoke discussion and add to our understanding of the experience of mental illness, and of psychosis in particular. My approach is not to ‘take’ people’s photographs, but to ‘make’ photographs in collaboration with the subjects. These photographs and an accompanying book are, therefore, the result of a year long project. During this time I worked closely with each of the people depicted to find a means of accessing imagery that offers an appropriate way of representing his or her personal reality. Each participant has also contributed a short written statement to the book. This project has been enthusiastically supported by the charity, Rethink Mental Health, who are interested in being involved in ongoing events related to the work.

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Artist Statement

My art practice incorporates photography, video, sound and interactive digital media. My projects usually require a long period of research, often involving collaborations with medical scientists or people with disabilities, or specific medical conditions. The resulting works aim to challenge expectations, often questioning what is ‘normal’ human being. The earlier photographic projects, like After Image (1997), 'I' (1999) and Skin (2000), were all made in collaboration with people with physical disabilities or severe skin conditions. Whilst those with physical disabilities are increasingly accepted as ‘normal’ members of society, people with mental health issues remain highly stigmatized. This latest work, A View From Inside (2012) aims both to challenge existing attitudes towards mental health, and to explore the notion of reality.

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