Anorexia – Statistics

UK eating disorder charity Beat provides the following statistics.

 

People in the UK believed to have an eating disorder

1.25 million

 

Most common eating disorder

Anorexia – 10%

Bulimia – 40%

EDNOS †1 – 50%

 

Likelihood of recovery

Research suggests the following:

46% of anorexia patients fully recover

33% improve

20% remain chronically ill

Similar research into bulimia suggests:

45% make a full recovery

27% improve considerably

23% suffer chronically

 

Duration

According to Australian research, the average duration for anorexia is 8 years, and 5 for bulimia

Both illnesses can become severe and enduring

Support in the early stages of the illness is key to a full recovery

 

Impact of disease

‘Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder, from medical complications associated with the illness as well as suicide. Research has found that 20% of anorexia sufferers will die prematurely from their illness. Bulimia is also associated with severe medical complications, and binge eating disorder sufferers often experience the medical complications associated with obesity. In every case, eating disorders severely affect the quality of life of the sufferer and those that care for them.’

Note †1: EDNOS – Eating disorder not otherwise specified. This figure include BED – binge eating disorder

 

Source

 

Beateatingdisorders.org.uk (2018). ‘Statistics for Journalists’. Available at: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/media-centre/eating-disorder-statistics (accessed: Friday 23 February 2018)

‘Text Messages’

Continuing to examine alternative relationships with food, the premise for my final major project, Jo-Ana, is a series of still life images which visually describe life with anorexia.

Based on pertinent diary entries made by a female anorexia sufferer, the project presents an opportunity to incorporate text into my images. This is a significant departure from my practice to date. Instinctively feeling this to be right for the project I have, nevertheless, questioned its use, benefits and appropriateness.

Several artists have incorporated text into their practice and research into their work has enabled me to reconcile the use of text within my own practice for the project. It is worth noting that image and text have a considerable history, with mediaeval manuscripts, for example, bringing the two together to establish layered meaning and placing it within the reach of the illiterate. In this sense, images are a democratising phenomenon.

Kurt Schwitters produced work covering several genres including Dadaism and Surrealism.

Miss Blanche (1923) is an example of how, using segments of found text, a Dadaist trait, he allowed his audience to find their own meanings.

Miss Blanche

Kurt Schwitters, 1923. Miss Blanche

Lorna Simpson’s signature photo-text, which involved the inclusion of short passages of text, often superimposed on the photographs, to introduce new levels of meaning to images.

Five Day Forecast 1991 by Lorna Simpson born 1960

Lorna Simpson, 1991. Five Day Forecast

Jo Spence combined image and text to protest the illness she suffered and what she perceived as the interventionist way in which her treatment was carried out.

How Do I Begin

Jo Spence, 1984. How Do Begin to Take Responsibility?

Barbara Kruger’s work involves the addition of text to appropriated images in order to promote thought and discussion relating to contemporary issues.

Battleground

Barbara Kruger, 1989. Battleground

Gillian Wearing’s I’m Desperate (1992-3) fundamentally depended upon the inclusion of text within the images. Without text, would the images have been anything other than a collection of snapshots of strangers?

'I'm desperate' 1992-3 by Gillian Wearing OBE born 1963

Gillian Wearing, 1992-3. I’m Desperate

Relevance to my practice …

Clearly, there are cases where the images should speak for themselves. However, there are also some very good reasons for the use of text within or alongside images.

Text can help to steer the discussion in a particular direction. As photographers don’t we endeavour to do this anyway when we shape light, drawing attention to a specific part of an image and away from other areas through the careful placement of highlights and shadows respectively?

“A photograph, when it stands on its own, potentially has mutilayered meanings … Combined with text or text fragments, various possible meanings contained in a photograph can be orientated to divergent discursive directions.” (Van Gelder and Westgeest, 2011).

Additionally, text can enhance the impact of an image by providing information that, if absent, would fail to convey the intended narrative.

Furthermore, text can elicit discussions which otherwise might not be considered.

Words have agreed, coded meanings. The compositions created by artists are more open to interpretation. When the intention is the reinforcement of a visual narrative through the use of text, the image/text combination requires careful consideration to avoid diluting the message or creating dissonance.

