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Category: Identity

Disabling Walls Cracking Through to Daylight

Posted in Depression, Identity, Mental Health, and Writing

“If you can’t keep yourself alive and safe then I’ll have to send a psychiatrist around and bring you into hospital.”

I never thought I would hear those words and I cried and cried down the phone to the duty doctor at my GP practice feeling a rising sense of desperation.  I wanted and needed help but this wasn’t it.

The duel impulses of wanting to take my own life, as I couldn’t cope with managing my own mental ill health with thoughts running alongside of all I had achieved that hadn’t quite unfurled yet was breaking me into pieces. I wanted to live and I wanted to die and I felt the weight of both pressing on me to cast the deciding vote on my life. Life is standing uneven footed on this edge, facing down the nameless void and being overcome with unshakeable opaque blackness or tilting my weary head up to look at the blue, expansive sky with the possibilities to come. Sometimes gravity is stronger than freeing myself to fly up to the warmth of the sun.

Hospital was not an option and I made sure it didn’t happen but when a GP uses that as a threat when you’re getting help, it makes you cynical and hardens you up a bit.

I have thought long and hard about whether to write this post on my professional website.

This blog came about as I wanted to bring thought and personality into my work, as that’s part of the reason to commission me for photography and writing. However, I always considered the tone of voice I use and the personal information that I put out in a professional context. Fundamentally, I’ve always been an honest person and I truly believe that if you strip away the layers, you are left with the essence of who you are so it’s important to speak with an authentic voice about my truths and my reality.

I have suffered from severe clinical depression and anxiety for a long time so that it’s classed as a disability. Many times it has cut into my life and stopped me in my tracks, interfering with my ability to do normal daily things like cooking, reading, getting dressed or halting achievements and plans of mine. For an intensely driven high achiever with the work ethic of several small countries, frustration does not even cover it, I know when it descends, I am weighted down by the part of me I try to keep from blotting me entirely with black inkiness.

There are many eye rolling stories about the colleague that overshares to the point of discomfort and that is not my aim here. This is who I am and a part of my make up but right now I am fighting for it to not consume me and it will never run me. I spend so much time thinking and photographing around identity and the hidden and with that trust my sitters give me to see into their lives, I would like to give something back and knock down those suffocating barriers that don’t end up protecting us but create a wall of silence. This is me and I hope to conquer it and get stronger again.

Mental health conditions aren’t rare, 1 in 4 of the general population will experience a mental health problem in any year. Whenever I have talked about my condition it has led to others opening up,  stigma is something that stopped me writing on here but it should be out there. This condition influences the jobs I’m able to take, the decisions I make for myself and the ways that I am able to work. Mental health can be damaging and negative but it can be a positive story where people survive to fight another day to achieve all these big and wonderful things. I feel that by writing this, I am reminding myself not to effervesce myself into glittering blackness because it feels good at the time of productivity and I can tell myself to just keep putting one foot in-front of the other until it feels natural to walk again.

As I sit here typing, medication which I got put on and now taken off is buffering me with waves of sedation mulling my braincells into dizzying heights, spaced out and suffocating where my head swims back and forth. I want my sharp, quick witted brain back. It’s not like the past few days, with a trip to hospital and sleeping all day as medicine was knocking me out. Today, I draw the line under it and am trying to continue the battle without chemicals. I’ve been drafting this post for weeks but have just been too unwell but it either gets said or sits there silently gathering weight. I’ll take the odd sleep patterns, crying in a heap not knowing why, squaring up with suicide, unsure how to respond to people asking “how are you?”, the unshakeable grip of feeling just a bit too raw and the rest, if I can keep myself going.

In the middle of healthcare bureaucracy, I’m trying to set up professional support and relying on friends becomes difficult as I feel like a dead weight burden. Trying to put anchors down amongst all the wavering uncertainty. Who I become when I get ill is the opposite of who I am when I am well but these sides of me need to co-exist in a healthy way and not jostle for space in an all or nothing bid for war. Internally, keeping myself alive and well sometimes feels like the most impossible task when I hit the lows with no end point in sight and ping back up in anxiety driven jitters of activity where my perception starts to distort and I can’t trust what’s in-front of me.

