Presented as an online exhibition, Jo-Ana has a permanence that is largely unavailable to physical exhibitions which are afforded space in a gallery only for a limited period of time.
It has, I feel, been a very successful project. All the objectives I set at the beginning of the project have been achieved, people have viewed the images, all responses have been positive with some indicating that the exhibition has changed their view with regard to eating disorders.
Jo-Ana is a springboard to future projects, it’s success is something positive that can be built upon.
The intention is to produce a photobook, work is under way. Beyond that, it is my intention to offer Jo-Ana to schools and colleges where it might reach and inform a susceptible demographic. I can see longevity for the project.
In terms of building on Jo-Ana’s success, I am increasingly drawn to narrating the stories of those who are socially disadvantaged. Alcoholism appeals to me as a subject for exploration. I am aware that there are many more personal accounts of eating disorder sufferers which need to be told. The UK eating disorder charity Beat Eating Disorders provides a liaison service which puts journalists, writers and photographers in touch with sufferers who wish to provide their account.
Researching this project has been harrowing, but we need to be a lot more aware of, and understand a lot more about, eating disorders. Early intervention for eating disorders is key to successful long-term treatment. Such early intervention can only come about if those with an eating disorder can talk without being stigmatised, and if others can recognise the signs and symptoms of eating disorders in their family, friends and colleagues.
In his book Sweet Earth, photographer Joel Sternfeld supplements images with text. Geoff Dyer (2010) asks whether the book’s value is reduced because the images have to be seen ‘in tandem with accompanying text’. He addresses this question by writing ‘it was we, the viewer, who was being interrogated, forced to answer the most basic question; Do you have any idea what you are looking at?’
Dyer is raising an important question – how aware of the issues which surround us are we?
I think we are, to some extent at least, desensitised to issues. An idea with which Sontag (2004) seems to concur, informing us:
‘Shock can wear off. Even if it doesn’t, one can not look. People have means to defend themselves against what is upsetting – in this instance, unpleasant information for those wishing to continue to smoke. This seems normal, that is, adaptive. As one can become habituated to horror in real life, one can become habituated to the horror of certain images.’
Sontag might be discussing an extreme example. But if we can shut out ‘horror’, how much easier is it to deny what we perceive as ‘lesser’ issues?
And so we can rephrase Dyer’s question, and make it relevant to Jo-Ana, by asking, how aware of the plight of others are we?
This is also a question with relevance to many other issues having potential as photographic projects as I seek to further develop my practice.
See also: Francesca Woodman
Dyer, G. (2010). Working the Room. Edinburgh: Canongate Books Limited
Sontag, S. (2004). Regarding the Pain of Others. London: Penguin Books Limited