Rosler describes images and text as two ‘descriptive systems’. There is a space between these two systems. Both are unique in terms of the message they can convey and how, and both are also unique in terms of what cannot be said. Together, though, the image/text combination can produce something greater than the sum of the parts. It is this synergy that allows us to fill the space, through interpretation, between the two systems – in effect bridging the gap. And the argument for the text? Well, that gives us a nudge in a certain direction.

 

References

Rosler, M. (1974-1975) The bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems [online]. Available at: http://collection.whitney.org/object/8304 (accessed: 18 April 2018)

Van Gelder, H. and Westgeest, H. (2011) Photography theory in historical perspective. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell

Fingerprints, Footprints and Rings of Water

‘Photography is an imprint or transfer of the real; it is a photochemically processed trace casually connected to that thing in the world to which it refers in a way parallel to that of fingerprints or footprints or the rings of water that cold glasses leave on tables.’

– Rosalind Krauss (in Van Arsdall, 2015)

 

Reference

Van Arsdall, L. E. (2003). Between Erasure and Exposure: Intermedial Autobiography Since Roland Barthes (published). Los Angeles: The University of California. Available at: https://cloudfront.escholarship.org/dist/prd/content/qt0v69m960/qt0v69m960.pdf (accessed 17 April 2018)

Ken. To be destroyed – Sara Davidmann

Davidmann_Ken

Sara Davidmann (2013). Untitled

The work of artist and photographer Sara Davidmann is based around collaboration with individuals whose self-identity places them into categories other than the polarised female and male. By doing so it questions the relationship that exists between the individual and the state, and is, therefore, an important counter to mass media stereotypes which often misrepresent.

Since 1999 Davidmann has worked collaboratively with London’s queer and transgender communities, recording a time of sweeping social change in relation to gender identity, sexual identity and sexuality. Davidmann’s work continues to focus on the themes of self-representation, transgender relationships, and ‘the family’.

Ken. To be destroyed, tells the story of one individuals transgender identity in 1950’s Britain.

Arising from the discovery of photographs, letters and other miscellaneous papers amongst her mother’s possessions, the project explores the life of Davidmann’s uncle Ken after his wife, Hazel, discovered in 1958 that he was transgender.

The following is an extract from Davidmann’s lecture transcript:

‘In 2011, after our mother Audrey had moved into a nursing home, my brother, sister and I began to clear her house and then we found the archive. Finding this archive was amazing. I had no idea that it existed and I was particularly struck by the correspondence, the letters, between Hazel and Audrey. Hazel was Audrey’s younger sister. Hazel and Ken married in 1954 and then in 1958, Hazel discovered that Ken was transgender. She was shocked and she didn’t know what to think about it, or what she should do. She turned to my mother, Audrey and wrote to her asking for advice. Hazel and Audrey then wrote to each other about this, many times, over the next five years.

Hazel’s letters are really vivid and powerful and Audrey’s responses are supportive and nonjudgemental. I found the letters really moving. I felt as if I got to know my aunt and also my uncle much better than I’d actually known them in life, through these letters. They also brought to life how little was known about transgender people in the 1950s and 1960s. The difficulties that Hazel and Ken faced trying to reconcile the fact that Ken was transgender, with their marriage and with society. There was almost no support available at the time.

By the end of this correspondence in 1963, Hazel seemed to have become reconciled to the fact that Ken was transgender. Just to give you an idea of the amount of letters that went between Audrey and Hazel, the archive contains 93 letters. The letters and papers were found in a brown paper bag and two large brown envelopes. On one of the envelopes Audrey had written ‘Ken, to be destroyed’. On the other envelope she wrote ‘Ken’s letters to Hazel, to be destroyed’, and on the bag, ‘letters from Hazel re Ken’.’

Davidmann used a variety of techniques to produce the work, ranging from analogue to digital photography, from digital image manipulation to alternative imaging methods. For example, one image is of Ken’s head transposed onto Hazel’s body wearing the dress she wore on the day she married Ken. Davidmann suggests that such fictional photographs allow Ken to be seen as a woman in public, something that was not possible during his lifetime.

It should be remembered that in 1950’s Britain, homosexuality was illegal, chemical castration was seen not only as an effective but also civilised method of treating what was regarded as an illness, and societies treatment of homosexuals led to the death by suicide of mathematician Alan Turing.