This recent bout of illness has been a case of quite a lot happening in my personal life and juggling that with the responsibilities of a very intensive and demanding course. Since the end of January, I started an industry recognised NCTJ diploma in written journalism on a eighteen week fast track. It’s not been easy due to an enormous workload and I know it’s challenging and not me when my peers wander around looking like drained perma-zombies with glassy, blinking eyes. My ability to do well on this course may well be jettisoned by ill health and this feels like the biggest defeat of all.

Amongst all of this my management strategies have either not been possible due to lack of time or have really failed to work. After a mental health assessment, I decided to go to Green Park to enjoy the sun and try and get some normality back in my life but this proved to be one of the worst things possible. I lay on the grass and the merging of hundreds of conversations, traffic noise and general city buzz which I usually thrive off started to sound like a million telephones ringing, the people talking took on a metallic quality like sheets of metal rumbling and grating at the same time. The sky loomed over me and I felt like it was going to cave in on me as it was getting oppressively closer. It scares me to not be able to trust my own perceptions as every sense of mine has been turned up to maximum volume so everything is in overdrive. I usually buzz off lots of information and multi-tasking but I’m inundated with sounds, sights and touches that feel overwhelming now. I can’t even cycle at the moment either due to intense fatigue or the reverse and feeling wired and risky on the bike.

I’ve worked in enough big companies where they put you through psychometric tests to figure out your personality type to slot you in to the grand masterplan. An important theme that came out was that I was happiest in my work when I demonstrated courage and empathy.

What does courage mean? For me it means not giving up, not letting go, asking those questions others are afraid to ask, tackling tough issues and dealing with conflict.

What does empathy mean? One of my biggest strengths is being able to sit down with a complete stranger and get their life story in minutes and to not to be afraid to share mine, fractures and mistakes included and to be able to bring people out of themselves.

These are strengths that make me a strong journalist and photographer.

But for me right now when I shrink it down to the waves of dizziness circling my head, courage is facing up to being ill, being vulnerable and being able to stick my hand up and still be counted and not give up and I ask for your empathy and to remember it for when you see someone you love or know suffering with their demons.

Gender Identity and Breaking and Dissolving Barriers

Posted in Documentary Photography, Gender Identity, Identity, Memories, Personal Work, Politics, and Portraiture

A few weeks ago I went to The First Daedalus Sharing where The Black Smock Band performed and Daedalus Theatre presented current works.

I met Alex Swift an actor who has been starting a new piece of work called Travesty. I was instantly struck by the piece as he was performing in drag and questioning gender constructs. The reason why this gripped me so much was for the last year and a half I have been shooting and thinking around a body of work on gender and identity. I met with Alex yesterday and hope to do a shoot with him and to tell his narrative for this piece. Not giving away too much right now but hope to share this in the coming months.

Fundamentally this work is about pushing past the demarcations and systems set up for us around our gender identity and as Alex put it yesterday, ‘dissolving those barriers’ to get people thinking and challenging their preconceptions. I am interested in discussions around these issues as this body of work will involve a person’s narrative, experiences and stories in text to go alongside the stills. I will be recording interviews as I hope to incorporate that element to produce a mutimedia piece. I am hoping to push at the boundaries/barriers and hope this work stimulates a lot of thought for those that see it.

I’m always looking for sitters who are interested in taking part in this project. Feel free to field some questions my way as it is constantly evolving and I know I have only partially explained it here – do get in touch!

Hidden Spaces across the Snowscapes of London

Posted in Documentary Photography, Hidden Spaces, Identity, and Personal Work

This morning, I pulled on my docs and braved the drifting snow to photograph more private bedroom spaces. I simply cannot resist the temptation to be a voyeur and to have a peek into a person’s life. Walking through the powdery snow textured like cornflour underfoot; I came across the street of the flat I was to photograph and noticed the snow settled on the foliage and branches in a beautiful configuration. Give me sun any day but this was a visual marvel and made up for the miserably cold temperatures.

The rooms of CD and AG who share a flat were offered to me today- thank you.

