A Mother’s Struggle With Mental Illness

Chelsea Muscat’s mother, Salvina, grew up on a farm in Gozo in the Mediterranean Sea. She’s always longed for the sea and the sun, even after moving to New York with her family as an adult. She’s a painter of landscapes; she knits sweaters and blankets. This summer, she started working with clay sculptures. She’s also anorexic and has struggled with her mental health for as long as her daughter can remember. 

Muscat, now an adult, photographer, and filmmaker, also spent her early years in the Mediterranean, and her mother’s illness informed her world from a young age. “I remember she would run after me and my sister when we were young, trying to measure our waists to see where we stood,” the artist says.

“She used to be very depressed, paranoid, and suicidal. I’ve always had to be an adult, even at ten years old. I didn’t know a ten-year-old shouldn’t be responsible for someone’s life–especially a person who was supposed to be in charge of my life.”

Muscat spent her early childhood with her mother, but Salvina returned to Malta when her daughter was thirteen years old and remained until she was eighteen. As a recent college graduate, the photographer has been living with her mother, father, and sister in New York during quarantine. Photographing Salvina has become part of her routine, and in some ways, it’s also served as a coping skill.

Muscat uses a simple 35mm camera with flash for this series, resulting in raw, harsh lighting. She’s used an old digital camera that audibly “screeches” when it focuses, and recently, she’s distorted some of the images in Photoshop to reflect the way her mother sees herself–and how she sometimes sees her mother.

Although Salvina has seen the photographs, her daughter doesn’t feel she’s grasped their meaning within their relationship. “These days, it takes her a long time to process things or fully comprehend anything I’m saying,” Muscat says. “It feels like I’m talking to a child most times.

“When I say how I truly feel or that she traumatized me and my sister, she just responds with ‘I’m sorry.’ It’s an automated response, but my feelings don’t register. Next week, I can tell her the same thing again, and she has no awareness of it.”

Conversations at home are often limited to a few words, and Salvina’s pain, paranoia, and anxiety weigh heavily on her daughter. “For example, she blames when she eats a slice of cake–because cake starts with the letter ‘c’ and my name is Chelsea and starts with the letter ‘c,’” the artist says. “She tells me I’m controlling her and making her gain weight so I don’t gain weight, and that might be my entire interaction with her for the day.”

The ongoing project and the resulting images might not bring about healing or acknowledgment from Salvina–of her daughter’s trauma or her accomplishments–but perhaps that’s not their purpose. Even if Salvina can’t process their relationship, maybe her daughter can. The artist tells us, “It’s about accepting her for who she is and trying to make peace with the fact that the mother I once knew does not exist, no matter how badly I want a support system.”

She’s also made visible something that used to be tightly locked away, secret and invisible. “Filming and photographing is the only way I can show people what I go through,” she tells me. “I could never describe the details before, and it’s easier to see it and hear it. I also hope other people can relate out there and know that they aren’t alone.”

In the future, Muscat hopes to include pictures of her mother during happy moments too, like when she’s at work on a painting or sculpture. “When she is passionate about a project, she’ll do research, find tools and materials lying around, and get to work right away,” the photographer says. She admires her mother’s creativity and always has.

Muscat loves her mother. She also mourns for her. The photographs are a testament to both. “I think I’ll always feel like a lost kid wandering the streets, wanting and trying to go home, but knowing such a place doesn’t exist,” she admits. She visits Gozo, the island where both she and Salvina grew up, whenever she can. It’s where she goes to escape and to forget. Like her mother, she loves the sun and the sea.


A Multi-Faceted Portrait of Black American Power and Pride

Hailing from Rochester, a city rooted in photographic history, artist Joshua Rashaad McFadden was introduced to the medium by his mother when he was given a camera at the age of seven. While pursing his BFA from Elizabeth City State University, an HBCU in North Carolina, McFadden began to recognize the power of photography to evoke visceral, sometimes empathetic, responses from viewers.

Inspired by artists including Roy DeCarava, Carrie Mae Weems, and Lyle Ashton Harris, McFadden now uses the medium to explore identity, masculinity, father figures, history, and race in a wide array of series including Evidence, selections from which will be on view in the 2020 Aperture Summer Open from September 16-October 18, 2020 at Fotografiska New York.

“For a long time, I have sharpened my lens on Black men, capturing how we perceive ourselves, especially in contrast to how America at large sees us… Like many Millennials, I was rocked to the core by Trayvon Martin’s murder in 2012, mainly because I could identify with him,” McFadden told The Undefeated.

“I also began to grasp the comparisons to Emmett Till’s murder in 1955. I began to really see that the media presented young Black males, even kids like Trayvon as aggressive, and that prompted questions, pushing me to use my work as an instrument to dive deep into what Black masculinity is and is not.”

With Evidence, McFadden creates paradigms of Black masculinity that stand independent from images constructed for and consumed by the white gaze, allowing for a more nuanced exploration of the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality in Black American culture.

Now an assistant professor of photography at Rochester Institute of Technology, McFadden has also been documenting the Black Lives Matter protests in Minneapolis, the funeral of George Floyd and the funeral of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta this past May and June.