This, then, is an extremely good point to introduce the relevance of Ken to my work.

A key point of Davidmann’s Ken, and her work in general, is about giving a voice to those groups who are often hidden from, or marginalised by, society.

Davidmann writes:

‘From Hazel’s letters, I learned that Ken had felt very uncomfortable having to present himself as a man. The word that was used was that he felt that he was masquerading as a man, and this led to Ken avoiding being in public places and avoiding social interactions as much as was possible.’

I think the social injustice that arose from ignorance in Ken’s situation is clear.

What is equally clear, based upon my research for Jo-Ana so far, is that anorexia (and other eating disorders) are widely regarded as being a lifestyle choice. One area in which anorexia is not discriminated against, however, is in the way it is regarded, alongside other mental illnesses, as being somehow less ‘real’ because it cannot be seen, because it is intangible, or being a sign of weakness, or as being something of which to be ashamed.

Mental illness is not a sign of weakness, nor something to be ashamed of. Mental illness is no less real because it cannot be seen or touched. And this is just as true for anorexia and all other eating disorders.

Attitudes need to change. The media, which has done so much to promote the cult of being thin whilst stigmatising those who succumb to an eating disorder, many for whom the medias glorification of thinness has been a trigger, needs to be both more accountable and responsible. An industry which exists to inform us, needs itself to become much more informed, certainly where eating disorders and body perception is concerned.

In summary, then, Jo-Ana is about helping to raise public awareness of a life-threatening disease. It is also, however, about challenging public perceptions of an illness that can crush completely those that suffer from it, perceptions which are formed not only by the media, but also social media – stereotypes which are misguided and misrepresentational. Davidmann’s work has been highly influential in the development of Jo-Ana, demonstrating clearly that beautiful imagery can also be deeply thought-provoking.

Link

https://www.saradavidmann.com/

Reference

Davidmann, Sara (2018). ‘Guest Lecture (Publication) – Sara Davidmann’. Lecture to PHO705 17/18 [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/86/pages/guest-lecture-publication-sarah-davidmann?module_item_id=8348 (accessed: Wednesday 14 February 2018)

Whose Voice?

‘What we think we know is quite often not correct’ (Molloy, 2018)

Guest lecturer Caroline Molloy, photographer and anthropologist, discussed in considerable depth the research methods she employs in her photographic practice.

In terms of data, she indicates the use of photographs, interviews, and filming in addition to ‘going back’ or retracing her steps and asking new questions.

It was fascinating to view still images of her research notebooks, rich with illustrations, sketches and annotations.

Molloy was clear from the outset that the purpose of her work is to challenge assumptions.

Producing participatory works, a key question for Molloy is ‘what difference does it make having me being part of the story?’

This is highly relevant to my final major project as I attempt to carry out objective research.

Mannay (2016) posits that ‘consideration is given to the relationships between participants and researchers, and acknowledge that even when the ‘intrusive presence’ of the researcher steps out of the site of visual data production this leaves a space that is often filled by the ‘intrusive presence’ of others’.

Luttrell and Chalfen suggest that, despite an explosion of participatory media projects, the objective of giving voice has not been achieved, moreover the simultaneous questions of whose voice is being spoken and whose voice is being heard remain unresolved (Luttrell and Chalfen, 2010 cited in Mannay 2016).

Pauwels (2011) suggests that participatory productions place the social scientist in the position of participatory facilitator, and that research is conducted ‘with’ and not ‘on’ participants. I think that, for me, this is the point to take away from Molloy’s presentation – to engage without influencing, to present a true and fair view. In essence, ensuring that conceptual and practical filters which can be applied as a result of pre-knowledge and associated underlying assumptions (Walmsley and Johnson, 2003) are eliminated.