What I noticed is a bedroom can be co-opted as a work space, a room where one can shut the door and concentrate. This space by the nature of communal living is often multi functional and often leaks outside of the demarcations of a place to sleep.

This blurring of lines extends out to the identities we see in theses photos. They paint a partial picture of the person, books, trinkets, kitchen goods and other paraphernalia are in the living room or elsewhere, other items live in auxillary nooks or are obscured from my immediate view behind doors and drawers. As a viewer it is up to us to negotiate the  splits and to fill in the gaps. Lives can take on an entirely peripatetic existence. We are always more than our commodities. Our bedrooms feel very pedestrian to us that wake in them each day and they do not make us as people but the colours,  moods and feel in a bedroom are fascinating for me as I come upon them for the first time.

CD’s room:

 

AG’s room:

Hidden Spaces

Posted in Hidden Spaces, Identity, and Personal Work

Continuing on the theme of liminality and the occupation of spaces between boundaries, I’ve started shooting some personal work in bedrooms.

Last summer, I got talking to a couple of creatives after a photography event at The National Portrait Gallery. The idea came up about how bedrooms are private spaces and are not often seen publicly. Thank you for that conversation as it sparked this idea and project.

I normally photograph people, as they are what interest me visually. There is this on going question I have with how I relate as a photographer to my sitters and how I connect to others as a person generally. However, this is slightly leftfield for me as I have no plan to feature people in this work. Being allowed into that private, unseen bedroom space and shooting it unaltered gives many subtle clues. It embodies the person who inhabits that space and spends a lot of time sleeping and resting there. So I am addressing that question of identity from a renewed angle.

If you’re interested in taking part and don’t mind me coming into your room to document the details then email me at info@gracewongphotography.co.uk. or tweet me at @GraceWongPhoto. Please don’t feel you need to make any special concessions to tidiness, keep it as it would be untouched is my preference. Anything in cupboards, wardrobes or doors that are not openly displayed won’t be photographed. You have my word, I have no desire to snoop as being let into your room is a great privilege already. I look forward to hearing from you all!

So here is the start of this body of work with DL’s room. Thank you for letting me in to shoot it.

Fragrant Harbour

Posted in Documentary Photography, Identity, Personal Work, and Politics

Whilst I am reminiscing about cities; I was in Hong Kong last November working on a personal documentary project. I photographed workers and small business owners and asked them what had changed in the city recently and how their livelihoods were affected.

This was a deeply personal trip as the last time I visited was more than a decade ago when I was a young faced seventeen year old. My ancestral roots are in Hong Kong and I still have family over there. I remember a distinct feeling of having ‘arrived home’ when I set foot in the congested streets of Mong Kok which was odd, as I was born in and had grown up in the UK. The questions I was asking myself were based on identity, cultures and clashes and were things I had been working on for a long while. It was that pervasive feeling of not quite having a full foot in your home culture but also not tallying with the UK ‘English’ culture completely either. This is a theme I am drawn towards as a photographer – the idea of liminal spaces in terms of identity, emotions or physical concrete space itself:

lim·i·nal/ˈlimənl/
Adjective:

  1. Of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
  2. Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.

Hong Kong was one of those places that got under my skin. The incessant noise, the intense crowds, the pollution and the overarching capitalism knocking alongside extreme poverty really irritated me. Did I answer my personal questions? I guess I did. I have always held the answer even before I went to Hong Kong. I occupied a very special boundary of dual cultures that gave me a very beautiful unique perspective. In Hong Kong, I wasn’t a foreigner as I spoke Cantonese and grew up partially with a Cantonese culture at home and appeared to be Hong Kong Chinese but neither was I a native. I couldn’t be categorized but this was a very good thing. It took a flight across to the other side of world to realise this. Funny that, I’m sure there are cheaper ways to find this out!

I know there are many sides of Hong Kong I didn’t see or experience. I wasn’t there long enough to feel that I got to know it or its people well enough. I know I will return there again, it just is a question of when.

Here are a number of shots from the trip to give you an idea of the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong as well as the portraits I mention above: