This week I'm going a little bit "off message" and shifting the focus away from sunny happy surfy stuff, to a much darker, more serious and important issue; that of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
My friend James Allen has just aced his degree in Press and Editorial Photography at University College Falmouth and his final year project has been picked up and shared by a number of top end photography journals, websites and was exhibited in London last week. James decided to tackle the difficult subject of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which required him to build relationships with sufferers over long periods of time before they were comfortable being photographed and interviewed. His subjects ranged from former soldiers to victims of domestic violence or people involved in tragic and unforgettable accidents. Before I pass the baton to James's images and captions, I'll finish on one key statistic that struck me from his work: More British veterans of the Falklands War and First Gulf War committed suicide than were killed in action. That's not the Second Gulf War. Just consider that for a moment then click through to James' website to view the full set of images and accompanying text which explains the issue far more succinctly than it's possible for me to here.
"This body of work aims to empower my subjects, giving them a voice and educating the viewer, thereby reducing the stigma associated with this mental health issue. The images are captioned by text extracted from my interviews so as to allow the viewer to hear their voices, to sense their anger and despair, but also feel hope and new life."
James Allen, June 2012
“The imagery of Iraq that bombarded my mind was so detailed that I could paint scenes from my mind. I knew the colour of cars, the height of buildings. I could smell the dead people we had shot. I could see the bodies and the thick congealed blood on the floor. It was like a fish had been gutted. I could see the dead Iraqi soldiers, their eyes staring at me, and I was powerless in my dreams to fight back any threat. I was in such a helpless state.”
“I attempted to commit suicide. My wife found me with a 9mm Glock in my mouth. I was paranoid - I kept arms and ammunition at home and built up a big Arsenal. It wasn’t a fun place to be really, but the culmination of it was that I tried to kill me self. My wife walked through the door as I was about to do the honours. Her face basically stopped me.”
“I can’t begin to tell you how many soldiers I’ve worked with that have lost everything - wives, partners and even the rights to see their children. Without a doubt, the hardest part of my journey was losing my family. It wasn’t until I lost them I realised I had a serious problem and had to ask for help.”
“It’s PTSD; you live with something that happened twenty years ago - you still cry about it. You can’t stop, because you’re still not over it. You’re not allowed the space to, because you’re not allowed to talk about it. Even with therapists you start talking about the gory details and they cover their mouths with shock. They’re anxious because they don’t want to hear the really horrid bits. I was seventeen when I went to the doctors to tell him that I’d been raped. He just patted me on the head. It’s shocking.”
“ I think there’s a problem with PTSD because its become a word synonymous with soldiers. People don’t understand that it might be in the domestic sphere as well. It’s the day you realise your totally out of control and that’s the case the next day and the day after that. It’s a repeated pattern; you can’t make yourself or your family safe. And you won’t be safe next year, and at some point you acknowledge that you’re going to be killed, and I don’t know where you go from there. Once you believe that your going to die I don’t know how you can ever believe in anything different. As a consequence I can’t change my behaviour, in that respect it’s probably very similar to a soldier in a war zone because you are scared your going to be killed today. Its fear, I’m just fearful, they used to call it battered wife syndrome.”
“It was when I was fourteen years old - there was an accident in the back garden involving some petrol near a barbeque. It caught fire and because it was next to my little sister I tried to prevent an accident and threw the bottle away from her ... it ended up hitting a little lad who caught fire from the flames of the petrol. So I chased after him to get him on the ground and roll him around to stop the flames spreading any more ... I jumped on top of him and rolled him around to put out the flames.”
“At first I was depressed because people were blaming me, saying it was my fault - that I’d done it on purpose. I started to experience flashbacks about it - I felt like I was reliving the moment over and over again, seeing certain things. Flames can set me off on a flashback. Just being asleep in the middle of the night I feel like I am reliving it; I can smell the flesh burning and I feel like I’m burning up myself. I see pictures in my mind of what happened.”