Photographing Invisible Illness
What is ‘invisible illness’? And why do I want to photograph people who have it?
I know that even the title will have some eyes rolling. It is part of the human condition to recoil at the idea of illness. But for anyone that has what they consider to be an invisible illness or invisible disability, and would like to explore what that means, read on…
An invisible illlness or disability is defined as a condition that is not immediately obvious and because of this it can lead to false assumptions, judgements and discrimination. Some invisible illnesses might include; chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, arthritis, MS, OCD and lyme disease. There are many more...
Sometimes it's hard for the people we care about to understand our conditions because it appears as though we are healthy. Nevertheless these conditions have a huge effect on day to day living and can also have a negative effect our mental health.
It is the most profoundly upsetting feeling when friends and family think we’re making up an array of symptoms that have absolutely changed our lives, our relationships and our work lives forever. Everyone that I’ve met who has an invisible illness says that all they want is simply to be believed.
Because of this living with an invisible illness can be very lonely, and often causes knock-on conditions like depression and anxiety.
There is still so much stigma around invisible illness and so much hostility from society in general. Having friends and family also doubting our conditions can be dreadfully distressing. Some people describe having an invisible illness as like being trapped in their body or losing all sense of self.
I am an artist and photographer based in West Cornwall. I’ve been a professional photographer for over 20 years. My area of interest is mainly in helping people feel better about themselves and finding ways of feeling more empowered. I have taken many portraits of women who have come from domestic abuse situations, cancer recovery, divorce or suicide attempt and want to celebrate a new phase of their lives.
I am aware there have been photo-projects before on this same subject however, I want to try and do something quite different.
I will be asking everyone who wishes to be photographed for this project to answer some simple questions about their condition in a visual context.
The questions I will pose to you will help me find a visual metaphor.
What is your invisible illness?
If your condition was an animal what would it be?
Can you describe your condition in 3 words?
In a sentence can you describe how your condition makes you feel PHYSICALLY?
In a sentence can you describe how your condition makes you feel EMOTIONALLY?
Nothing is off limits really. For example, if you would like to be photographed surrounded by roaring lions because this is how anxiety feels then I can use some editing magic to make that happen. So don’t hold back on your visualisations! Of course being photographed curled up in bed with your dog is also a perfectly acceptable way to describe your condition. It doesn’t have to be surreal or outlandish – it can also be a gentle portrayal of how your condition has shaped you into who you are today.
I would also love to photograph people who have a hobby or job that appears very contradictory to their health condition. It could be something very physical like dancing, surfing or climbing!
My hope is that the photographs will be used by some of the major health organisations and charities to raise awareness, and I will be showing them as a physical exhibition when I feel I have represented as many invisible illnesses as I can. I will continue to share the photographs across my social media platforms to raise awareness and hope that by sharing your own contribution you will feel you've raised awareness amongst your own social and family circle and that it will lead to a sense of empowerment.
If you would like to participate in the project you would have to be living or able to travel to West Cornwall. Please feel free to get in touch. It would be great to have you on board!