The volunteers in my project have been amazing throughout the process. I have received some feedback from each of them once their blogs have been written. Some comments and screenshots of the posts they have placed on social media sites are shown below.
Each of these comments and shares makes me realise just how important this project is to so many. It fills me with determination to get these stories noticed.
“Thank you, it’s beautifully done and produced tears x”
“It’s great darling… totally approve and I am glad I could help!!!! It’s just a good thing I have those boxes stored away, or I might look like that driveling mess all the time !!! Lol !!!! It made me realise how good I am at switching off my emotions . . . you’ve done a great job darling xx keep up the fabulous work”
“Looks good. Thanks once again.”
“Great thank you looks brill!! Xxx”
“Thank you for doing it such a great idea! xxx well done too! Xx”
“Thanks Jo! Lovely words you said!”
“Jo you’re amazing thank you so much it’s perfect!”
When carrying out shoots for the ‘Behind the Mask’ project, I always maintain total respect for the participants I am photographing.
Prior to the shoot
We discuss the intent of the project and exactly what the process will involve. There is also a project information sheet that fully explains the whole experience. I am concern with the emotional
We also discuss and agree the dissemination of the images. The participants have every opportunity to opt in or out of aspects of this dissemination.
During the shoot
The participants read and sign an image release contract amending the wording as they wish to suit their own needs.
At all stages of the process, the participants are given the opportunity to back out.
The unmasked part of the shoot is the hardest part for all participants. They are offered the opportunity to have their hands over their faces for these shots.
I always listen to what they need to say and make sure that I am aware of the emotional state of the participants when they are talking to me.
Together, the participant and I, look at the images on the back of the camera to make sure that we have captured their story as they wish it to be. We usually agree on the images to be used.
If at any point a participant decides they don’t want their photograph taken or used, I would respect their wishes.
After the shoot
I edit and send the participant their ‘happy’ or normal face portraits. I send them my compilation image so that they know what to expect and they then can choose to have their image sent to them.
I then send them a link to the blog post and let them read/change it as necessary. The blog post is not shared anywhere else.
I always ask for consent before sharing any images, this is even with the signed agreement. This gives the participant chance to change their mind about any aspect of the project. This is because the information they have shared is very personal.
If the participant wishes to share their blog post, then they are able to do so.
I ensure that I contextualise the resultant images so as not to contribute to stereotypes or generalisations that surround the issues that the participants have chosen to reveal.
At all times I respect the courage of the participants and respect their wishes with regards to the project and the resultant images.
Privacy and Confidentiality
Each participant has the opportunity to either be named or remain anonymous in the project. At all times, their privacy is protected as surnames are not revealed unless the participant chooses to do so themselves.
I am always considerate of the situation I am photographing, and often put the camera down in order to make eye contact when listening to them.
I will never take advantage of a person’s trust. If they have asked for privacy or confidentiality regarding their identity or circumstances, I will respect their wishes.
“All artists are alike. They dream of doing something that’s more social, more collaborative, and more real than art.”
– Dan Graham (Bishop, 2012: 1)
My current practice is working in a different way to how I have worked previously. In the past, I have been in control of the story being told through the images. I have been the author and creator of my work. The Behind the Mask project is a collaborative project between myself and the participants who are active in the experience and the image creation.
The project provides an open stage for the participants to discuss what is generally not discussed in public. They have an open brief to express feelings and emotions that they are normally silent about. Their silence is expected by others around them who do not want to listen to the problems of others. This project aims to change that. The participants have the freedom to explore their feelings in a supportive environment.
“In socially engaged photography . . . listening and participation can become both the medium and the form, the journey, and the destination.”
– (Asocialpractice.com, 2017)
A socially engaged practice is one in which the traditional roles of image creation do not apply. This method of working involves the blurring of lines of those who are represented in the images and those who represent them. This is certainly true of the project, which empowers the participants to have an active role in all aspects of the work.
“How do you take pictures of somebody in a way that brings them to the table instead of putting them on the menu?”
