Anyone who has suffered from depression, or is close to someone who does, knows just how debilitating it is and how far reaching its ripple effect can be.
Dating back to Hippocrates and his "Four Humors", and mentioned multiple times in Chaucer, it's clearly been with us a while - yet despite this there remains a seemingly impenetrable stigma around it.
William Styron, who suffered from and wrote about his experience with the disease commented on the term itself, saying "'Melancholia” would still appear to be a far more apt and evocative word for the blacker forms of the disorder, but it was usurped by a noun with a bland tonality and lacking any magisterial presence, used indifferently to describe an economic decline or a rut in the ground, a true wimp of a word for such a major illness." I tend to agree.
This theme - more than any other I have tackled thus far, has taken the most time - has been shelved repeatedly, and has had the most roadblocks logistically. It seems fitting that a topic so rife with social taboos and still largely closeted from view by individuals who suffer its grip should have been so problematic.
When I first approached doing this series, I desperately wanted to avoid the clichés so often depicted. It's part of the reason why it took 3 years to do just a few frames. The last thing I wanted was to minimize, or present a flattened image of what a person experiences with depression. It seemed like a series was the best way to approach it - no single image could possibly stand in. Admittedly, I still feel that it all falls so short - of course it does. But...I still felt a personal need to explore it visually - because even though it has never affected me personally beyond a temporary funk, it affected my early life peripherally, and affects people I love to this day. I can only speak to it as someone who has been rocked by the ripples.
While each of the images speaks at least to the perspective of the onlooker, it is the courtroom image that I personally was the most attached to. It also took the most time, energy and planning.
While the other images are more self-explanatory, the courtroom scene came from the idea that the depressed person typically judges themselves harshly...especially if they feel they have no "excuse" for being depressed. They not only judge themselves, but feel as if they are being judged by everyone around them. The truth, however, is that they are judging themselves far more than anyone else is. I kept thinking of how the sufferer judges every part of themselves - a woman, for instance, is critical of all her "roles" ... as mother, as daughter, as sibling, as employee, as boss, etc etc. Hence the idea of a courtroom. Then I decided that the entire courtroom would be populated by that single model - by way of multiple exposures - donning different guises, representing the various aspects of her life, and of her self-judging.
In a serendipitous turn of events, this conversation came up with a woman I had known very superficially who invited me to lunch somewhat out of the blue. She was interested in collaborating as a model in one of my conceptual shoots. After some conversation about possible projects, I mentioned the one I had (yet again) shelved about depression. She then revealed how she had suffered from bouts of depression her entire life. At that point I had such a strong feeling that this was my model...not only a model, but the model, for the series.
The courtroom scene took over a year to find the the right location, and get the proper permissions - including a written proposal and a personal interview with the powers that be of that particular courthouse... I kept thinking how am I going to explain this to an attorney and a judge? Turns out, they really engaged, and were intrigued enough to graciously allow access... and I am so grateful.
That image took a full 8 hours of shooting... the model changed outfits, hair & makeup, - and genders, 15 times. The final image is a composite of over 20 images....that one model is every single person in the courtroom. I placed the cloud at her feet to represent the kind of disconnectedness inherent in the disease, and the crow as a nod to a small death of sorts.