Artist Study – Juliet Chenery Robson

My tutor suggested looking at Juliet Chenery Robson’s series ‘Portraits of  a Postmodern Illness’ The moment I read the first thing about her, I was intrigued, for me someone who has suffered from ME since I was eight years old, this was a photographic series very close to my heart. I know a huge amount of people with ME and also know how hard it is for people to understand and accept you are ill. So whenever I see the illness mentioned in something like this I am immediately intrigued and pleased with the photographer for representing the illness.

Juliet Chenery Robson is no exception, her work is powerful and simple but incredibly complex. She photographed a series of ME sufferers and asked them to close their eyes. By doing this she states  ‘If the eye is a mirror in which the other meets her own reflection, then by photographing my subjects with eyes closed I invite the viewer to invest the portraits with their own eyes, and thus see through the eyes of the ME sufferer. By closing their eyes, they ask the viewer to open theirs.

 This is such a powerful quote and looking at the photos I really understand that. It’s like the person has asked ‘What do you see?” then closed their eyes and it’s up to the viewer to find out. It’s completely a contrast to usual portrait photography, the eye is the window to the soul, when you close your eyes theoretically your soul is no longer on display. Robson shows this is not the case as these portraits are drenched in character and emotion. The fact that they are all alone in each picture makes me think of the isolation of CFS ME. When I first go it I lost all my friends, who wants to be friends with someone who can’t go out and play. Well the arts became my friend, art, photography, writing and the beauty of life. It makes me think how some people find it, fighting it on their own, an invisible illness that no-one understands and how hard it is. When you have ME sometimes it can be just as hard getting people to understand as fighting the actual illness.

The image is shot in colour but it also appears very monochromatic, the stark black and white representing the illness, when I created the photo video for Assignment Four I described ME as sucking the colour from the world. This is what I feel the photos represent.

Incredibly only now people are starting to accept it is a real illness and not in the sufferers heads.  So when work like this is produced like this it is really inspiring and touching and even more important raises awareness of this awful illness therefore creating awareness in the media, money can be put towards research and finally a cure! In that respect photography can change the world.

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