Our Space gallery, London
This exhibition of sounds and photographs organised by the mental health charity Together aims to promote a better understanding of mental health issues faced by their service users.
Launched during Mental Wellbeing week (8-14 March), it features a collection of simple self-portraits and portraits of service users by four professional photographers. These, mostly monochromatic images, are a welcome contrast to the hyper-real colours we have become over-familiar with since the advent of digital photography.
On entering the gallery, visitors encounter three intriguing images taken by Julia Sasse. Her photographs are composites – made from overlaying multiple exposures of a subject sitting in altered positions give the viewer a vivid sense of them being in some way animated. So much so, that I had to check twice that these weren’t actually holograms.
Another photographer, Frida Bengtsson displays a more playful approach that allows visitors to physically interact and rearrange her photographs. Bengtsson has divided individual portraits and placed them onto giant versions of children’s moveable puzzles. As visitors interact with the gliding squares, they can choose to either disturb or re-establish the original image. Her photos, like Sasse’s, reinforce the idea that we are different people at different times.
Tom Medwell, in contrast, has gone for a more straightforward style of photography. His head-shots are taken with a focal length that renders all but the subjects’ facial features out of focus. These muted close-ups have a somewhat contemporary feel – one that would not look out of place in a glossy weekend supplement.
As a body of work, perhaps Carmen Luvian provides the most comprehensive insight into mental health. Her portraits feature some of Together’s most prominent service users, including arresting images of Adam, a volunteer and resident at a Together project, and Hilary, one of the charity’s Voices of Experience spokespersons. Luvian also provides something of herself, with a self portrait, set against a montage of words displaying her internalised anxieties. It’s a striking example of the combined power of images and words.
In many ways this might seem like a simple exhibition of a dozen or so portraits. But each of the photographers has captured a sense of the multifaceted nature of self and identity, which, along with the accompanying notes, provide fascinating insights into mental health.
Our Stories is at Our Space gallery, Old Street, London, until 26 April.