Photography and depression

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by Mike Lopez, Feb 6, 2006.

  1. Mike Lopez

    Mike Lopez Member

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    I recently read a quote somewhere (unfortunately, I can't remember where right now), that said something to the effect of "most of history's music, painting, poetry, writing...worth paying attention to was created by someone who suffered depression at some stage in life." I probably butchered this, but that's the thrust of it, anyway.

    I'm wondering about how this applies to photographers in history. Edward Weston's "darkening" vision later in life is documented. Diane Arbus killed herself. I haven't read it yet, but in skimming through "Paul Strand: Southwest," it looks like there were "issues" between Paul and Rebecca Strand and Georgia O'Keeffe, which probably caused Strand some sort of mental problems (again, I haven't read this book yet--it's up soon).

    What other photographers can you think of who suffered mental health problems; depression in particular? I would like to hear about it.

    Mike
     
  2. modafoto

    modafoto Subscriber

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    Although not a legend (yet)...ME
     
  3. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    I believe most people during some period of their life suffer from depression.
     
  4. mono

    mono Subscriber

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    As Claire just mentioned that´s something what might happen to everyone of us, not only to artists!
    But there it is said to impose a sort of special creativity.
     
  5. modafoto

    modafoto Subscriber

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    I think depressed people (and mentally ill people in general) make art because it is a way of getting the feelings out. Therefore art made my these people can be more expressive than other art. I have written some great songs when being depressed.
     
  6. Monophoto

    Monophoto Member

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    Years ago, when it was still worth buying and reading, Popular Photography had a regular column by Cora Wright Kennedy. In one of her columns, she included an image that she had made at the time of her father's death, and said that the process of making that image helped her to come to terms with the fact of his passing. The picture was a simple image - a leaf from a tree, trapped in a chain-link fence. It was beautiful and sensitive, and while it wasn't literal in telling it's story, casual viewers could look at it and know that it resulted from an introspective time in the makers life.
     
  7. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    i know whenever i am depressed, i find that making things
    not only gives me an outlet, but it is a form of escape. ...
     
  8. rbarker

    rbarker Member

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    I agree - depression, sadness, and emotional pain - in their various shades - or, even joy, all act to spur creative expression, whether in visual arts, musical, or word art (poetry or prose). I'm of the opinion that what creates an artist (of any type) may be that they are endowed (blessed or cursed) with greater sensitivity to life experiences, and then choose a medium with which to express their feelings.

    I think we see fluctuations in the work of most people, and those fluctuations often represent periods of depression or emotional pain, even if subtle. It's when the depression becomes excessive, or sinks into insanity, that artists often become self-destructive.
     
  9. Mike Lopez

    Mike Lopez Member

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    I'm kind of the opposite. When my depression is strong (and I can most definitely feel it), it's all I can do to get out of bed and do anything, let alone do anything creative. That's what I'm actively trying to overcome. Sometimes I need my wife to give me a swift kick in the ass and send me out the door with my gear. But then again, some of my better pictures have been made at those times, as well. Getting up and going is the hardest part.

    Thanks for your responses so far.
     
  10. battra92

    battra92 Member

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    I have a form of depression and use light therapy for it. Except when I'm depressed, I don't want to do anything including make art. Photography is something I tend to do when I'm happy and I hope my photos reflect that. I do take some photos on my "blah" days but when I'm not in the mood, I'm just not in the mood.
     
  11. BradS

    BradS Member

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    Well, I'm not famous and probably never will be but, I did suffer severe depression for almost two years. I emerged from that a changed person. The character of my photography also changed considerably during and after that period.
     
  12. smieglitz

    smieglitz Member

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  13. Bill Mitchell

    Bill Mitchell Member

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    Depression is a poor choice of terms. Everyone occasionally gets depressed, but the illness "Clinical Depression" is a completely different ballgame. I believe that the original article was referring to the Clinical kind. So far as I know, Edward Weston didn't suffer from it. Obviously, Diane Arbus did.
     
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  15. cao

    cao Member

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    W.E.S.

    While W. Eugene Smith's pictures have an extra helping of amazing, he seems to have had an extra helping of messed up.
     
  16. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    Actually deep clinical depression is one of the first symptoms of Parkinsons. Charis discusses Weston suffering from it in her biography.

     
  17. noblebeast

    noblebeast Member

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    This discussion reminds me of the metaphor I heard some time ago about oysters create a work of beauty - the pearl - from an irritation - a grain of sand or other debris that gets inside their shell and settles on their soft sensitive parts. The idea being that all or most great works of beauty start with an irritation. Very few artists, regardless of the medium or their fame, create from a place of joy. Not that that doesn't happen, it's just more common that the gold won't shine forth and reveal itself until the darkness has descended. After the creation joy holds forth, at least for a little while, then it's back to the dark places to mine more beauty. That's the way it's usually worked for me, as well as all of the "artists" I have ever had direct contact with. Again, it appears to be the norm but not an absolute.

