I started out two and a half years ago under the wing of the wonderful people at Faint Fascinations, and I immediately realised something: for me, modelling is art therapy. You can explore yourself on camera, and you can reinforce a positive image of yourself when you see the pictures you've created with the photographer. I was hooked! I did a few shoots here and there, and then I began to really think about it seriously. I love modelling, and everyone should do what they love if they're given an opportunity, so for the last year I've been really stepping up the frequency of my shoots. It means meeting new people and creating something wonderful every other weekend, and it's fantastic for me, especially as I suffer with a mental illness.
Mental illness affects 1 in 4 people at some time in their lives, so it isn't as rare as some people would like to make out. I have a mental illness, yet I manage to lead a totally normal life. This isn't possible unfortunately for all sufferers, but I'm trying to raise awareness that even if you have a mental health problem you don't immediately become subhuman.
I'm currently working on a project for charity: Beauty and Truth for MIND.The idea behind the project is that everyone deserves to be portrayed in a way which focuses on their beauty. Everyone is beautiful in their own way, and be that through strength, courage, or from fighting through something like mental illness, I believe that deserves to be celebrated. I want mental health service users to have a day of feeling pampered and beautiful, and hopefully it will make them feel like I did on my first shoots and all the subsequent ones - empowered.
People with mental illnesses can often feel bogged down with difficult appointments with professionals in charge of their care, medication changes, side effects, and just the general effect that their illness has on their everyday life. So I think it's important to give people in this position a day dedicated to them. So I'm setting up a couple of group photoshoots for people in the Manchester area (and other areas if enough interest is generated there) if people are nervous they can come along with others and everyone will be in the same boat. A professional make up artist and a professional photographer will be there, and when the volunteer feels comfortable, they will get a stunning head shot which will be sent to the volunteer to keep, but also used in an exhibition.
There are no fees for this, but a donation would be appreciated to all those wishing to come to the exhibit (date to be confirmed at time of writing). All the photographs collected together will feature, the volunteer's diagnosis discreetly edited into one corner of the picture. This is to show that the person is the focus, not the illness. The illness only makes up one tiny part of that person, it does not define them, and this is what I'm hoping to highlight with this project.
I have had some amazing support from some fellow models in helping to get the ball rolling on this. I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder with Psychosis, so this project is also a battle for me, to see if I can do it, and so far it appears I can.The shoots will be running over the next couple of months as this is a national project so there are lots to arrange! Some volunteers are arranging their own shoots with the brief that we are looking for a headshot showing their radiance and beauty, but as this isn't an option for some people, I'm also giving people the opportunity to have a shoot arranged as local to them as possible, and in some areas doing a day of a group shoot. For example, there's been a big response in Manchester and the surrounding areas so I'm arranging a day of shooting for those who can attend in April in Manchester. This will mean a range of people can come along, get done up and get their pictures done!
If anyone wants to volunteer studio space, this would be much appreciated. I'm also going to be contacting various well known places in Manchester in the hope they will allow their spaces to be used for the exhibition or just for some photographs, again, if anyone wants to volunteer this, please get in touch with me. This is a huge project so there's no rush for people to get involved, just drop me a message between now and April if you would like to be involved in the group shoot, or if you know someone who would be interested. The exhibit will hopefully be in July, and where at first I'm looking at having this in Manchester, if there's a good response, I may also tour it to another city or two.
Any help is appreciated, and I'm sure a lot of you are kind and generous to donate your time. I have had preliminary interest from 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Trust and as soon as I can get a website up and running and some leaflets done then they are willing to promote the project to their mental health service users in their area. If anyone would like to help by aiding in the design of the leaflets or if you can build a website, this is just another way you can help this amazing project where all monies are going to MIND.
I will be contacting local press in the next couple of weeks also, so hopefully this will receive some good exposure. This project means a great deal to me, and I know it will mean a lot to some of you reading this. Let's make this a success together. I believe wholeheartedly in this project and I hope that everyone's experience is as positive as mine has been. There's no obligation to get involved if you contact me asking for more details, and once again there will be no fees at all.
If you would like to be involved as a model, make up artist, or a photographer, then please do get in touch by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
There is also a facebook group dedicated to this project - send me a quick message. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Beauty-Truth-for-MIND/197665460261108