Sunday, 15 February 2015

Assignment 2 - my Q&I sheet

Question and Information sheet

I submit a Q&I sheet with each of my assignments, to provide any additional information I feel my tutor may find helpful. In the Q&I I also reflect on the assignment journey and the work I have produced.

Some depressing statistics...

In 2012, the WHO[1] carried out a global depression survey, it included 17 countries and found that 1 in 20 people (5%) of the population suffered from depression. As a result the WHO estimated that some 350,000,000 people globally suffered from depression in 2012. The WHO stated: at worst depression leads to suicide and approximately a million individuals take their own lives each year and for each person that succeeds in committing suicide, 20 people fail.

Mind[2], carries out a similar mental health survey, across England every 7 years, the last one was completed in 2009 and the next one is underway currently. The statistics specifically regarding depression (as a percentage of the population) are as follows:
Ø  2.6% suffer from depression
Ø  4.7% suffer from anxiety
Ø  9.7% suffer from mixed anxiety and depression.

The conclusion of the 2012 WHO paper 'Depression - a global public health concern'[3] reads "Depression is a mental disorder that is pervasive in the world and affects us all. [...] On an individual, community, and national level, it is time to educate ourselves about depression and support those who are suffering from this mental disorder."

My project

As previously stated in my blog, the images of depression I found on the web were limited in content and also very much taken from the point-of-view of the observer, rather than the individual. Whilst observation is undoubtedly important in developing an understanding of any situation; the only way to develop an accurate and complete understanding is to engage with the individual and learn about it from their point-of-view. The task I set myself was to identify some of the key themes of depression and then try to communicate them, in the form of images, from the point-of-view of the sufferer.

The key themes I selected:
  1. No future - unable to see anyway forward
  2. Black dog - everything getting on top of you
  3. Self medication - alcohol and drugs to get away from your negative feelings
  4. Bars - imprisoned in your own thoughts
  5. Isolation - unbearable loneliness
  6. Everyday tasks - easy jobs become impossible
  7. Frustration - because you can't do anything to change the situation
  8. Stuck - bone weary tiredness
No future
This is not about the future per se, but more generally about the sufferers low self-esteem and inability to see anything positive in their situation.

This image was designed to convey the pervasiveness of the disorder; the way that even on a good day depression is always lurking and ready to take advantage given the opportunity. Colours,[4] both hue and saturation, are very important when discussing feelings and extensive studies have been carried out by researchers into how sufferers and non-sufferers perceive colours. To summarise briefly, non-sufferers tend to choose a much broader selection of colours, with a greater saturation range. Whereas sufferers tend to choose a narrower selection of colours that tend toward de-saturation.
The most common shade of grey[5] selected by sufferers is:

Grey 36 is the colour of the grey fog seeping across the image and distorting the scene for the viewer (the sufferer). Whilst the fog is not bad enough to prevent the viewer understanding the image, it is enough to cause even the bravest a moments hesitation before wanting to venture down the path.

The Black Dog
A common name used to describe depression; we felt it was important to incorporate a black dog image into the portfolio because it was the enabler for me to start engaging with my colleague. Depression is a very debilitating disorder and certain common phrases are used to describe it, for example, it overcomes you; its over whelming; it gets on top of you; it grinds you down. As such, the black dog metaphor is particularly useful for sufferers when they are trying to communicate how they are feeling.

It seemed appropriate to continue the use of symbols in this image, so the steps signify the daily challenges of life - fundamentally you always feel better when you've reached the top. Here the sufferer has collapsed at the bottom of the steps having been, quite literally, overwhelmed by the black dog. Rather than select a specific bred of dog, to be the black dog, one of the sketches from my learning log was chosen. This was to maintain the focus on the subject of depression, as opposed to creating debate about the characteristics of dogs.

When my colleague first saw this concept for the image she found it amusing and we discussed how and if it should be altered. It remained unaltered and under review. Some time later, reviewing it in a very different frame of mind, my colleague found the image disturbing. A further review and the image was fixed unchanged. There is undoubtedly something about this 'comic' image that effectively communicates the darkness of depression.

Self medication
Depression, alcohol and drugs frequently go hand in hand. It is commonly known that alcohol is a depressant, as such, one would expect it to be something that sufferers would avoid. But rather than avoid alcohol, it is often used to enable the sufferer to move away from negative thoughts, to no thoughts, to nothing. Alcohol creates a numb kind of numbness, rather than a negative kind of numbness. Add drugs to this situation and you move from a low to a high; then add alcohol on top of drugs and rather than creating numbness, it magnifies the high.

The only image that requires no explanation - drugs and alcohol are another coping mechanism and 'needed' to give some respite.

The problem of being imprisoned by your own thoughts; during episodes of depression sufferers spend a lot of time reflecting on negative thoughts and events. The more they think of the event, the worse their mood becomes and the less able they are to think about anything else. This leads to the event becoming very distorted in their own mind and the negativity associated with the event grows out of all proportion. The sufferer ends up going around and around in circles, locked in own their thoughts.

The narrow space between the wall and the bars was used to convey the anguish of the situation - the inability to move or change the thought process. The wall and the bars extend past the edge of the image to convey the continuous nature of the situation - regardless of where you look, or go, its the same. The reality of the situation, the fact that this prison is not real, is shown by the left arm being on the outside of the bars. Often, the sufferer does not have to think positive thoughts to get out of this 'depression', they only have to stop thinking negative thoughts, in other words, just stop beating themselves up. The 'prison' is being created/maintained by the sufferer's negative thought process.

This is not the stereotypical feeling of being alone-in-a-crowd; this isolation is created by the sufferer as a method of coping; a protection or rather a defense mechanism. The sufferer creates a set of different facades to distance themselves from the outside world, especially family and friends. These many faces are used to avoid discussing the disorder, primarily because its virtually impossible for the sufferer to explain their feelings - they know the other person will not be able to take on board the extent of their feelings. Invariably, they are right and this magnifies the depression and further isolates the individual from 'outsiders'.

This image was developed one position at a time, with the model starting in the middle and then taking up the various different facades as he moved around the circle of chairs. The right hand side of the images shows the happy masks and accordingly the colour is saturated; this contrasts with the sad masks on the left hand side where the colour has been significantly de-saturated.

Everyday tasks
Even the simplest tasks become impossible. "Make you a cup of tea, on a bad day it would be just the same as you asking me to climb Mount Everest!"

This quote was taken literally and converted into an image. By altering the relative sizes of the environment, making tea became a huge task. The cup and the kettle become larger and the individual becomes smaller creating a very unnatural effect for the viewer. The important thing was to maintain the rest of the elements in the photograph at their real size, for example, the hob. the microwave, the taps and tea towel, to emphasise the way the sufferer approaches life. For example, if the task had been to make toast, the kettle and the cup would be normal size, but the bread and toaster would have grown. The task at hand becomes the most difficult and all consuming thing in the sufferers world. A bit like a distorted kind of tunnel vision. Again, the greater the focus applied the more difficult and tiring the task becomes.

The sufferer knows and wants the situation to change, the mood to lift, but no matter how hard they try to change things - nothing works. Sometimes this frustration is shown outwardly as anger - physically or verbally, but all too often it is bottled up inside and a happy facade is applied for the world.

Mirrors are often used, in books and films, as a vehicle that enables the actor to engage with their inner-self. Thus it seemed an ideal tool for this photograph, here the reflection is the inner or hidden self and also the real representation of the person; whereas the real person is actually the facade - an ironic twist.

Bone weary tiredness; the complete and absolute lack of energy to do anything, yet at the same time being unable to sleep. Unfortunately, this is a very common symptom of the disorder, exhaustion that appears from nowhere.

Zevon's lyrics "I'll sleep when I'm dead" sprang to mind and influenced the development of this image. Whilst my colleague has never fallen asleep crossing the road, she did fall asleep whilst cooking, resulting in her being rescued by the fire brigade with thankfully only smoke damage to her kitchen dining room. This accident waiting-to-happen scenario is meant to highlight the vulnerability of people suffering from this disorder.

Upon reflection

Whilst this is not the first time I have worked with somebody suffering from this disorder, it is the first time I have researched the disorder in as much detail - both in terms of book work and by communicating with the sufferer.

I know that my outlook on the world makes it sometimes very difficult for me to show the tolerance needed to always make the best of the situation. Nonetheless, this exercise has given a completely new perspective on the disorder and an unexpected level of clarity. I cannot begin to understand the intensity of the feelings involved, but I do believe that it must be very frightening for the sufferer to have to deal with those feelings on their own.


Possible improvements and next steps:
Ø  Create a Magnum style essay and have M narrate the explanation of the images
Ø  These images are constructed from multiple images and look contrived. It would be interesting to find a way to communicate the themes in a simpler manner - possibly using abstract images focusing more on texture, hue and saturation
Ø  Create a duel set of images: one by M as photographer, the other by me as recorder.

What worked and what didn't?
Ø  The time frame definitely didn't work, I had no idea how long it would actually take to carry out a project like this. I'm not sure it could be called a collaboration, sometimes it felt more like a cat and mouse game of stealth.
Ø  I would have liked M to be more engaged in the project, I suspect that if my work project were more field based, rather than office based, this would not have been the case.
Ø  The concept images, rough photographs and drawing cobbled together definitely did work. Both in terms of communicating my ideas to M and creating a clearly defined final image. The final photo-shoot and image construction was rapid.
Ø  The concept behind some of the images is quite complex and my somewhat limited Photoshop skills have hampered my ability to communicate my message as effectively as I would have liked.

This is a documentary course and the intention of these images is to document depression from the sufferers point-of-view. As stated, these photographs use/are metaphors to enable complicated feelings and emotions to be communicated; this by default makes them very subjective... Doubly subjective in this case, first because these images are 'my take' on the disorder and second because they are based on M's comments and behaviours. Accepting this complete lack of objectivity, is it reasonable that these images sit in the genre of documentary photography?


[1] WHO - The World Health Organisation -
[2] Mind -
[3] WHO white paper -
[4] Biomedical Central - Depression is more grey than blue -
[5] Biomedical Central -  the colours from the colour wheel -

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