Informing Contexts - Aesthetic or Anaesthetic?

"Nonstop imagery (television, streaming video, movies) is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the still photograph has the deeper bite. Memory freeze-frames; its basic unit is the single image. In an era of information overload, the photograph provides a quick way of apprehending something and a compact way for memorizing it." SONTAG, S. (2003). p41

We are drawn to that romantic notion of story-telling, memory, nostalgia, the natural world and family. As artists, we come together within our medium for inspiration, collaboration, postulation, and celebration. This connection provides a deep well of power that as makers are strengthened and sustained by. It is my commitment to creativity that not only elevates the work itself but also keeps us moving forward.

I came across Rocio De Alba “Girl Anachronism” and found a lot of links with my work. I keep bouncing back to mental health and the reason I found my current body of work was through a teenager who was very rude to a parent. That person was, at that time going through some real mental challenges and so when I found this work and artist I instantly found a link we shared.

“Photography saved my life. Every time I go through something scary…I survive by taking pictures.” –Nan Goldin


Mental illness has been a theme in art for decades Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” quickly comes to mind. Photography is simply my art tool of choice. There’s a definite immediacy about photography, but none of my images is spontaneous. There’s an intense amount of meticulous calculations that has occurred before the shutter is pressed that, believe it or not, is still “awing” to me.

I’ve always been intrigued by artists who document their lives. And I suppose this topic is relevant considering I am a mother of many with limited time to get things right. So even though I didn’t have a sophisticated concept or save the world narrative, It wasn’t until I looked at Claude Cahun and Nan Goldin’s work that I realised I could use art as a way to overcome personal difficulties. I was working with kids who have been diagnosed with a severe case anxiety and panic disorders. For these youngsters, finding out you suffer from mental ailments feels like you’re walking around with your skin inside out. You feel fragile and exposed yet ironically ashamed. It can be a dark period. As an artist I could finally see the cohesive thread that leads me to create more intentional images with regards to context and theme; but as a carer too, I found the photographic discipline itself cathartic and therapeutic.

Experts say by the time we are three years old, our hippocampus, a portion of the brain that stores memories, has adequately matured to record our first palpable experiences. Coincidentally, that is almost the age I learned about death. I lost my mother at four years old. This provoked the initial stages of a series of panic and anxiety attacks that would haunt me through to adulthood. By age ten, I experienced further traumatic incidences at the hands of step mother that intensified my disorder. I became depressed post abuse, uncontrollably needy, and totally focused on the negative in life. By fourteen, a friend unveiled a powerful remedy that relieved all distress: Rebellion and alcohol! So I forced adults to take charge, who put me in care. It took me until I became a parent myself, spent years in the care system before I realised that people do care and I am not alone.

So what has that got to do with my projects? I bounce between modules, usually with children, focusing on the thing that is current. Mental health, teenage adolescence, being a looked after child, you have no idea what is on the inside, but you can bet that if the kids are acting up then they are dealing with some heavy crap they have to overcome along with teenage hormones.

My intention was to think on positive this time, as can be seen in my CRJ I have a habit or erring on the negative and it would have been easy to portray a body of teens with issues. But to find kids that want to collaborate and look for children who have done amazing things, or been a success or influencer, that was much harder. Then to mix it up and make it fun. A few people have likened my style to “Where’s Wally” but you know what, I love those images. And what is more, kids do too.

In my previous module I realised that this was about the kids, and albeit unintentional, this module is too. But I think that although the kids enjoyed and were great at collaborating with me to create this body of work, it will take an adults mind to process what they are seeing.

SONTAG, S. (2003). Regarding the pain of others. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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© 2018 by Gail Timms