 

References

Mannay, Dawn (2016), Visual, Narrative and Creative Research Methods: Application, Reflection and Ethics. Oxon: Routledge

Molloy, Caroline (2018). ‘Guest Lecture (Research) – Caroline Molloy’. Lecture to PHO705 17/18 [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/86/pages/guest-lecture-research-caroline-molloy?module_item_id=8346 (accessed: Friday 23 March 2018)

Pauwels, L. (2011), ‘An Integrated Conceptual Framework for Visual Social Research’, in E. Margolis and L. Pauwels (eds) The Sage Handbook of Visual Research methods. London: Sage

Walmsley, J. and Johnson, K. (2003), Inclusive Research with People with Learning Disabilities: Past, Present and Futures. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

FMP – Justifying the Public Outcome

‘Its own interrogatory spirit imbues visitors with a sense of permission to explore and chart their own route through the assembled works of art, and to freely ask the questions and pursue the connections that they find most intriguing’ (Rugoff in Marincola, 2006).

How do you justify an exhibition? How do you justify any form of public outcome for a body of artwork?

I think there are two aspects which need to be considered.

First, what is the purpose for an exhibition? This is more common to all types of outcome than it might at first appear.

A public outcome needs to bring art out into the public domain by one means or another. As it does so, it needs to facilitate the following:

Showing the work in the best possible light (literally and metaphorically)

Conveying the message without encumbrance

Not detracting from the work, instead augmenting it

Providing an enriched viewing experience

Evoking a sense of emotion

Stimulating (action or debate)

There may be more. These are the things I would hope from an exhibition. Some expectations may be unique to a particular project – some projects may not want to show something in the best possible way, quite the opposite, in order to initiate a response from the audience.

This brings us to our second question – does a specific type of outcome allow that purpose to be fulfilled?

Jo-Ana will be exhibited via an online gallery, so taking that as a working example, the question becomes will an online gallery show my work in the best possible way?

It was felt that a dedicated website was essential in order to successfully display the body of work. Introducing the work as an additional page in an existing website would not do the work justice.

Furthermore, Jo-Ana is a series of images supplemented by text in order to provide the viewer with context and, therefore, an enriched viewing experience. There are four pages of supplementary text. Adding these into an existing website would be possible, but would not allow the viewer to navigate through the exhibition easily. This would detract from the viewing experience.

Communication between the artist and the audience is essential, particularly in terms of developing as an artist. Such communication is facilitated by a Contact page, and a Visitors Book. Locating Jo-Ana into an existing website would prevent any communication and feedback being exclusive to the project, which is necessary.

Creating a website specifically for the project enables the environment (background, logos, typeface, etc.) to be tailored to the body of work. This would not be possible with an existing website.

Why an online gallery and not a physical exhibition?

Each exhibition, irrespective of the form it takes, has a target audience. It may be viewed by individuals outside the target audience, but predominantly, those who the work will fit a specific demographic.

Wilson et al. (2006, cited in Johnson, 2015) inform us that ‘pro-eating disorder websites host communities of individuals who engage in disordered eating and use the internet to discuss their activities’.

How prevalent is the use of such websites?

Custers et al (2009, cited in Johnson, 2015) found that 12.6% (n = 90) of the girls and 5.9% (n = 42) of the boys from a sample group of 711 children and adolescents (7th, 9th, and 11th) grade had visited pro-anorexia websites.

Furthermore, a separate survey showed that 35.5% of 76 patients who had been treated for eating disorders in an outpatient clinic had visited pro-eating disorder sites (Wilson et al., 2006, cited in Johnson, 2015).

Woolf (2015) informs us that western society has a problem – the glorification of eating disorders.

‘Even if you’re not actively looking for encouragement with an eating disorder, even if you avoid the internet altogether, you can’t avoid the overwhelming message of our age, that weight loss is good, weight gain is bad, that thinner (harder, leaner, greener) is better. We live in a hypervisual age, with most of us – especially the young – confronting thousands of images every day. The focus on women’s bodies is intense, in every magazine, website or TV advert, on every billboard and celebrity shot, and in the conversations of friends, mothers and sisters around us.

The effect can be profound, and yet still eating disorders are misunderstood. They are dismissed as a teenage, female condition (although male eating disorders are on the increase) or misrepresented as faddy dieting, body hang-ups, a phase they’ll “grow out of”. In fact, the opposite is true: eating disorders are highly addictive, and self-starvation becomes involuntary.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, more deadly than schizophrenia. One in five anorexics will die, either from physical complications or suicide’.