He drove overnight to Minneapolis from Rochester when the protests first began, recognizing the need to bear witness to the uprising and stand among those speaking truth to power. “Meeting the families of these men who were killed, they just felt like my family,” McFadden told CNN, his photographs bearing that same profound sense of connection.

NYTUNREST The Atlanta protest is growing fast in front of the Wendy’s restaurant where police killed Rayshard Brooksby. People gathered here the day after a lengthy standoff between protesters and police last night.

“These two situations have now caught the attention of the world in a way we haven’t really seen. We have seen it kind of with Trayvon Martin and Ferguson and Baltimore. But there weren’t protests in every single state like it is now and then all over the world.”

Taken together, McFadden’s documentary and portrait work tell stories of Black America as an insider reflects upon the issues it must face in search of truth, justice, and freedom in a country that has denied these universal human rights for far too long.

By taking control of a narrative that has historically been hijacked and used to exploit. marginalize, fetishize, and erase, McFadden presents a profound portrait of Black life in 2020.

“People have been saying that they can feel the images, and I think that’s really what my goal is,” McFadden told CNN. “Not just to observe. You can observe things that are going on. But can you feel it? That is my goal. … Hopefully, through these images, people will be inspired to act and be inspired to change their ways of thinking.”


Classes Push Towards Photography Ethics

As digital photography radically democratizes the medium, taking it out of the provenance of a once-elite group of imagemakers and gatekeepers, the subject of ethics in photography has come to the fore.

Long overdue, we can finally begin to confront issues of bias, morality, and principle that have long infiltrated the medium by many of its most prominent practitioners.

Most recently, the Magnum Photos board voted unanimously to suspect veteran photojournalist David Alan Harvey’s membership after allegations of sexual harassment by a female colleague, as first reported in The Guardian.

The suspension follows, but is not related to, the recent discovery of photographs Harvey made in 1989 depicting Thai sex workers who appear to be underage After being alerted to the presence of these images, Magnum took down its entire archive for what they described as a “comprehensive review – with outside guidance.”

Though recent, these are far from the first allegations made against a prominent figure in the industry, as the #MeToo movement brought to light the behavior of numerous men in the industry.

But beyond their behavior behind the camera are the issues of what happens before the lens is even raised — the ethical issues with which all photographers, professional and amateur, must contend in order to produce work that cultivates social responsibility, rather than profit off opportunism.

Savannah Dodd, Founder and Director of the Photography Ethics Centre, shares her insights into establishing an organization dedicated to raising awareness and promoting ethical literacy across the photography industry through a variety of programs including online training, guest speaking, and interactive workshops.

Here she speaks about the key ethical issues facing photographers today.

To begin, can you give us a sense of the state of the world in 2017 and how global events informed the issues you wanted to explore in the creation of the Photography Ethics Centre?

“When I decided to start the Photography Ethics Centre in 2017, there were a number of major geopolitical events happening at the time, namely the migration of Syrian refugees across the Mediterranean, the surge of violence against the Rohingya community in Myanmar, and British secession from the EU.

“With all of these events, as with most events in the media today, photography played a major role.

Sometimes photographs were used to promote empathy and compassion, while at other times photographs were used to stoke fear and bigotry.

But the thing that was universal among them was the immense power that photographs had shape popular consciousness about an issue, and, therefore, political will.

“Around the same time, on an intrapersonal level, I was spending more time with professional photographers at exhibitions and events. I started raising questions about asking for consent and negotiating access. While some of the photographers I spoke with were very passionate on the subject and eager to have these conversations, others were wholly unprepared for these questions.

I realized that there was a need for educational opportunities for photographers at all levels to improve their ethical literacy. Given the important role photography plays in the world today, we need photographers to develop the skills to produce work ethically.”

Could you speak about the power of photography, and the ethical issues that shape how this power can be used to help or to harm?

“Photographs are particularly powerful at shaping how we view and understand the world around us. Each time we take and share a photograph, we are contributing to what the world knows about the subject. Take and share a picture of a beach in Ireland? People learn a little bit more about beaches in Ireland.

This is pretty straightforward, but we are rarely conscious of our representational power as photographers when we are uploading a photo to social media.

“While some photographs that we take and share are innocuous, others risk perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Some stereotypes are so imbedded in our way of seeing the world that we may not be aware of them, much less question them.

“In order to avoid sharing photographs that perpetuate stereotypes, we need to be very self-reflexive about our own biases, and we need to carefully consider what our photographs are saying. We need to think about what tropes a photograph invokes or rejects, what conventions we have used, and where those conventions come from.

A lot of the conventions that we accept as being a sign of ‘good’ photographs are not just benign aesthetic decisions; they carry meaning and shape the way the viewer understands the scene pictured in an image.

“When we share a photograph, we have an opportunity to contribute to the visual record of whatever we have photographed.

We can use that opportunity to either challenge or perpetuate stereotypes.”

Could you speak about how the democratization of photography and how the rise of social media has expanded the role of photography in our daily lives?