– Sharita Towne (Asocialpractice.com, 2017)
The participants in this project get involved from the moment that our session begins. They are totally in control of how they present themselves and the message that they wish to share, through their choice of words written on the masks. The session consists of me firstly sharing personal things about myself. Having been through the process myself, I am able to empathise totally with the volunteers. My sharing helps to make the participants feel more relaxed and comfortable talking to me, even if they did not know me previously. This is essential as the session involves them opening up about themselves. I know it works through the results that are produced. The images are emotional and very powerful. To encourage others to take part, on participant posted the following comment shared on Facebook recently:-
Providing a safe space for participants to open up is vital for the project to work. This has required me to build relationships with the participants and to offer them compassion and patience during the shoot. My listening skills are then fully put to use. But in order to listen effectively, I have had to allow myself to become vulnerable. This has been a challenge for meas I am normally very controlled when it comes to my emotions. I do not like to reveal anything to other people, even thoe closest to me. I have always been like that. In order to carryout this project, I have had to give up my usual way of working and dealing with everyday issues.
“Thinking about who
and for whom,
is key to
– Helen Cammock (Asocialpractice.com, 2017)
The project aims to represent those who hide away from others through the wearing of masks. The images are constructed in order to create consistency in the aesthetics so that the message becomes the most important aspect. The work is intended to help those who are not feeling confident enough to stand up and be part of the project. For some, this is too hard. The project reaches out to them and lets them know that their feelings are ok and that although others around us seem to have it all, we too are haunted by things we find hard to talk about.
In ‘Artificial Hells’, Claire Bishop considers the conflict that can occur in participatory projects between the participants who have first-hand involvement in the project and the audience, whose experience is second hand. One area she considers is the perceived issue that “socially engaged art is . . . disavowed [in its] relationship to the aesthetic. By this I do not mean that the work does not fit established notions of the attractive or the beautiful, even though this is often the case; many social projects photograph very badly, and these images convey very little of the contextual information so crucial to understanding the work.” (Bishop, 2012: 26). This is an important aspect to consider. In order for the message of the project to reach those who need to hear it, the images need to express both the context and narrative, whilst maintaining a consistent and inviting aesthetic. I have worked hard with the participants to ensure that the aesthetics of the images are as strong as the message. This results in the images creating an experience in the viewer, much in the same way as Bishop notes that Rancière redefined the term aesthetic by “rather than reconsidering the work of art to be autonomous, he draws attention to the autonomy of our experience in relation to art” (Bishop, 2012: 27). In my current practice, this is applied in that the traditional aesthetic form and presentation of images has shifted towards the social understanding of deeper meanings in what is being represented.
Re-evaluating and re-positioning my practice as one that is socially engaged has caused me to consider what my role is in the process. I consider myself to be a facilitator in this process. I do not have ownership over the work, this is shared between myself and the participants. As Ariella Azoulay expressed “In photography – and this is evident in every single photo – there is something that extends beyond the photographer’s action, and no photographer, even the gifted, can claim ownership of what appears in the photograph. Every photograph of others bears the traces of the meeting between the photographed persons and the photographer . . . the photograph exceeds any presumption of ownership or monopoly” (Azoulay, 2014: 11). Shared ownership is part of the collaborative process. Although I am promoting this during the session, both the participants and I feel obligated to ask each other if it is ok to share the images and accompanying blogs. We have total respect and concern for the others involved in the process.
This has been an enlightening and freeing experience. Through this project, I have re-framed my practice and my working methods. I am no longer satisfied with being the author of all stories and of speaking on behalf of my subjects, portraying my interpretation of their stories. Their stories do not need me to interpret them. I do not need to control all aspects of the creative process for it to be a success. It is time to let that go and let the voices be heard.
Asocialpractice.com. (2017). Photography as a Social Practice – An archive of research and dialogue around socially engaged photography. [online] Available at: http://www.asocialpractice.com [Accessed 28 Oct. 2017].
Asocialpractice.com. (2017). Disruptive Participation and Radical Listening: Magnum Foundation Photography Expanded Symposium 2017 – Photography as a Social Practice. [online] Available at: http://www.asocialpractice.com/disruptive-participation-and-radical-listening-magnum-foundation-photography-expanded-symposium/ [Accessed 29 Oct. 2017].
Asocialpractice.com. (2017). Our City in Stereo – Photography as a Social Practice. [online] Available at: http://www.asocialpractice.com/our-city-in-stereo/ [Accessed 29 Oct. 2017].
