The Albatross Series

Back in 2017, I began struggling with my mental health. A lot of things happened in my personal and professional life in the years before but I chose to push through instead of reach out for help.

Consequently, one day I broke.

A woman sits bent forward on a wooden chair at a 45 degree angle to the camera. A gold hinge is embedded at her waist, allowing her to hang lifelessly forward.

The Albatross project came out of my counselling sessions. My counsellor was amazing and counselling was pivotal for me. The images started as responses to visualisation exercises during these sessions. Once counselling had finished, The Albatross Project became a cathartic process. It journeyed through destruction, rebuilding and rebirth. Until one day, I didn’t feel the need to create those images anymore. I had the desire to create different art, for the first time in almost two years.

There are unfinished images for this series and concepts that never got started. I had so many ideas for the brokenness, each idea being the visualisation of emotion, often pain.  I’m interested in how they would turn out being in a different place mentally.

A woman crouches on the ground, hands protecting her head In front of her is an old hurricane lamp. the lamp provides the only glimmer of light. She is surrounded by darkness.

However you choose to express what’s going on with you, the important thing is to express it. Get it out. Keeping everything in puts tremendous strain in your mind and your body. Eczema, IBS, allergies can be some of the symptoms your mental health is under stress. As well as panic attacks, trouble sleeping, self – medication with substances such as alcohol, trembling, forgetfulness.

The list is long and varied, which is why it can be difficult to realise that your mental health is not in good shape. Withdrawal from friends and family can be a sign. Often when you really don’t want to talk to or see people, it is the very time that you need to be taking to them. Make it either a professional counsellor or those in your very inner circle. Nobody else has earned access to the inner parts of you. I am so lucky to have an amazing immediate family. I’ve shed a lot of unnecessary and toxic people. My inner circle is small, but mighty :).

Woman sits on floor with her back facing. there are two larges holes in her back.

I have shared my own personal experiences and learnings. I didn’t realise I had so much to say! Everybody’s experiences are different, yet equally challenging. What is important is that we share them, in order to dissolve the taboo.

What I’ve learned: You’re not crazy. You’re working through some tough shit. You’ll get through it. You’ll be stronger. You’ll be wiser.

Check out the rest of the series in Collections

Waiting

Its easy to fall into the ‘waiting’ trap, Waiting for something to end, waiting for something to start, waiting in line. But here’s the thing: that ‘waiting’ bit, is called life. Live life, through the good and the bad. Don’t press pause, you miss so much.

My original idea didn’t include the bubble, I decided to add during processing. For me the bubbler symbolises my own life, and how it can become quite insular at times when I focussing on the wrong things.

Construction: Nikon D700, 50mm lens, self timer. I took the image of myself run my bedroom using a step ladder. My body is multiple composites, layered in Photoshop. The background is one I love from the house I used to live in, such beautiful light and space. The bubble came from an image @unsplash, a cool website where photographers share free images.


Wounded

Woman sits on floor with her back facing. there are two larges holes in her back.

Even the largest of wounds can heal. In time you will be whole again.

Construction: Nikon D700, 50mm, f, 1/80, ISO 500. The floor was created out of a laminate floor palette arrange on my bedroom carpet. For the hole I used a broken vase and the warp tool in Photoshop to get the shapes I wanted. I used replace colour to change the colour of the vase to match my skin and did some burning on a separate layer to add shadows. I then used curves, levels and selective colour to create the tones I wanted and added a couple of textures.

Kintsugi

 

Kintsugi

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing cracked or broken pottery. Where the broken pieces are joined with gold.

‘Wear you scars with pride and rejoice, for you have healed, and become stronger and more beautiful than before.

Celebrate your unique history, for without it, you cannot be what you are to become.’

This is my final image in the Albatross series. There are a few more I want to create to slot into the middle, but this is the end piece.

Kintsugi is the result of the journey through the albatross project. It is healing and rebirth. Getting this image right was really important and it took a long time in post production.

Construction:

Nikon D700, 50mm, f4.5, 1/80, ISO 500. The gold paint was warped and transformed to create different and connecting shapes. I used a lot of dodge and burn to create highlights and shadows in the correct places and researched Kintsugi objects to see how the paint reacted in the light.

Damaged

 

Damaged

We are all damaged in some way. No one journeys life unscathed. Look closer. Be present. Be kind.

Construction:

Nikon D700, 50mm lens, f4, 1/60, ISO 500. This image was a test shot for ‘Voices’. The floor boards are a laminate pallet laid out on my bedroom floor. The lightening was too directional for the image I wanted in “Voices’, but I loved the atmosphere and the pose. This was a simple edit in Photoshop, using curves to change tones and emphasis the light and dark. I added different textures to the background and the subject to create the ‘damaged’ effect.

 

Voices

 

Voices

Voices, internal or external, they all do damage. Negative self talk is hard to  unlearn and extremely damaging. Understand that one flippant negative comment can stay in someone’s internal monologue for a life time. Be kind.

Construction:

Nikon D700, 50mm lens, f4.5, 1/80, ISO 500. I took the picture of my back first using the 10 second timer. I no longer have access to my previous shooting space but want to keep a continuity of style for this series. This image was shot in my tiny, carpeted spare room. Therefore I expanded the frame by taking pictures above and below the main image of my back and to the left and right. To create the floor, I bought a panel of laminate floor boards to construct a wooden floor and laid them out on top of the  carpet. I took multiple pictures of my mouth holding the camera in front of my face. Finally I used Photoshop to stitch all the images together, adjusted light and colour in curves and added texture.

 

Stitched up

 

Stiched up.

There’s nothing graceful about putting yourself back together. It’s messy, it’s damn hard and it’s lonely. The only person who can do it is you and giving up is a lot easier. Recovery is a process and it’s takes time. It’s personal. It’s different for everyone. And when it’s complete,  you will be different. Wear your scars with pride. Broken bones heal stronger than before, and so will you.

Construction:

Image shot on Nikon D700, 50mm lens, f4.5, 1/40, ISO 500. I shot the main image 6 months ago, but wasn’t sure how to make the stitching believable. Then I had an idea but thought it was a bit gross. Eventually I went with the gross idea and bought a loin of pork from the supermarket. I slashed and ripped the skin and then sowed it back up with a darning needle and garden string. This second image was shot in a different location. I was worried about lighting differences making them difficult to blend and impacting on believability. I made sure the light came from the same angle – window light to the right.  It was an experiment but I was really pleased with the result so I used it in the final image.

 

Hollow

Hollow

How is it possible to feel so empty, yet be so overwhelmed at the same time? To be robotic and void of emotion on the outside while inside the intensity of feeling everything all at once is annihilating. Mental health problems present this paradox.

Battling against the paradox for every second of every day is exhausting. So when I wobble, or say I’m not up to it today; rather than a judgement or a well meant suggestion, I’d prefer a simple ‘that’s ok’. Sometimes I can’t hug. That’s ok too.

Construction:

Image shot on Nikon D700, 50mm lens, f4.5, s/s40, ISO500, natural light from the left. The preliminary image is a test shot from another image I am working on (haven’t finished). The hole is a cup shot face on to the rim. I used Photoshop to blend the two images together and finished it with some texture and tweaks in curves.