    M. Scott Peck said that depression (a depression not precipitated by chemical imbalances) is most often a sign that one is either going through changes or needs to go through changes. Art and creation is a great way to work through those changes, and the results are there for everyone else to enjoy.

    Joe
     
  18. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    I used to know quite a few people who had been on medication and getting help from professionals for their symptoms in clinical depression. It's a tough subject to talk about.

    I don't think we can really tell what it is that we humans go through internally from observing the work of art. We can only assume we know it, but that is not the same as really knowing and/or understanding it in a way we like to.
     
  19. George Papantoniou

    George Papantoniou Member

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    Francesca Woodman http://www.slack.net/~kiki/woodman.html
     
  20. Mike Lopez

    Mike Lopez Member

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    It's very possible that Weston was not diagnosed with clinical depression, nor even sought such a diagnosis. He's been gone for almost 50 years, and the times have certainly changed since his days.
     
  21. Wayne

    Wayne Member

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    Times have changed, but psychiatry has changed very little. They are just as full of shit as ever.
     
  22. Dave Wooten

    Dave Wooten Subscriber

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    George thanks for the Woodman link, that is a new one for me....

    Mike, to your request,

    an interesting and "unknown photographer" Frank Sadorous of Sadorus Illinois...see his book "Upon a quiet Landscape" The Photographs of Frank Sadorus...from 350 wet plates...the photographs are from 1908 - 1912. Frank was totally out of touch with other photographers of his time. He referred to himself as Frank Sadorous, Lifeographist, and Sadorous Artistic Pictorialist, and the "Sadorous Sunshine System"... his photographs are incredibly humorous and he exhibits a great deal of expertise, double exposure etc...also a good documentary of life on the farm and the removing of wooded landscape etc...Self taught, his materials came by mail and his plates came from the "St. Louis Seed Dry Plate Company...used Velox paper...

    "under obscure circumstances" on March 22, 1917, Frank was committed to a mental hospital in Kankakee, Ilinois...Frank is "troubled with delusions and hallucinations with a pronounced tendency to worry." In his medical records, under mental disposition the physician wrote "kind."

    He was in that hospital for the next 17 years and died on Christmas day, 1934.
     
  23. Bill Hahn

    Bill Hahn Member

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    "I wouldn't envy the psychiatrist who had to analyze Gene." - Ed Thompson,
    Photo Editor for LIFE magazine (quoted in the video: "W. Eugene Smith: Photography
    Made Difficult").

    "I said I want that fellow who did that essay about the Spanish village...Ed Thompson, he says to me, 'You want Smith? I'm telling you now, it would be easier just to buy a revolver and shoot yourself.' " Stephan Lorant, who hired Smith to make a dozen photographs of Pittsburgh. Lorant figured it would take two weeks. Smith stayed for months and made over 11,000 photos....Lorant wound up suing Smith, I believe.

    Read Russell Miller's book on Magnum, there is a chapter entitled: "The Saga of W. Eugene Smith". He became such a money sink that they eventually parted company.

    But what a photographer!
     
  24. arigram

    arigram Member

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    This thread is depressing.

    (and yes, I suffer from depression fifteen years now)

    I use photography as a means to approach people and deal with the love-hate relationship I have with them
    Artists are often depressive because they are overly sensitive, appear different to other people and thus treated as such, have strong and often idealistic ideas about the world which do not apply in reality, work alone, their work is deeply personal and so its progress affects them directly, and many other things.
     
  25. jeroldharter

    jeroldharter Member

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    I happen to be a psychiatrist. Thanks, Wayne, for your vote of confidence. I'll send you a Scientology T-shirt.

    Depression is common. Maybe 1 in 10 to 1 in 15 people experience an episode of major depression in a lifetime. So one would expect the same in artistically minded people. Bipolar disorder, of which depression is a component, is probably over-represented in artistic people.

    A psychologist, Kay Redfield-Jamison (who happens to have bipolar disorder) has done alot of reading and researh on bipolar disorder. She gives alot of talks on "Creativity and Madness." One book that might be of interest: Touched With Fire
     
  26. Wayne

    Wayne Member

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    The first thing our psychiatrist does is try to "brand" me as a Scientologist in an ad hominem attack to discredit what I say, while in fact nothing could be futher from the truth. You'll have to do better than that, I've seen it a hundred times.

    I'm sure Kay is a wonderful person and I'm sincerely happy that she has found something that helps. But she unfortunately reiterates the same nonsense masqueraded as science that we are all bombarded with in the media everyday. Having good intentions and/or having suffered from depression or other mental illness does not make one immune to the lies that psychiatry perpetrates on the public. If anything it makes a person more susceptible, because they are vulnerable and want to believe so bad.