Unseen Illness – OCD
Unseen Illness – OCD
With this assignment, more than previous ones, I approached it with trepidation. How could I portray something unseen without being too literal about it? Also, thinking about working on points raised in feedback from my last assignment, would I be able to produce images which concentrated on meaning rather than worrying whether they would look good printed and put on a wall?
On the first point I think I have achieved it with the words and photographs working against each other to highlight and debunk popular theories surrounding OCD. Had I captioned them differently, telling the viewer what was in the photograph for instance, or not at all then I don’t think they would be as strong a set.
The second point I feel I have managed well with each image focussing on meaning rather than being traditionally aesthetically pleasing. This is not a set of images I would print and display in my home but together they work to tell a story, inform the viewer and hopefully make them think about their own preconceptions of what OCD is and, more importantly, what it isn’t.
Although the subject matter is not always something that lends itself to looking attractive, my untidy computer desk pile for instance, I have tried to ensure I use the same compositional skills as I would use for more traditional photography in order to make the photographs easier to view and ‘read’. I have been reading Charlotte Cotton’s The Photograph as Contemporary Art and there are many examples of images in there which are not necessarily attractive (to me) but are nonetheless considered to be important photographs. Jeff Wall’s Diagonal Composition No 3 on page 131, picturing a mop and bucket on a damaged floor, is one such image but is by no means the only example of mundane objects being photographed in a very ordinary fashion.
I am most pleased with the presentation of the images, making them all look like Instagram posts, along with the captions, ties them together in a way which would not have been achieved if I had simply presented the images on their own. The captions all indicate the subject matter but it is the presentation that shows instantly that they all go together.
I think I prepared well for this task with lots of exploration of the subject to add to my personal experiences and this helped me to produce a coherent, yet varied, set of photographs. This assignment, and the work leading up to it, have really challenged me and caused me to step out of my comfort zone. The result of this is, in my opinion, a set of images which have meaning and will hopefully educate the viewer.
My initial thoughts, research and contact sheets can be found by following the link below:
Having chosen my images for the assignment and tidied them up a little, mainly adjusting shadows and contrast or removing distractions, I was not quite sure that I had achieved the snapshot look I was looking for. When taking the images I had in mind that I’d like them to look like polaroid photographs with a handwritten caption underneath. In a world of camera phones though, polaroids are no longer used as they once were, to capture instant snapshots of life, and social media apps such as Instagram and Snapchat have taken their place.
With this thought in my mind I cropped the images to square to give them an ‘Instagram’ kind of feeling but this didn’t work well with most of the images or give the feeling I was looking for so I decided to try actually putting them through Instagram and using the filters available as though I was actually posting them to the site.
The difference in most of the images is quite subtle with the main differences being in crop and the light/shadows in parts of the images. The filters I tend to use most on Instagram are ones which change the light and tone in the centre of the image and those which generally brighten the entire image, such as the one used on the self-portrait image.
All in all I am happy with the results of this as it gave the images the kind of feel I was looking for. I have decided to present the images as Instagram posts, with the captions ‘posted’ underneath the photographs, to bring the polaroid theme I imagined up to date for the modern day world.
I did take some of the images I took out of these contact sheets but mainly because of repetitiveness or poor focus. The photographs of me were also taken on a different camera to the rest, my older 600D, as I don’t have a remote shutter cable for my 5D MKIII.
Having looked through the images I took and being able to compare them I have decided to use the following images;
I quite like the idea of cropping these images to square, similar to Instagram style, or making them a similar ratio to Polaroid images. I don’t think I would go as far as to put a Polaroid style frame on them but I would like them to appear like snapshots with captions underneath – the idea of handwritten ones appeals to me but I’m not sure whether to have them printed with borders and write underneath or whether to write the captions and scan them in to add to the photographs digitally. One way will work better as a piece of physical work and the other will work better for the sake of my blog.
Thinking a little further on the theme of OCD and common misconceptions I decided that I would like to take photographs to match the following comments;
“You must be so organised!”
OCD sufferers are seen as being very organised because they like to line things up but the need to do this is nothing to do with organisation itself and the things which they line up will often not be anything as useful as paperwork. To portray this I think the disorganised chaos that is my computer desk would work well. Although I can find most things in this area with ease, it is not a place that looks well organised!
