Yes, photography as a therapeutic tool

Some people have a hard time accepting that photography can also be a therapeutic tool, given the right context. To a certain point, it’s understandable: photography is so many different things, that at some point we all struggle with its identity.

I never doubted photography could do great things: not only could it testify and expose, but it could also promote change and bring about real transformation. In many cases, photography works like a gigantic mirror where everything is reflected in a surprising manner, as if we had an easier time accepting what a self-portrait tells us than we do when we look at ourselves in the mirror. Somehow photography, although real, has a different size and it is less threatening that a reflection in the mirror, so it invites us in and it let’s us engage with our image in our own terms.

For a taste of what photo-therapy can look like, here’s Mafalda Rakos‘ project I want to disappear – Approaching Eating Disorders.

Rakos met most of her protagonists— she does not call them “subjects”— through a self-help group for those in the midst of or in recovery from eating disorders. Some were friends before the book project even started. Everyone included had a say on how much or how little she wanted to participate; if someone wanted to stay anonymous, the photographer abided by her wishes. “I tried to be as sensitive and respectful as I could,” Rakos explains, “A ‘No’ could not be turned into a ‘Yes,’ no matter how much I would have liked them to dig deeper.” For the most part, the women were eager to share this part of their lives with the photographer. The mainstream media, Rakos says, represents eating disorders in ways that aren’t always fair or accurate, and the women in I want to disappear were thankful for the chance to be honest about what they endured. It’s not just about “being thin,” the photographer stresses. Eating disorders, like addictions, are the result of complicated events, traumas, and chance occurrences. “It comes from what happens in your mind,” Rakos suggests, “not really in your body.” When asked about the most powerful memory she’s carried over the course of making the work, the photographer mentions a picture that never made it into the book. There was one woman who made drawings and sculptures, and in her artwork, there was always a mysterious shadowy figure in the back. She told Rakos that the figure represented her “her own self-disgust.” The two of them eventually staged a photograph in which the woman confronted the figure, played by a man dressed in black clothes. The project was painful and emotionally taxing at times, and Rakos admits she might have allowed herself to give up if not for a grant given to her by Documentary Project Fund. But it wasn’t just that sense of responsibility that motivated her to continue. “There was also something else,” the artist says. Rakos felt in her core that this was a story that needed to be told, and in the end, she believes speaking out might well have helped the women in the book to repair some of what’s been lost. On the part of both the photographer and her protagonists, the book became “an attempt to point out that something is not okay at all.”. Taken from Feature Shoot.

All the photographs that follow are © Mafalda Rakos.

Note: because on her site Mafalda Rakos chose to present the photographs without subtitles, here they remain the same.

For more on this project (soon to become a book) check the FB page.

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J., Vienna, 2015.
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Let them be

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© André Costa, “Sofia applying for a job”, 2016.

This is a very brief post, to mark the date, not that I like to celebrate institutionalized dates (they tend to serve material aims, more than spiritual ones), but the 8th of March is to be remembered. Do we need to go around celebrating women and bringing them roses? Gosh, no! But it’s important to reflect upon the fact that more than a century has passed since this day was first celebrated, and we’re still living in a world of inequality and prejudice. On higher or lower degrees, we experience it daily. I struggle to be authentic, not to fall on the necessities of the everydayness. Such a struggle is accentuated by me being a woman, whether in the role of teacher, of photographer, of image-maker, of citizen, of girlfriend, of daughter, sister and friend. One of the mundane things that happens quite often (and not once did it differ) is that if I go to a bar or coffee shop with a male friend and we ask for a beer and a juice, the juice is always served to me. It’s irrelevant, I know, but it happens regularly and it’s the mark of our patriarchal culture. Women keep being marginalized, oppressed, underestimated and treated with violence and disrespect. As a PhD student I feel it as well. Academies tend to promote a sort of life that (they think) is not compatible with multi-tasking, so they promote the male way of thinking, the male mind, for (supposedly) women have less time to dedicate to research. As a women who doesn’t like to dress up, wear make-up or high heels, all my life I’ve been told “Why don’t you wear something nicer?”, etc, etc. While on work, things get worst: not only am I neglected for being a woman, I’m also neglected for being a woman “that looks young”. Is seriousness and maturity a sign of respectability that comes with a suite, high heels and red lipstick? While applying for a job, today, I had to take a photograph to send with the application form. This is the “what were you expecting?” form…

Não te esqueças de viver! Com Maria Filomena Molder

┐ If the erect penis is not ‘wholesome’ enough to go into museums it should not be considered ‘wholesome’ enough to go into women └

Louise-Bourgeois-8_pics_809© Robert Mapplethorpe, portrait of Louise Bourgeois, 1982

“Nearly a decade later, Fillette would figure prominently in a photographic portrait of Bourgeois by Robert Mapplethorpe. The portrait, in which the (then-) seventy-year-old artist smiles mischievously for the camera while carrying the sculpture in the crook of her arm, was commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art as the frontispiece to its catalogue for Bourgeois’s 1982-83 retrospective. What MoMA printed in its catalogue, however, was a tightly cropped detail of the portrait focusing on Bourgeois’s face. Fillette was excised from the image altogether.14 By placing Mapplethorpe ‘s 1982 photograph (and its cropping by MoMA) in dialogue with Bourgeois’s prior appearance at the New School, we can begin to see Fillette within a wider history of sexuality, censorship, and cre- ative subversion. Mapplethorpe ‘s role in the culture wars of the late 1980s and early 1990s both contributes to and complicates that history.”

source: “Artists sometimes have feelings”, by Richard Meyer

artists sometimes have feelingsAnita Steckel, The Librarian, 1 963, oil on found photograph

Hitler-Reagan© Anita Steckel, Hitler & Reagan,Signed Print, 1983

“We assert that sexual as well as any other subject matter is entirely the artist’s concern and that museums have no right to impose their puritanical and sexist – unbalanced, therefore unhealthy – timidity and coyness upon us all and upon future generations and we demand that sexual subject matter, as it is part of life, no longer be prevented from being part of art. And since the woman has traditionally been exposed in her full nakedness and sexuality in all the great museums of the world, so should the male be uncovered, as sexually on display as the woman; the erect penis therefore, as it is part of life, will no longer be prevented from being part of art. If the erect penis is not ‘wholesome’ enough to go into museums it should not be considered ‘wholesome’ enough to go into women. And if the erect penis is ‘wholesome’ enough to go into women then it is more than ‘wholesome’ enough to go into the greatest art museums.”

excerpt of statement by Anita Steckel (woman artist), distributed to other women artists on March 8, 1973 in NYC.

┐ Patty Carroll – Anonymous Women └

© Patty Carroll, Untitled, from the series Anonymous Women

© Patty Carroll, Untitled, from the series Anonymous Women

© Patty Carroll, Untitled, from the series Anonymous Women

“Anonymous Women” is a series of “Un-portraits” as Carroll calls them, of women draped – entirely covered – in various fabrics, with minimum props. Lush fabrics, an unlimited color palette and an at times subtle to overt sense of humor infuses the work with a fresh, lingering impact on the viewer. Even though viewers “gaze” at these portraits of women (portraits are politically loaded art objects, which when spoken of become terms, with much historical and gender based baggage) these Anonymous Women don’t participate in the gaze. They don’t give you anything back, and they are not giving you back what you expect, and even less of what you want. The woman is not performing for the camera, she gestures, beneath the burden of the sheet, but she doesn’t show off her body. There might be an anonymous woman in posed in an obvious pose in the cannon of our unspoken body language (look at her piece “Mad”), which if uncovered that you would see clearly, clearly meaning with her face — however, these Anonymous Women will never be uncovered, they remain frozen and some even permanently camouflaged into their backgrounds.


