For years now, I have been trying and failing to come up with a visual project about mental illness. In fact, I’ve also written several blog posts about this topic after seeing a slew of creatives all discussing how they struggle with mental illness online, but I have always deleted them. Depression still feels a bit of a taboo subject or something people still see as an over exaggeration, something you will ‘snap out of’, or even a call for attention – I think that’s why I have always deleted my scribbling.
For the record I was diagnosed with depression around my 20s, I remember my doctor saying it was surprising it hadn’t appeared earlier considering my medical history up to that point. While mine was only a mild case and I was off medication soon afterwards over the years its always been there, lurking in the background. Around my 30s I found myself in a job I hated for 5 years and in a volatile relationship that I could not seem to get out of that had me dipping back into past troubles – I was almost always angry, felt insanely alone and trapped. I had figured out tricks or ways to balance myself – music in my headphones was one of these. I used to have headphones in or close to me pretty much all the time just in case I needed to drown out/calm my thoughts quickly. In fact, I still have music in or around me when needed, but while these tricks helped, they didn’t get me out of the situations/feeling better.
Without going into too many details, in the back half of 2016 I felt a change happening again. In my 20s there had been a breaking point (literally) that got me to the doctors and when I was in that bad job/relationship years later there was a chance breaking point there that got me into a better place then too. In January 2017 mind racing almost hourly, countless near sleepless nights, feeling physically sick almost daily and added amounts of anxiousness every time I had to deal with certain matters or people a breaking point would happen again.
It would be on a beach in West Sussex close to my family home where I had been so many times in the past to walk and clear my mind. This time I had my pinhole camera and a bunch of Polaroid film. The fresh air, the rain, the empty winter beach always does wonders for me – photographically and mentally something clicked. In that moment I knew what had to be done to balance the troubles that was making me unhappy in my day to day and I knew exactly how to make a series of photos representing the levels of depression, anxiety and stress that has fluctuated in and out of my life.
What followed is a series of images I like to call “The Mind State Project”. Initially shot on old Polaroid 4x5 Film stock with a pinhole camera. In these isolated landscapes trees feature heavily: they represent the loneliness one can feel, but also the strength to survive and thrive while a circle represents the strength of emotion and how I have been feeling either in that week or memories of the past. Now in its second incarnation, The Mind State project has moved into how I express my anxiety with a series of images using Polaroids on an old SX70, the circle remains but the imagery is more chaotic, frantic and featured around groups of trees, hopefully express my busy, frantic hard to calm mind.
ABOUT JAMES TARRY
James Tarry is a London based photographer who specialises in interior/architectural and travel stock photography. His personal art projects are created using film all with the hope of creating big slabs of interesting imagery.
Unless otherwise stated, all words and images in this article are © James Tarry