A primary aim for Jo-Ana is to raise awareness in two key areas: amongst the family, friends and colleagues of anorexics – helping them to recognise the signs and symptoms of the illness; and amongst anorexics – where removing the stigma is essential, helping bring the discussion out into the open, enabling dialogue with interventionist channels, and demonstrating that recovery is possible.

Clinical studies have proven that early intervention is essential for the successful long-term treatment of eating disorders.

An online exhibition enables Jo-Ana to effectively reach its primary demographic target – a readily accessible target audience which is already online, is using the same technology that will be used to present the exhibition, and is using hashtags to exchange information.

In essence, then, an online exhibition is taking the artwork to the audience, or as close as it is practically possible, rather than asking the audience to come to the artwork.

 

References

Johnson, Hadley A. (2015) I Will Not Eat – A review of the Online Pro-Ana Movement [Online]. New York: Adelphi University. Available at: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/I-Will-Not-Eat-A-Review-of-the-Online-Pro-Ana-Move-Johnson/b7a8b83bec0e6df021b83d4696ff8ac49c6819c8 (accessed: 09 February 2018)

Rugoff, R. (2006). ‘You Talking To Me? On Curating Group Shows that Give You a Chance to Join the Group’, in MARICOLA (ed.) What Makes a Great Exhibition? Philadelphia: Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative

WOOLF, Emma (2015). ‘How social media is fuelling the worrying rise in eating disorders’. The Telegraph, 04 June 2015 [online]. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-health/11649411/How-social-media-is-fuelling-the-worrying-rise-in-eating-disorders.html (accessed: 30 January 2018)

Evolving Incident

Pickering_Ships Galley

Pickering, 2008. Ships Galley

‘I tried lots of different printing processes with these.

So I photographed them originally on medium format in colour, and because the lighting conditions shifted quite a bit I ended up trying to print them in black and white and I couldn’t find a good digital inkjet paper to print them onto and I then looked at the Ilford fibre based matt paper and I realised I really needed to print them on that because it’s just got such a gorgeous sooty, soft surface and I went back and re-shot everything on 5 x 4 so I could make large scale prints from these.

So, I didn’t want to just kind of get in the groove of doing something at the time which sort of followed on from the public order work, I didn’t want to do something which just replicated that. So, I challenged myself and kind of looked at the way that the space that was being photographed could be really brought into the surface of the photograph, onto the actual surface of the paper and sort of create this kind of breakdown between subject and object. So, yes the prints really are quite special in that series’ (Pickering, 2018).

 

As a guest lecturer, Sarah Pickering provided contextualisation for projects including Public Order, Art & Antiquities, and Explosion which was informative and insightful.

Especially interesting, as well as being timely and relevant as I endeavour to develop the images for my final major project, was hearing her describe the evolution of the images for Incident in uncompromising pursuit of a particular aesthetic.

‘Pickering’s Incident pictures (2009) are shot at the Fire Service College, but in facilities designed less for forensic analysis than for logistical and tactical training. Sparse rooms built of concrete and metal contain simple forms such as a steel framed bed, filing cabinets, chairs, and human-shaped dummies made to withstand fire for future use. The only evidence of human presence is seen in finger and foot-prints in the ash, traces of life that activate these charred spaces. Pickering takes inspiration from the grayness of the scene by pushing the contrast of her matte silver gelatin pictures to emphasize the expressive markings and their relationship to drawing’ (Irvine, 2010).

Describing it as a ‘push/pull’, Pickering suggests that her work has dual qualities, being both ‘seductive yet repelling’, with the ‘troubling’ nature of the images being an aspect which elicits the viewer’s attention.

Again, I feel this is relevant to the development of images for Jo-Ana, which will provide a visual description of life with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa from the viewpoint of a recovered anorexic.

Finally, I am able to relate to Pickering’s view on the development of her practice, development based as it is on an approach which balances intuition with hands on experimentation.

Reflecting on the development of her practice over the course of several projects, Pickering advises ‘you can step away but you can’t do everything in one go’.

 

Links

http://www.sarahpickering.co.uk/

 

References

Irvine, Karen (2010). ‘Incident Control’. Museum of Contemporary Art [online]. Available at: http://www.mocp.org/exhibitions/2010/04/sarah_pickering.php (accessed: Wednesday 14 February 2018)

Pickering, Sarah (2018). ‘Guest Lecture (Research) – Sarah Pickering’. Lecture to PHO705 17/18 [online]. Available at: https://flex.falmouth.ac.uk/courses/86/pages/guest-lecture-research-sarah-pickering?module_item_id=8342 (accessed: Wednesday 14 February 2018)

I Want to Disappear: Mafalda Rakos

‘Eating disorders are not just about food or the desire to be thin, and they are much more widespread than commonly assumed.

Worldwide, up to 70 million individuals suffer from Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge Eating; affected persons are of all genders, appearances and ages. Research confirms that young women and girls in industrialized nations are at the highest risk to be affected.

One out of ten … will experience an eating disorder at least once in their lifetime. Nevertheless, the sources and effects of this illness are still highly stigmatized, discreeted and excluded from societal discourse.

In I want to disappear, 20 young women intimately share their testimonies with the viewer. What does it feel like to be affected? How is this conflict linked to one’s own (sexual) identity, and why does controlling one’s body help someone to feel “better”, even just for a short time?

Altogether they provide a surprising and confrontative insight into the personal conflicts, ruptures and insecurities which lie at the root of the disease. Very soon, a new perspective is revealed: eating disorders are never a sign of weakness. And one is by no means alone with it.’

– I want to disappear, Mafalda Rakos

R., Vienna, 2013. Rakos, 2015. R., Vienna, 2013

Rakos 1

Rakos, 2015. C., Vienna, 2015

The images which feature in Mafalda Rakos’ I want to disappear are often disturbing and always poignant.

They visually describe life with anorexia from the point of view of the sufferer, indeed the collaborative project is a collection of images, drawings, texts and other material provided by the subjects of the study, although this is a term Rakos tries to avoid, preferring instead to use protagonists.

Arguably, Rakos’ methodology is a form of photo elicitation.

Whilst the term photo elicitation refers to a method of social scientific investigation in which an image is provided, either by the interviewer or the interviewee, and the response of the interviewee to that image is recorded, in Rakos’ study, the images themselves are the response.

Each image contains a detail which is the punctum – a detail which ‘pricks or bruises’ (Barthes, 1980) the viewer’s consciousness, evoking a sense of emotion.

The significance of these details may not be immediately recognisable: a plaster on an arm, an exposed abdomen – at first glance perhaps innocuous.

A lingering gaze, however, together with the context of the project, reveal something more disturbing: the plaster covering the puncture site for the latest blood test at the clinic for eating disorders, the burn marks on the abdomen which result from the use of hot water bottles to combat the ever-present feeling of icy coldness so typical of anorexia.

Due to the collaborative nature of I want to disappear, it is impossible to identify one particular style of photography beyond a recognisable documentary/reportage. A range of aesthetics is present in the body of work with images being taken from many angles, images in colour and black and white, and images presented in various ratios. This variety, I feel, acts to provide a cohesion for the work of several photographers, there is unity in variety.

This is relevant as I explore the different ways in which the images for Jo-Ana can be produced in terms of angle of view, colour or black and white, and aspect.

I want to disappear is not a time-based series, each image depicts how anorexia and its impact can be summed up for each individual at the particular moment of taking the photograph. How circumstances develop over time for either the individual or individuals is not the important factor here, instead what is significant is how several unique moments in time can provide a wider, summative description of life with an eating disorder.

This is in contrast to Jo-Ana which is a longitudinal study: the story of one individual told over a period of time through a series of images.

Rakos’ approach in taking a wider, summative approach to describe life with an eating disorder is not unique: Laia Abril’s Thinspiration, for example, also makes use of discrete moments in time recorded and shared by a number of individuals, with Abril harvesting the images herself once they had been shared.

 

Reference

Barthes, Roland (1980). Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill & Wang

Thinspiration: Laia Abril

‘The Pro-ana community has turned anorexia (Ana) into its dogma. They venerate the illness giving meaning to their totalitarian “lifestyle”. It’s a virtual reality where they state commandments, share motivating tricks and exchange hundreds of images of thin models via their blogs. They have created Thinspiration, a visual new language – obsessively consumed to keep on wrestling with the scales day after day. Now, they evolved interacting with their cameras portraying their bony clavicles or flat bellies; or consuming extreme anorexic images, the Pro-ana have made Thinspiration evolve. I re-take their self-portraits, photographing and reinterpreting their images from the screen, resulting the visual response to the bond between obsession and self-destruction; the disappearance of one’s own identity. The project is a personal and introspective journey across the nature of obsessive desire and the limits of auto-destruction, denouncing disease’s new risk factors: social networks and photography.’