Azoulay, A. (2014). The civil contract of photography. New York: Zone Books.
Bishop, C. (2012). Artificial hells. London: Verso.
Evaluation and Monitoring of Progress of Marketing Plan Issued 15th October 2017
2 Posts per day to Social Media Platforms
This week, I decided to reduce the number of posts to each platform to 1 per day. Even with using Buffer.com to schedule the posts, there was a lot of pressure to come up with 2 per day. I will monitor the impact of this decision.
Followers on Social Media Platforms
As noted from the charts above, the Behind the Mask project has seen an incredible growth in followers. I anticipate that this will slow down after the initial surge of interest.
Number of engagements with posted content on Facebook
The number of engagements has dropped this week, due to no posts being promoted through paid advertising.
Behind the Mask Project Targets for this Week
Number of engagements and crowdsourced images for the project ‘Behind the Mask’.
No crowdsourced images have yet been received
More volunteers have come forward to take part
One poem has been sent to me about the project.
Engagement is evident on all posts. Am now starting to get mental health advocates and similar following me.
Other Targets for this Week
To successfully issue newsletter on 23/10/17
Completed on time and sent to 186 subscribers. I have lost one subscriber after the publication. The newsletter has encouraged a couple of people to engage with the caption competition, so this tells me that the newsletter was read by a few people at least.
Connections made with industry professionals
This week I have made contact with a few industry professionals through social media sites
One important aspect of the project is to ensure that my volunteers are ok throughout the whole process and beyond the photo shoot.
Talking and being honest about the mask you hide behind can have negative effects, as often the participants are silent about these things and do not talk about them. I want to make sure that everyone who has taken part is doing ok.
During the shoot, we talk about issues. I always start the session explaining what I intend to do. I talk through my motivations and share stories of what I hide behind. The volunteers are fully aware that they can stop at any point. We discuss the paperwork that gets filled in. Each person is invited to modify the image release document as they wish. I always explain that a blog post will be written and published on my blog and that the images will form part of a portfolio (and this may also be online as part of my submission to university).
The hardest part of the session is always when we shoot the unmasked person. I am very aware that I do not want my participants to go to a place that they don’t want to or is too difficult to go to. I offer an alternative of placing their head in their hands so that we can’t see their face. For some, we have started there and moved on to get amazingly powerful shots.
The unmasked shoot is kept to an absolute minimum length of time. However, for some of my volunteers, they have needed time to talk, so I let them. I don’t shoot them all the time. It is important to listen to what they are saying as well as record the emotion. If I shot all the time, I would be nothing more than a voyeur (in my mind) and would not connect as well as I have done with everyone. The talking is part of the process.
After the shoot, there is always time for a chat and a cuppa.
Once I have got home, I always message everyone to thank them for taking part and to check they are ok. I edit the images and send them their ‘happy’ pictures (as I call them). These are the images of themselves that they show the world every day.
Each volunteer is offered their triptych image if they want it. I send mine first so that they know what to expect. In every case, they have wanted to see it. Each person has commented how powerful the image is. Some have asked if they can share it with friends.
Once the blog post is written, I publish it to my blog only and do not share it in any other place (my normal blog posts are shared to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn). I then message the volunteer with a message along the lines “Here is the link to your blog post from our shoot. This is only on my blog and has not been shared on any other site. Please let me know if anything needs changing. I am hoping that we can raise awareness and maybe money for the charities I have mentioned. You are free to share the link if you want to. Thank you so so much for being part of the project – we are going to help so many people.” Each person has been happy with their posts so far and several have been shared with charities, Facebook friends, and fellow sufferers. This sharing has been the choice of the volunteer and not me. Initially, I made no comment about the volunteers being able to share the blog post, but I was asked several times if they could. I find this overwhelming, as I am telling their story in the posts and not mine. They have ownership over their own stories, I have just written them up as the collaborator. Yet, they still feel compelled to seek my permission to share. The volunteers are truly amazing people.
