A collaboration between Har Leen and Shin Ling • Photo series
The concept for this shoot came from reflections on how depression is normally represented through the media as well as through social and political discourse. We know that stereotypical image of someone experiencing depression: often in black and white, someone with their head buried into their knees, or in fetal position on their bed. There is not only this stereotype that people look very sad and depressed in a very particular way, but it becomes a social requirement that you reflect this image every single moment of every day in order for your experience of depression to be seen as legitimate and valid. There is, of course, nothing wrong with relating to such images, but the experience of depression is so different from one person to the next that it is a problem that these are the only representation depression gets through mainstream media.
The photoshoot itself was an act of reclaiming the narrative. We shot the entire series in Har Leen’s bedroom, where she spends most of her time during her depressive episodes. We deliberately captured the evening sun and played with it in our photos, to show that depression does not necessarily mean one cannot see the light, it sometimes means they simply cannot experience it the way they could on better days. The hues of the photo series were also made to look warmer in order to create a contrast from the stock photo of depression we are used to seeing. Har Leen chose her outfit, a simple pink dress, illustrating the moments of softness and hope despite experiencing a chronic depressive cycle.
Although depression is not beautiful, and although we struggled with carrying out our vision without reinforcing a romanticization of depression, reclaiming the narrative of depression did mean seeing the beauty in the ways someone continues to survive despite the suffering depression brings. The juxtaposition of the poem Flowers Still Bloom is intended to show the internal experience of our thoughts and emotions through moments of depression. The poem constitutes 9 mini-poems, which are attached to each photo of the series.
Har Leen is a South Asian writer, artist and educator whose practice is entrenched in feminist and anti-racist principles and community-building approaches. As an educator, Har Leen uses arts-based approaches, ranging from visual arts to spoken word, to facilitate grassroots youth programming. She knows that artistic self-expression in safe and community settings can become a catalyst for collective healing and inducing transformative change. Har Leen’s primary artistic practice is spoken word and writing, and she currently lives in Montreal writing her book of poetry.