(…)
PC: Yeah I do do that, I do work in spurts. I had this other idea (you know I have a lot of ideas) and I thought you know, really the next phase to this would to be really to include more home stuff, and so I brought my model and my assistant and my lights and stuff, to my house, I figure if I can get some more architectural details… But of course we covered everything, [the furniture] it’s all draped, so it was like the idea of still hiding, but…


SD: Yes I love those


PC: Yes I just love them too and there’s something so mysterious and creepy and yet there’s something so comforting about not having color, or not “speaking” to you. Do you know what I mean? I mean people don’t do this anymore but, you know, the summer house is covered in the winter…. the summer house is closed up for the winter, and it’s kind of comforting, about everything not having color, in that nothing is kind of speaking to you, everything has a sheet over it and everything is covered. And that’s how I kind of think of them [her anonymous women] That’s how I think of it, they have personalities, some are more out there, that others, again they have personalities, some are really hiding, some are worried, are afraid, some are more defiant, some are like she’s got a cake plate on her head. She’s kind of offering…. Maybe I could give it to you for your series, then when you’re done with it for your pictures then maybe you can pass it along.(…)

excerpt of an interview by Stephanie Dean, in F-Stop Magazine

More of Patty’s work here

┐ Tarrah Krajnak and Wilka Roig └

© Tarrah Krajnak and Wilka Roig, Object of Investigation (from Hysteria Collection), 2006

© Tarrah Krajnak and Wilka Roig, State 5 (from Hysteria Collection), 2008

“In Hysteria Collection we look back to the beginnings of the representation of women, to the constructed documentation of the sick Victorian woman. This simulated hysterical condition and the constructed image of the sickly woman was devised to prove an invented feminine affliction. We perform the hysterical body drawn from its historical context and place it in a contemporary context to resurface the historical reference as well as uncover the formulas that yield the recurring contemporary images of women.
(…)
As “collaborative / women / minority” artists, we continuously explore the sameness and difference within the construct of identity, and the role and meaning of signifiers. We work with self-portraiture addressing issues of gender, body, and representation within various sociological contexts, engaged in the process of photography as performance. We investigate the role and identity of the artist, and that of photography, within the socio-cultural context and the art world.”

Full statement here

┐ Tarrah Krajnak and Danielle Julian-Norton └

© Tarrah Krajnak and Danielle Julian-Norton, Alone (Heart Abortion), 2010

© Tarrah Krajnak and Danielle Julian-Norton, Untitled (Heart Abortion), 2010

Suite42 is a collaborative founded in 2009 by Tarrah Krajnak and Danielle Julian-Norton. Their collaborative performance based projects explore the struggle of the artist within a contemporary context and the process of collaboration itself. Their invented characters are mined from the history of conceptual performance art and popular film. They displace these characters within absurd narratives referencing the artist at work, the psychology of relationships, and the tension of meaning and meaninglessness as a central dilemma.

Tarrah’s work here and Danielle’s here

┐ Olivia Hicks └

© Olivia Hicks

© Olivia Hicks

“Using architectural theory as point of departure, my work explores the permeabilities between the body, complex emotional states and architectural spaces. I am interested in the sculptural idea of the room as a container or vessel, which objects and emotions can pour in and out of, and drain, leak or overflow.
At the same time I am interested in the status of the body itself as a container, where the skin is a membrane that holds us together. I make fetish-like objects, which inhabit a dark architectural space that uses ideas of ‘apotropaic’ (protective) magic that can defend, protect and constrain the body.”

More of Olivia’s work here

┐ Marisa Portolese └

© Marisa Portolese, Maya, from the series Imagined Paradise

© Marisa Portolese, Celia, from the series Imagined Paradise

“The Imagined Paradise series is about having an aesthetic experience that is surreal and attainable only through flight of the imagination.
The images present the viewer with two distinct universes, the real and imagined. The subjects are solemn, still, contemplative and in awe. Their desire to escape is evident by what they see through the mind’s eye. And what they pine for is a place that is ethereal, vibrant, effervescent, but also beyond reach, fantastical and larger than life.”

More of Marisa’s work here