Each person has been happy with their posts so far and several have been shared with charities, Facebook friends, and fellow sufferers. This sharing has been the choice of the volunteer and not me. Initially, I made no mention of the volunteers being able to share the blog post, but I was asked several times if they could. I find this overwhelming, as I am telling their story in the posts and not mine. They have ownership over their own stories, I have just written them up as the collaborator. Yet, they still feel compelled to seek my permission to share. The volunteers are truly amazing people.
I check with the participants at each stage of the process. This is despite having fully signed up and agreed image release contracts in place. I want to make sure that each person is still happy with how the work is disseminated.
I will continue to check on how my participants are doing as time moves on with messages and support. They will be kept in the loop at all stages of the project.
And my aftercare? For me, hearing the stories and seeing everyone express themselves is special. I take comfort in them liking the images and, in some cases, wanting to share them. If we can raise awareness and increase acceptance of various issues, then this project will be a success.
Each of my volunteers was given a questionnaire to answer as previously discussed. One question was about whether there were things that they hide that they did not reveal or write on the mask.
For most people, there are some things that they feel they cannot talk about. There are some things that are too private and they are not yet in a place where they can reveal them to others. I know that this is certainly true for me. There are things that are not on my mask that I haven’t yet fully admitted to myself, so there is no way I am ready to share them with others. I am hopeful that that project will help me to do this in the future.
For some, memory issues caused by their underlying medical conditions means that they may have unintentionally missed things out.
Other comments included that they use their confidence as a mask and that underneath they are shy and introverted.
Several commented on their lack of body confidence and body dysmorphia. People around do not see this. All they see is a confident person, happy in their skin. Again this is close to my heart, as I portray a confident, couldn’t care what others think attitude. Yet inside, I care what people think. I wear bright clothes to make it look like I am happy when I am not.
Feeling like you are a disappointment to your family and close friends is debilitating and experienced by many people. Acknowledging this is one thing, but writing it on a mask is too much when you are trying to deal with this feeling.
Volunteers chose to tell me things that they hadn’t told many others before; in some cases, they may only have told one other person. These included stories of sexual abuse and self-harm. These things are kept off the mask for fear of upsetting others – partners or parents. I am not going to expand on these as I am not comfortable sharing the information via this blog (even though in some cases the volunteers were happy for me to share). I am not sure sharing these things in their entirety will necessarily add to the impact of the project; what they have shared on their masks is powerful enough. As I said at the start, some things are just too private to share.
I have known Sara for some time now as a disabled model. What I did not was just how much she has been through in her life and how much she hides from everyone. She volunteered to be part of the project as the aims are ones that she shares and are very close to her heart.
To make things easier for Sara, I traveled to her home and we did the whole session there. To ensure that the images taken fit cohesively into the project, I placed a piece of grey mount board behind Sara. This is a convenient and non-intrusive way to add a consistent background to the shots.
Sara has many medical conditions to contend with and faces each day with a myriad of medications. Her husband does a sterling job caring for her each day as her mobility is limited and there are times that she cannot do anything for herself. Whilst I was there, she needed to drink coffee with a straw as her mouth doesn’t always work as she wants it to.
Sara has suffered a couple of strokes in the past. The result is that she cannot do an awful lot with her left side as that was the side most affected. Her other medical conditions mean that she is in constant pain. Sara has a really healthy attitude towards this. She explained to me that every so often, she reduces her pain medication to stop the body getting used to it. As her body gets used to the dose, it needs increasing. At times that dose can approach that needed by people on end of life care. That scares Sara, so she allows her body to re-adjust and re-calibrate so that the medication begins to be effective again at a lower level. It is an incredibly brave move, as her pain levels are intense.
Sara had other medical conditions on top of this and these just exacerbate the stroke effects. Yet, Sara gets on with her life and tries her hardest to support those around her as they support her.
Sara has a loving and supportive family around her and this was evident throughout our session. Sara was unable to hold the pens to write on her mask. Her daughter stepped in, first decorating around the left eye to represent the makeup that Sara wears as part of her mask. Sara’s daughter then wrote the words that she asked her to, filling the mask with keywords that have a dramatic effect on Sara’s life. At times, Sara’s memory fails her. It is part of her condition. At these times, she will insert the word ‘carrot’ and the whole family knows what this means. The bond between Sara and her family was beautiful to observe. They all support each other and it is a very nurturing, calm environment to be in.
Sara explained that she took up modeling as a way to overcome her lack of confidence. She is able to become another person when being photographed and this allows her to forget her pain and everything else for a short time. Sara told me that she does not like the photos when she first sees them but gets to like them after a time. She is stunning in her images (as can be seen in figure 1).
“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”
– (Coelho, 2017)
“We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation.”
– (Coelho, 2017)
Every day that Sara puts on her mask and goes out, she faces stares and comments from other people. Because her mask is so good, she does not look ill. People stare and comment when they park the car in a disabled bay. They do not realise she is disabled until they see that she has to open her door fully and use her whole body to turn and get her legs out of the car. She needs her husband to help her sometimes. Other people then see the wheelchair and realise their initial reactions were wrong.
Sara can walk when pushing her granddaughter in her pushchair. The pushchair acts as a walker for her, providing support. Sara loves doing this but pays for it in pain later.
Spending time talking to Sara and listening to her story reminds me of the following from the ‘The Holocaust Lady’.
“. . . you do not know how strong you can be until put to the test. Heroes or cowards are not born that way. They are created by circumstances . . . what gave me the strength to live . . . hope”
– (Sender, 1993)
Sara is a perfect example of how well someone can look when behind the mask they are suffering and in pain. She has amazing mental strength and resilience which gets her through each day with a smile on her face. I am so inspired by her courage and determination to do everything she can to get on with her life and to ensure that her family are happy and loved. Thank you, Sara, for being part of this project.
If you notice any of the symptoms in figure 2 in yourself or other people, please call 999 immediately.
To find resources to cope with issues arising from strokes, please visit the Stroke Association Website. You can also help fund their ongoing research and support by clicking DONATE.
Prior to the shoot, Angela was only known to me through Facebook. She responded to the call for volunteers on my Facebook page. Angela is a keen follower of my blog posts and she wanted to be involved to help raise awareness of the many conditions she has. She suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, and anxiety. Angela explained to me that it took her a while and a lot of consideration before she applied to take part. She is another person who dislikes what they see in photographs of themselves (although in figure 1 above she looks stunning).
Angela explained that she wears a mask every day and especially when she is at work. She went on to tell me that “when people say ‘be yourself’ that statement makes me laugh. If I did that, I’d probably never speak to anyone let alone go out in public! I don’t feel like the world owes me anything but I do feel that as I am still able to function relatively normally (or so people see) I need to get over my hang-ups and use that to increase awareness for people like my friend Zoe who is bedridden 90% of the time with M.E.” Angela is extremely generous and brave in stepping out of her comfort zone to raise awareness of CFS/ME to try and help others.
“Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)/myalgic encephalomyelitis (or encephalopathy) (ME) is a relatively common illness. The physical symptoms can be as disabling as multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, congestive heart failure and other chronic conditions. CFS/ME places a substantial burden on people with the condition, their families, and carers, and hence on society . . . CFS/ME comprises a range of symptoms that include fatigue, malaise, headaches, sleep disturbances, difficulties with concentration and muscle pain. A person’s symptoms may fluctuate in intensity and severity, and there is also great variability in the symptoms different people experience. CFS/ME is characterised by debilitating fatigue that is unlike everyday fatigue and can be triggered by minimal activity. This raises especially complex issues in adults and children with severe CFS/ME. CFS/ME, like other chronic conditions for which the causes and disease processes are not yet fully understood, poses significant problems for healthcare professionals. It can cause profound, prolonged illness and disability, which has a substantial impact on people with CFS/ME and their carers. Uncertainties about diagnosis and management and a lack of clinical guidance for healthcare professionals have exacerbated this impact.”
– (Nice.org.uk, 2017)
At the moment, there is no single way of managing CFS/ME that works for everyone, but as Angela points out “there is a huge problem with N.I.C.E. deciding it is a psychological issue when it is neurological and the recommendation of positive thinking and graded exercise therapy has actually been hugely detrimental to a lot of people and in some cases made the condition so bad that they are unable to move at all. The people with the funding won’t listen to the experts. This I understand is the case with a number of ‘hidden’ illnesses.” This needs to change.
