“People talk about going to the doctor and of the absolute terror at being in somebody else’s control … the hospital is a grand version of that where you are reduced to this weak, powerless person.”
– Spence, 1986.
8: the longest amount of time I spent alone and claustrophobic in a UVB machine during hospital treatment, in minutes.
The photography project 8 all began a year ago, when my images began to pursue a personal pathway after being diagnosed with psoriasis, a long-lasting autoimmune disease that directly affects the skin. This lead to the birth of klmpsoriasis.
Acceptance, awareness, expression and reflection are all products of the project 8. This journey has allowed me to realise the true potential of the photograph, plus it’s ability to change and influence my life.
As there’s no cure, there’s no conversation; therefore I feel there’s no comfort to be given. 8 allowed me to begin to break down that psychological barrier, initiating conversation through the image. Depicting genuine reality, it allowed me to express emotion at times where I have had no words. Additionally, integrating 8 into an online community (the beginning of klmpsoriasis) where I have been able to spread awareness, influence others and act as part of a wider support network for psoriasis sufferers, has caused the project to inflate much further past a process of developing self acceptance.
Deciding to begin this project took a strong mental push, in order to work towards moving past my self-consciousness and denial of my skin’s appearance. Observation was a starting point, looking at surrounding environments, products and the process of treatment in a hospital setting. It was at this time I had begun my coal tar treatment in hospital, three times a week, over four hours each day.
Katja Hock’s work Hospital looking at spaces within hospitals encouraged me to compose my images without human presence, allowing the viewer to put themselves in the position of the patient but also to describe the feeling of loneliness when being treated in hospital.
I was taking photographs of almost anything and everything around me, with an attempt not to think too much into why I was recording the compositions I did or who would be looking at them in the future. The future placement and audience of the photographs was a major barrier to image making, despite the best efforts to put these thoughts to the back of my mind; other people’s opinions on me always blocked the process. Due to this, my first series of images were very clearly a step away from the involvement of the condition; close to a third person view into the process of treatments – a neutral perspective almost, a lack of emotion. Featuring many documentary style images of place, with a severe lack of human interaction or work involving myself as a subject. These first photographs portray my sense of retraction from the condition absorbing my life; refusing to be emotionally and physically involved in my own photographs and avoiding coming face to face with my own body – I was looking back at scenes I witnessed frequently, that I was aware of and had become acquainted with, instead of fully involving myself in the work. Reflecting back on these initial images there is a sense of misrecognition; I see a withdrawn person, a complete contrast to the relatively open book that exists today.
Reading the theories of André Bazin and the ideas he explored surrounding “the photographic image and the reality, … the importance of a picture was that it showed what was really there.” (Alvarado, M/ Buscombe, E/ Collins, R, 2001) This brought to light a key issue with my creative process during it’s earliest stages. The fact that the photograph had the ability to present a reality to me head on, was an idea which I refused to accept at the time and therefore was not one that appeared in my images. I didn’t want to accept the appearance of my own body. In realising this, I began to create work that would allow for self-reflection. An unceasing inspiration has been Jo Spence and her blunt photographic representation of her experiences, in regards to both her body and environments surrounding her. The way in which Spence used photography as an empowering technique to battle through cancer treatment and against the authority doctors had over her body demonstrated that there was no reason to fear that which the photograph could show you. I should embrace it as a tool to regain power over my condition; to turn it into something I could scrutinise, carry and hold in my own hands. The ideology formed by Spence caused a shift in my approach to producing work, giving me the courage to embark on self-portraiture.
Reluctantly turning the camera on myself resulted in a fascinating experience for me, my first legitimate understanding of the power of the image. It seemed strange to me; projecting my body onto a separate context caused some sort of liberation inside me. Despite a few lingering doubts, the more photographs I made, this growing feeling of freedom from the darkness of my condition followed. This feeling was amplified through pushing myself to post my images on social media – presenting my body along with it’s imperfections to the world. By admitting my condition to the world, I had no choice but to admit it to myself, from that came the beginnings of the self love I had begun this journey searching for. Helping to make this decision was the work of Lewis Khan photographing psoriasis sufferer Holly Dillon (getyourskinout). His photographs were intimate and highlighted the physical changes to the body and also documented an experience of hospital treatment. These images created aided Holly when sharing her story online, it was both his open style of photographing the body and her bravery that influenced me to also take the plunge. It was terrifying at the time, not knowing the reaction I would receive by putting my images out there. But it has undoubtedly changed my emotions towards my condition by surrounding myself with a support network of fellow sufferers.
When I began this project, I wasn’t aware of the strength a photograph could have in morphing my opinion on my own body. But as it has progressed, I have not only grown in confidence and become more self-accepting, I have also become more open in discussing psoriasis with others – something which I believed I would hide from forever. On top of this, 8 and it’s engagement with real people online has demonstrated something I never thought achievable: I have created authentic impact on people through my own photographic expression. I can never see an end to this project, I aim for it to continue to grow and spread awareness and I hope it continues to empower me and my body.
To see a wider gallery of images from 8, please click here.
Alvarado, M/ Buscombe, E/ Collins, R (2001). Representation and Photography. New York: PALGRAVE. 3.