“The democratization of photography and the rise of social media has meant that we are living in an increasingly visual world. We are constantly inundated with visual media, and we are constantly creating visual media. There is tremendous potential to enable people to communicate in ways beyond written and spoken word. However, many of us are ill-equipped to harness the power of photography effectively. We are taught to read and write in school, but most of us are not taught how to read and make photographs.”

What are the key ethical issues in photography in 2020?

“Representation has always been a major ethical issue in photography, but it’s getting a lot more airtime now thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement. The history of photography is steeped in colonialism and has been dominated by white men. This has led to a very specific portrayal of the world through the white, male lens. There are a number of brilliant organizations like Authority Collective, Women Photograph, and Diversify Photo that have been working very hard to shift this industry-wide imbalance.

“For individual photographers, I think that this is a moment to pause and really thoughtfully consider what is it that we are photographing and why we are photographing it. The culture of photography awards often leads people to photograph things that seem award-winning, without consider whether we are best-placed to tell that story. (There is another whole conversation that could be had here about what constitute “award-winning.”) We need to step back and listen to people from the communities are a photographing, to seek out photographers from those communities, and to bow out when work should go to Black photographers, photographers of color, and female and non-binary photographers.

“There are a number of other ethical issues that have come up in recent months, including questions of consent, identifiability and safety, and the exploitation of vulnerable minors. There will no doubt be many more ethical issues hotly debated on Twitter before the year is through. Although there are many deeply concerning practices that are coming to light, I find it really invigorating that there are so many people who are so passionate about photography ethics and who are having these conversations.”

What are three important questions a photographer can use to check their ethics?

“This is a really difficult question because ethics should really be embedded into the photography process, from the initial concept all the way through to publication. But if I had to pick three questions, I suppose they would be:

“1. What am I representing and why? Whenever we are taking and sharing photographs, we are engaging in a process of representation. Thinking critically about what it is you are trying to represent and why you are doing it is an essential first step in exploring the ethics of your photography process.

“2. Do my photographs and captions accurately represent the event? This is an important question to ensure our integrity as visual storytellers, and to highlight our biases and assumptions. It asks us to consider whether our photographs really tell the whole story. What have I cropped out? What have I focused on? And why?

“3. What impact could these photographs have on the viewer, on the individual(s) represented, and on others? We are not producing work in a vacuum. Our photographs will have a very real impact on the world around us. We have a responsibility to consider what that impact might be, and to mitigate any potential harm that could come to the people in our photographs as a result of our work.”


A Journey to the World’s Southernmost Inhabited Place

“It’s a sort of last frontier, a legend-filled land that people want to visit as a place where discoveries can be made,” says Ghent-based photographer Britt Vangenechten of the world’s southernmost inhabited place. Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago of islands located at the southern tip of South America and jointly owned by Chile and Argentina.

With only a few towns scattered across the land, most tourists flock to the major city Ushuaia, but Vangenechten wanted to strike out on a path of her own.

Travelling only with a camera and a little money in her pocket, she discovered desolate roads, mysterious forests and lonely settlements, creating this beautiful and evocative photo series entitled El fin del mundo, the end of the earth.

What themes do you tend to focus on in your photographic work?
“I’m mostly a documentary photographer. I’ve been always interested in how people live around the world, but I always tend to focus more on the human impact on places rather than on the people themselves.”

How did this project start and what attracted you to the region in the first place?
“In 2011, I first started reading about Tierra del Fuego. What attracted me was that this is the southernmost place on earth where people live – sometimes in very hard circumstances. It’s always cold and windy over there, and they’re so far away from the rest of the world. You can drive hours without coming across a single soul.

I was studying a photography masters at the time, so I decided to go there because I was very curious about this place and I really wanted to make a documentary project about it.

So the first time I went there was in 2012 and I graduated with this work. I always knew I wanted to return some day to finish it up, so in 2016 I spent another few weeks over there.”

Do you have a particularly memorable moment from your experience in Tierra del Fuego?
“In 2012, I rented a car to discover the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego, which is a lot more desolate than the Argentinean side. My credit card was blocked because I booked a last minute trip to Antarctica a few weeks before, and my debit card didn’t work either. I just had around 120 euro for 5 days, and I needed that money for gasoline, food, and a bed at night. Of course I ran out of money pretty soon, so the only thing I had left to eat was bread with mayonnaise, and during the final nights there I had to sleep in the car, which was pretty cold (I think it was around 5 degrees at that time).

I also had a car accident; I was going too fast downhill on a gravel road and lost control over the car, so I ended up next to the road after a 180 degrees turnaround. Luckily I had no injuries and the car was fine as well. Needless to say it was a pretty rough time, but I look back at it with a smile.”

Was there a reason you chose to mainly focus on the landscapes and not the people?
“I wanted to keep that desolate feeling that I felt when I was there, in the pictures.

In most of the photos you can feel or see the human impact on the landscape, so for me this was enough to tell viewers that there are actually people living there, without showing them.”

Lastly, in three words how would you describe the place to someone who has never been there?
“Windy, desolated, and truly the ‘end of the world.’”