“Your house must be super tidy!”
Probably the most common misconception when it comes to OCD is that sufferers all obsessively clean everything. To address this I would like to photograph somewhere in my house which is untidy. Initially I thought of my computer desk but then I realised that my dresser would work well. It is covered in nic-nacs and bits and pieces that people leave on there as well as books and photographs.
“OCD is funny!”
People often make a joke of OCD, even people with it tend to make a bit of a joke of it to take the focus off of themselves I think. A difficult one to photograph but I have a magnet a friend bought me some years ago which is entitled ‘The Law of Straightness’. It makes a bit of a joke of OCD but anybody who suffers will know how close to true it is. I’d like to photograph this surrounded by other magnets which are not straight or on a slight slant by itself. Not sure which will work better.
“You can tell when someone has OCD.”
It is thought that OCD is something that should be obvious to people though often not to the sufferer themselves, another misconception which is perpetrated by the way sufferers are generally portrayed in the media. For this I think that a picture of myself at close range, looking deadpan into the lens, would work well. Can you tell just from my face that I have a head full of compulsions and rituals?
“You can’t treat OCD.”
It is commonly believed that OCD is an untreatable illness, that sufferers just need to destress, ‘man up’ and get on with life. To counteract this I think a photograph of anti-anxiety medication could work well. OCD both causes anxiety and is exacerbated by it so if you can control the anxiety with medication then the OCD itself is easier to manage.
“Children don’t get OCD.”
This is definitely not true, although I had no idea what OCD was until I was in my late teens and read an article on it, it is something I have suffered with for as long as I can remember. For this image I would like to take a photograph of a child lining something up, my son used to line up his toy cars by size or by colour when he was small. I’d like to use my daughter (who is still fairly small) and have her lining up cars (if I can find some) or some small ponies. The idea is to shoot from above showing the line of toys and her hands adjusting them though other angles might work better?
“People with OCD are just anally retentive like you see on TV.”
It is usually true that people with OCD are portrayed as being difficult, anally retentive characters on TV. Think Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory or the detective Monk. These characters are shown to be finicky and stuck in their ways but, touching on the point I made earlier, unaware of the fact they have odd ways. In actual fact OCD sufferers are fully aware both of their condition and how ridiculous it must seem to anyone who doesn’t have it, they are often embarrassed and will make light of it or hide it from others. I was very surprised whilst watching Coronation Street last week when a character was shown exhibiting signs of OCD. Not only was he performing rituals but when challenged by someone as to what he was doing he confessed that it was to keep someone he loved safe and that he was embarrassed by it. The illness has begun affecting his life making him late for appointments and leaving him feeling panicked at the thought of not performing his rituals. For this I would like to take a photograph of this character on the TV either looking stressed or performing one of his routines.
Following an email conversation with my tutor I have decided to look a little further in depth at unseen illness for this assignment, specifically OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) as being a (thankfully mild) sufferer, this is a subject I know something about. OCD is an illness which is often misrepresented though and is as such very much misunderstood. I often hear people state they are “a little OCD…” about something, usually to do with cleaning, or they’ll make statements to me such as “Oh, you have OCD? Your house must be spotless!”. I have even had someone tell me I couldn’t possibly have OCD because I don’t obsessively clean.
Leading on from this I had an idea to try and show some of the common misconceptions people have about the illness using photographs showing reality paired with captions stating the way people on the outside see OCD.
What I found when searching the internet for common misconceptions was far more in than I expected. I knew that it is generally thought that OCD is about cleanliness and order and that people think it is a good or useful illness to have but I discovered far more than that.
The main themes for misunderstanding that came up were those of cleanliness and quirkiness. Thanks to the portrayal of OCD in the media it is seen as a bit of a joke or an anally retentive trait which the sufferer does not realise they have (think Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory or the detective Monk, for example). It is also assumed that it will be obvious from the way a person behaves that they have OCD though in reality you are unlikely to be able to see most of their obsessive behaviours. Other causes are seen as stress, being weak willed and needing to relax, phobias, how people are brought up, being a woman and it just being a personality trait.
In actual fact it is a much different and far more complicated illness than is generally thought. Most OCD sufferers, for instance, will be well aware that they have this illness. It begins with intrusive thoughts – these can be violent or sexual thoughts, thoughts of hurting yourself or others (and fear that you will carry them out), fear of committing a sin, fear that someone you love will be hurt or become ill. Most people have intrusive thoughts at some time or another but can easily brush them aside and continue with their day but in someone with OCD these thoughts are more persistent and the sufferer will use rituals to protect themselves (or more often their loved ones) against whatever ‘bad thing’ they are fearful of. Sometimes these will be purely mental rituals but more often they will manifest as excessive cleaning (to fix the fear of making someone ill/getting ill themselves and passing it on), tapping or touching objects, arranging things the ‘right’ way and praying to name just a few.
Themes I would like to photograph are as following:
Other things I could try to show are the compulsions themselves (see second spider chart above) though I feel these images would probably be much more literal than the images I’ve discussed above and would teach about the illness rather than show/debunk the misconceptions people have about it.
I read from several sources online to find out more information about OCD and the misconceptions people have about it. There is so much more to the illness than I have touched on above.
For this assignment I have a choice between 2 assignments. The first is Photographing the Unseen and the second is Using Props. For the first choice I would need to try and capture something that is seen as un-photographabel and for the second it is suggested I choose between either a white shirt or a white handkerchief and through photographs tell a story about it or using it to help. Of these two I much prefer the first brief, I feel it would be much easier for me to pull ideas from areas of my own life than to try and invent a new life for the prop.
The first thing the course book asks is that I do some reflecting on what kinds of subjects might be un-photographable and how I might go about capturing these. from here I hope to be able to choose and develop an idea for my assignment.
Nostalgia – inspired by Jodie Taylor’s work
Fears – specifically childhood fears
Unseen illness – anxiety, OCD
Stress – busy lives, modern living?
Emotions – love, sadness, anger
Smell and sound– senses that can’t be caught on film/image
Touch – can images capture senses in an un-literal way?
Nostalgia – photo albums, childhood haunts, toys, memorabilia. Tricky to find subjects that will evoke nostalgia in a wide range of viewers. I would like to explore the play places of my childhood but am concerned my work would be too similar to Jodie Taylor’s. From what I have seen she has taken and presented her work in much the same fashion I would choose to. Processing and style of photography would be very important here – vignetting and/or 80’s style colour.
Fears – darkness, alleyways, being alone, loud noises after dark (as a child I was even frightened of the sound of the toilet being flushed in the night, too scared to even flush it myself). Post production processing (vignetting, blur) and lighting could help to give these images a dark feel.
Unseen illness – OCD particularly – anxiety stems from it. Lined up (or unaligned if I decided to show things as they shouldn’t be rather than as they should) light switches, cushions, cooker knobs – even the way a key is left in a door. Captions of single words or short phrases – handwritten for more impact? Everyday things out of alignment could extend this idea beyond my house but may not be as personal. As could images depicting the extreme fear of germs which prompts some OCD sufferers to obsessively clean.
Stress – everyday living – the minute of every day – alarm clocks, loading dishwasher, filling car with fuel, paperwork, clocking in to work, cooking, etc. Is this too literal though? How could I show these everyday things as stressful – captions could help here.
Emotions – how to visualise this without liberalising? No people? Lighting to create mood? Or simply shot, stark images? Love, for instance, could be something fuzzy and romantic, a rose with candlelight. Or on a plain background. Would both represent love?
Smell and sound – I’m not certain how these could be captured in an image, taking a photograph of something that makes you think of a certain smell or sound would not be easy.
Touch – possibly too literal for this assignment, photographing textures?
Loss – or fear of loss. I’ve been sitting up with a very poorly cat tonight – he’s been ill for some weeks but started having seizures this evening. Watching him recover from the latest one, not knowing if he’ll make it, got me thinking about how missed he will be if he doesn’t recover. Image ideas could include his empty bowl, spot by the fire, medication, favourite toys, empty cat basket, empty lap.
As an update to my ideas on loss above, my little cat sadly didn’t make it. The lack of his presence in the house leaves a large hole and I’m struggling to make sense of how such a young cat, only just over a year, can become so ill, almost out of the blue, that he cannot be saved. Would the rawness of this loss cloud my judgement for this assignment or would it’s sharpness mean I would create more honest images?