A love note to my daughter – how her love and support, throughout my depression, inspired my winning entry in the Wellcome Photography Prize 2020.
My work as a photographer has always focussed on my mental health. While being a creative and free-spirited person, I have also had a life-long relationship with depression. I believe art is a powerful tool to speak through and that is why I was excited to enter and be awarded the winner of the ‘Mental Health – single image’ category in the Wellcome Photography Prize 2020. My entry ‘Holding on to Daddy’, depicts my personal experience with depression and my relationship with my daughter, who is my inspiration and muse in many ways.
"I’m escaping through the window and my daughter through her video game, however she is tethered to me, this futuristic, afro astronaut. You have this guy, who suffers from depression, but I attribute my grounded-ness to my relationship with my daughter."
My earliest recollection of experiencing poor mental health was extreme anxiety at school. I remember this feeling of impending doom. It was debilitating. This followed me throughout my childhood and at the age of 19 I had my first suicide attempt. Back then you didn’t understand what it was, there wasn’t a name for how I was feeling. It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I sought out professional support. Before then, like many, I had been self-medicating through alcohol to fend off the depression. This led to my second suicide attempt. Now, despite long waiting lists, I do have support around me and am able to use my experiences to create art. By sharing my story it allows me to feel empowered by my depression, not a victim of it.
I was delighted to see this year’s Wellcome Photography Prize take a focus on mental health, with two dedicated categories. The prize included entries from around the world, all aiming to transform public perception around mental health and combat stigma. Being a photography prize, I felt like it was speaking to me, asking me to talk about my experiences.
My entry, ‘Holding on to Daddy’, was developed as a love note to my daughter. It draws on the themes of escapism and connection; I’m escaping through the window and my daughter through her video game, however she is tethered to me, this futuristic, afro astronaut. It’s not didactic, there’s playfulness and exploration in the relationship that’s grounded in fantasy. You have this guy, who suffers from depression, but I attribute my grounded-ness to my relationship with my daughter. This photo was the most natural way I could express this feeling, through fantasy.
Race, fear, disparity
Racial inequality is also something I want my photograph to shine a spotlight on. Black people are four times more likely to be detained due to poor mental health and eight times more likely to be recommended for community treatment orders. I’m open about my experiences. We need to share our stories to help tackle this stigma and reassure others they are not alone.
I feel a main concern for black people associated with mental health is the way they may be treated by health and police authorities. I witnessed a close family member of mine be mistreated and sectioned. Sadly, there is stigma associated with this; what impact will this have on your career, your children and how society views you. We need to create an environment where black people do not fear being open and seeking support for mental health problems. We also need to ask ‘why do the statistics show this disparity?’ and importantly, support is needed from the authorities to address this.
Beauty in resonance
Although my experience has been hard, I have mixed feelings about my mental health experiences. You could call it a breakdown or you could call it a breakthrough. There is so much to celebrate when you make it through a bad bout; I managed and now I’m on the other side. I have a new way to see the world that allows me to be extremely creative.
Anytime we can use art to point to something bigger, it is such a powerful tool. There’s a universality in art and it has always been a medium where mental health is talked about, look at Van Gogh. I’m sure I’m just one artist in a long line of tradition. I’m happy that my work speaks to people, when you put it out to the world and it resonates and can help someone, there’s something beautiful in that.
Photo credit: Holding on to Daddy; Benji Reid.
To view the Wellcome Photography Prize 2020 shortlist and winners, please visit: https://wellcome.ac.uk/photoprize