“So much of my experience has been pretending not to be depressed, instead of figuring out how to live with it.”
Mental illness is a pervasive part of our culture and conversation, and yet finding a photo that accurately represents a concept as complicated as depression is about as easy as, I don't know, finding a magical cure for it.
We've all seen photos of tear-streaked eyeliner and handfuls of pills used to signal crisis situations, but these images totally miss the everyday internal battles that lead us to those dark places.
Vancouver photographer Jackie Dives—who, full disclosure, has taken photos for VICE—is putting on a photo show next month that looks back on her own teenage struggle with anxiety and depression and the curious way those conditions tend to hide from the view of a camera lens. She recently dusted off a closet full of never-developed film rolls, and despite a thousand internal voices telling her the shots probably weren't any good (hiii inner demons), got the entire set developed all at once.
Dives says it's taken her decades just to muster the courage to confront the photos and the period of her life they represent. "I always felt this deep, deep wonder about them. And also this very deep feeling of a gap in my artistic profile," she told VICE. 'I had no idea what was in there, but it felt like pieces missing from my career, or my photography journey."
The resulting show could be taken as a metaphor for mental illness itself—something that by nature remains unseen and difficult to share. Even when the outward appearances look like road trips and bush parties, Dives' memory suggests it's unwise to try to forget depression is there.
"There's no individual photo that depicts anxiety or depression, but as the person who took them, I know what's going on," she said. "So much of my experience has been pretending not to be depressed, instead of figuring out how to live with it."
"I know there's one picture of my car in a motel parking lot. It's taken at night. I know that night I showed my friend Claire I had tried to cut my wrists the day before," Dives told VICE. "When I look at it, I know that, but it has to be explained."
Dives likens sharing those images and their backstory to therapy. "I feel a huge sense of release, like I'm finally processing them in a way, and now I'm letting them go into the public. I could have just developed them and kept them in the closet, but I feel for me, part of it is to now show them to the world."
For event details go here.
Follow Jackie Dives on Instagram.
Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter.