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Sustainable Prospects – Shoot Mod4#12 – Behind the Mask – Alison

Figure 1: Sutherst. Alison. 2017


Alison is a dear friend of mine.  She is one of the most generous, kind-hearted people I know. I have seen her masked face and her unmasked face. Like me, Alison hates to have her photograph taken, but has let me do this previously. After the previous shoot, Alison wrote about her experience for my blog.  In this evaluation, Alison wrote about her phobia and how it had ruled her life for years.

“I suppose it came with becoming the ugly ducking in my early teens, being badly bullied at school and mocked for being plus size, I no longer identified with the person in the image, or in the mirror, that wasn’t who I wanted to be . . . the reflection [in photographs] physically was of me, but mentally of someone I didn’t know or like that much.”

– Stallard in (Jo Sutherst MA Photography Critical Research Journal, 2017)

Alison has hidden behind her mask for her entire adult life.  She has suffered many life-changing events which have shaped the way she is.

“At 29 I had a serious car accident, my husband and I had life-changing injuries and I ended up in a wheelchair. I can honestly say, that in one entire decade, I might have been in 5 photographs if that, and if I was in the image, I would be right at the back, hiding my body and most of my face, trying to blend in with the group so no one could really see what I actually looked like. I spent 8 years in a wheelchair, refused any images whilst I was in that monstrosity and would never dream of posing for an image, because that person in the chair wasn’t me, I didn’t need to be reminded of my disability, so why capture a memory that would always be too painful to deal with.  The weight piled on and on due to extensive changes in medication, I comfort ate because I was miserable, the more miserable I became the more I ate, I hated what was in front of the mirror because I didn’t see me… I saw a stranger and I hated everything about myself, except for my eyes and my hair, everything else was nothing I needed to ever be reminded of.”

– Stallard in (Jo Sutherst MA Photography Critical Research Journal, 2017)

When discussing her mask, Alison was very open with me. Everyday she goes to work to face clients, she puts on this mask. Alison’s mask has so much written on it.  There is more that she couldn’t fit on there too, which she has told me about.  I feel that those things should perhaps should remain unrevealed for a while longer as they are very personal.

“I am very eccentric in my dress sense, hair colour, and makeup because as I mentioned earlier if you stand out you get remembered, but also, psychologically, if you look like a confident person, that’s half the battle. Do shy people have bright pink hair, wear bright clothing and accessories etc. Nope…. well so you would think… How I present myself visually now is the person I want my audience to think I am, confident, carefree and fun and it works.”

– Stallard in (Jo Sutherst MA Photography Critical Research Journal, 2017)

This shoot was so emotional for both myself and Alison. Alison got very upset during the session and as her friend, this was difficult to witness. Her unmasked face revealed tears.  When Alison talks about her mum she ends up crying, so she locks it away every day. When she lets her feelings out of their tightly closed box, she has no control over the overwhelming sadness that she feels. This moment was a turning point in my project, as I realised just how much some of us hide.  If I can go just a little way to help raise awareness and generate understanding, then I will have achieved an awful lot.


The session was like a therapy to Alison who has told me I should offer it to people to try and help them.  This helped to combact the sadness I felt when she became upset during the session. Talking about issues can go some way to helping us deal with the very real emotions that we face. We need to remove the stigma attached to some of the things that Alison and others have faced. We should as a society be supporting victims of abuse and bullying.  We shy away from these topics of conversation with people because it is too hard for us to talk about – imagine how the victim feels. They need a good listener and someone who will help them to get the help they need. We all need to be that person.

I feel very honoured that Alison shared these moments with me, completely stripping back her masks to reveal her true self.  We had a very long talk (and several cuppas) after the session, which has helped us to reconcile what we experienced.  Seeing her a few days later, Alison was her happy self and told me that she felt relieved to have gone through the process; it has made it easier for her to talk to others about her issues since the session. She has even shown her husband the photographs we took and he was very surprised at what he saw. At home, Alison is the backbone of her family.  She is there for everyone else, but hides her emotions from all of them.  This process has opened up new channels of communication and support for her.


To find resources to cope with issues of bullying, please visit the Bullying UK Website.  You can also help fund their helpline by clicking DONATE.


To find resources to cope with issues of child abuse, please visit the NSPCC Website.  You can also help fund their support services by clicking DONATE.


If you are worried that a child or young person is at risk of being abused, please visit the GOV.UK Website for further advice. However, if you feel the risk is immediate please call 999 to report it.

Other helpful websites include the following:

Childline

NSPCC

NHS

Figures 2 and 3: Sutherst. Alison. 2017

REFERENCES

Jo Sutherst MA Photography Critical Research Journal. (2017). Surfaces and Strategies – Shoot Mod3#9 – Performance – “Alley”. [online] Available at: https://josutherstphotography.blog/2017/06/10/surfaces-and-strategies-shoot-mod39-performance-alley/ [Accessed 27 Oct. 2017].


#BehindtheMask #October2017 #TheMasksWeWear

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