Thinspiration, Laia Abril (2012)

Abril 4

Abril, 2012. Thinspiration – exhibition

Abril 3

Abril, 2012. Thinspiration – book detail

In her own words, Laia Abril’s photography examines the ‘most uncomfortable, hidden, stigmatized, and misunderstood stories’.

Interviewed by Anna Mola for Private Photo Review, Abril’s motivations for exploring eating disorders through the medium of photography are very clear.

The intention behind Thinspiration, Abril informs us, was to challenge the widely held misconception that all eating disorders are about a girl who won’t eat.

Abril favours working with subjects which are close to her personal experience. Subjects which, because of this closeness, she finds are easier to connect with and subsequently translate for an audience. Indeed, Abril has first-hand experience of one particular eating disorder, having suffered from bulimia for ten years before completing a year of treatment in 2010.

Seeing herself as an intermediary, Abril describes herself as visiting (mental) places nobody wants to go to, digesting issues and producing work which people can relate to and which evoke empathy.

Abril describes working in an intuitive way in the earlier stages of her career. She goes on to explain that whilst still developing in an organic way, her work is now more informed by her vision for the finished body of work and that experience in knowing what a finished body of work will look in relation to a given platform plays a major part in development.

Producing work which is consumed across a range of platforms simultaneously, Abril informs us that the initial platform for her work sets the mood for the work, and that this is fixed. However, she goes on to tell us that whilst work is produced with one particular platform in mind from inception, she does adapt work in later stages to suit alternative platforms with the essence, or the soul (mood) of the work remaining unchanged.

Generally, Abril’s work is produced initially as a photobook which she suggests offers the audience time to digest the difficult and complex issues which are the subject of her work.

With regard, however, to her multi-platform style of presentation, Abril identifies the complexity of the issues she examines, together with the need to work outside her comfort zone, as being the driving factors.

In terms of relevance to my photographic practice, it would appear that Abril and I share a common aim – that of educating to prevent.

‘Above all, life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference’ (Robert Frank).

I believe that as photographers we have a duty to highlight social issues, to raise awareness.

There were several different possible subjects for my Final Major Project and each one was explored for its advantages and disadvantages. Once I decided on exploring anorexia and the pro-Ana culture it seemed it seemed immediately natural to think in terms of publishing the body of work as an online gallery with accompanying audio-visual. It seemed equally natural to think about how the life of the project could be extended by producing a photobook, and further extended by exhibiting in schools and colleges.

It is, therefore, reassuring to receive confirmation that such a multi-platform, multimedia presentation strategy has been used so successfully by Abril.

I have a very clear vision for the way I want the online gallery to look, and this vision was established very early in the project. Other platforms will utilise the same images, adopted appropriately – again this intention was determined at the beginning and is a strategy also employed successfully by Abril.

Previously I have cited Goldin as one of the informers of my practice due to her preference for gritty, longform style documentary photography. It is, therefore, interesting to note that Abril also offers Nan Goldin as an influence upon her work.

Clearly, Abril is a skilled visual storyteller and an accomplished publicist. Working intuitively in the early stages of my career leads me to implement some of the strategies employed so skilfully by Abril.

This leads me, then, to ask the question what would I do differently?

 

References:

Abril, Laia (2018). ‘A Conversation with Laia Abril’. Conscientious Photography Magazine [online]. Available at: https://cphmag.com/conv-abril/ (accessed 07 March 2018)

Abril, Laia (2012). ‘Laia Abril – Thinspiration’. Private [online]. Available at: https://www.privatephotoreview.com/2012/10/laia-abril-thinspiration/ (accessed 06 March 2018)

Laia Abril (2018). ‘Thinspiration’. Laia Abril [online]. Available at: http://www.laiaabril.com/project/thinspiration/ (accessed 08 February 2018)