A photographic exhibition that highlights living with schizophrenia leaves a stark impression, says Keith Sellick
Stark is a word often used to describe black and white photographs. And an exhibition that started at Springfield Hospital, Tooting, provides an opportunity to use the word even more.
Photographer Kris Allen uses black and white to focus his portraits on the subject rather than become distracted by colours and textures.
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The exhibition is about a man called Devon, who suffers from serious mental health problems and has been working with Allen for nearly five years. They met at Sound Minds, a Battersea-based project that uses music to help people with mental problems founded by Devon.
The 26 pictures include Devon playing with a band, tired out with his friends after a gig, laughing with comedian Lenny Henry in a studio, and alone.
Two stand out. One is a shot of Devon receiving an injection in his behind. Allen says it took many months to be allowed to take the photo the authorities were opposed despite Devon agreeing. Forms had to be signed, permission sought the process took so long that the two called it a guerrilla struggle.
Eventually Allen and Devon connived to take the photo without all the legal proofs being in place. Devon points out that such a personal photograph can be used to persuade other people of the benefits of taking their medication, however intrusive or embarrassing it may seem.
The other is of Devon with Allen’s daughter. Devon is over six feet tall, the girl less than half his size. Devon says that on one level the picture represents the idea of the “big, bad, mad, black man” found in many newspaper articles. This idea also runs deep as a folk image: compare the Frankenstein scene between the monster and the innocent little girl. But in the photograph the girl is laughing and holding Devon’s hand. They have known each other for a while, Devon is on medication and, well, why shouldn’t they be friends?
Devon and Allen wanted to show that mental illness is not a barrier to leading a full life. They have succeeded.
Westminster Reference Library,
35 St Martin’s Street, London WC2 Until 6 September
If you can’t get to the exhibition have a look here at some of the photos