Alongside the CFS/ME, Angela has also been battling with anxiety. It can take over her whole body and prevents her from functioning normally when an attack occurs. She often has no warning. We all will experience feelings of anxiety at some point. We may feel worried about a medical test or sitting an exam. Feeling anxious is totally normal in these cases. Imaging though, being unable to control the worry; being unable to control the feelings of anxiety; having constant feelings of anxiety and worry that totally overwhelm your body. It may be that you struggle to remember the last time you felt relaxed. Imagine these things and you may go some way to understanding how anxiety can become all-encompassing.
I have seen anxiety attacks in students at school. It strikes without warning and is often terrifying for the individual. They do not know what is happening, why they can’t feel their limbs or why they can’t breathe. Acceptance of anxiety and the removal of the stigma around it needs to happen if we are to help those around us.
“Anxiety is a normal, if unpleasant, part of life, and it can affect us all in different ways and at different times. Whereas stress is something that will come and go as the external factor causing it (be it a work, relationship or money problems, etc.) comes and goes, anxiety is something that can persist whether or not the cause is clear to the sufferer.
Anxiety can make a person imagine that things in their life are worse than they really are, and prevent them from confronting their fears. Often they will think they are going mad, or that some psychological imbalance is at the heart of their woes. What is important is the recognition that anxiety is normal and exists due to a set of bodily functions that have existed in us from our cave-man days.”
– (Anxiety UK, 2017)
Angela talked about some of her anxiety attacks whilst I was photographing the unmasked shot. I was struck with how she has managed to deal with it for so long. I found it sad that there are times when people cannot accept her when she wears a thin mask that doesn’t hide everything. They expect her to be the happy smiling person they have become used to. I think we all have a lesson here and need to be more understanding of people if they do not appear to be as you normally see them. Sometimes, being there to listen to them can help. Angela commented that the whole photo shoot session had been enjoyable as well as therapeutic. Being able to talk to someone who genuinely wanted to listen and not make judgments was just what she needed.
Both before and after the session, I observed Angela with her young son. The love and attention that she gave to him, nurturing him when he needed sleepy cuddles from her was so beautiful to see. Whilst Angela may have things she needs to deal with on a daily basis, she still has so much love to give to others. She is totally selfless in this. I find her strength of character and generosity of spirit so inspiring. I would like to thank Angela for being part of the project and for offering hope and support to other sufferers.
To find resources about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, please visit the ME Association Website. You can also help fund their ongoing support by clicking DONATE.
To find resources to cope with anxiety, please visit the Anxiety UK Website. You can also help fund their ongoing support by clicking DONATE.
“The butterfly effect is a metaphor-namely a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere . . . In social media, a single flap or post can have a cascading effect. As social media tends to be viral, the effects are far-reaching and cumulative in nature, echoing the flap of the butterfly’s wings. Seemingly innocuous social media activity can essentially have much larger or unintended consequences in the future.”
– (Outbound Social Media Marketing Platform | NewzSocial, 2017)
Social media is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the development of my photographic practice. In order to make sure that I flutter and don’t fall, I have come up with a strategy that I hope will help me to successfully cultivate growth across the various platforms I have a presence on:-
Listen to the audience and ensure that my posts are on target and don’t get lost in the noise.
Monitor the success of posts; what is hot and what is not.
Keep doing small things that can be developed into bigger things in the future.
Reach out and engage in conversation with other professionals and relevant online communities.
Be active on social media – keep flapping and don’t ride the currents.
Ask others for feedback and provide feedback when asked.
Answer questions as soon as I can
Reply to all comments on posts
Build relationships online; be trustworthy and add value to conversations
Spend some time each day researching conversations and then engaging with them.
I will re-post good posts, especially those by influential people. This is easily achieved by sharing posts to my own followers. I will be sure to include credit to the original poster, using phrases such as ‘thank you to ???’, ‘Retweet ???’ or ‘great post from ???’
I am hopeful that this strategy will help me increase my online following. I intend to keep flapping, using Buffer.com to help me schedule new posts.
Outbound Social Media Marketing Platform | NewzSocial. (2017). The Butterfly Effect and Social Media: Fall or Flutter. [online] Available at: http://www.newzsocial.com/resources/blog/social-media-marketing/the-butterfly-effect-and-social-media-fall-or-flutter/ [Accessed 24 Oct. 2017].