About the Image
After talking with Candace, I immediately had this location in mind to photograph the interpretation of what she said about how her mental illness felt to her. Wide expanse of prairie, no trees, with little to no sign of civilization. The trick for me was finding the location.
This was a spot I hadn’t seen in 10+ years and wasn’t sure I could find it. I asked a few people who I knew travelled along I-29 bordering South Dakota, without any luck. I was pretty sure it was a scenic overlook and/or rest stop, so I scouted Google maps and found a couple places that were possible locations based on my memory. But you know how memories can be a little faulty!
I also wanted to photograph the location near sunset. A few things had to work in my favor. The first being actually finding what I was looking for. Second, weather. Granted I could see if it were raining or not by checking a weather app. But having interesting clouds, not too many, not too few, I had no idea when I set out. Or if it clouded up close to sunset, the scene would have likely looked all wrong to me. With this location being a good two hours from my home, it wasn’t someplace I could just bop back over to quickly. I really, really, wanted to find exactly what I was looking for.
I was also driving on to Omaha after this stop, which would mean a really late arrival based on when the sun set. But it made sense to combine the trips, even though it was a very long day.
I packed up my suitcase and photo gear, and I left home late afternoon. Getting to the right exit, pulling off the interstate, I realized as I drove in that it was what I remembered. Talk about relieved!!! And excited!
The next step was figuring out where to plant my tripod. I quickly figured out the scene I liked, then it was just a matter of fine tuning the exact composition with the shadows, the fence and skyline, and then where I should stand in the frame.
The final image you see below is the result of experimenting with where I was standing or sitting. I realized that I liked putting myself as one of the fence posts. Standing elsewhere seemed to break the visual rhythm of the posts since they were so equally spaced.
Why use myself as the model instead of Candace? The main reason is convenience. Scheduling conflicts would have made the images very difficult to complete where I used myself as the model. And I never planned on having faces fully showing in the visual analogy photographs. I literally want you to be able to stand at that fence, to feel what it’s like to be there. If you see a face, it makes it a portrait of someone else.
Excerpt from Candace’s interview:
“My life has been hard due to personal choices, but I've learned to reach out more. I don't let my mental illness define me. I choose to accept it. It has made me stronger. The biggest key has been getting help and taking care of myself.” Despite being very private about her mental illness, saying most people don't know about it, Candace wanted to lend her voice and quiet determination to the project by sharing her story about how her mental illness feels. “I want others to understand that people with mental illness are normal.” She lives with bipolar depression (meaning moods can swing between very depressed to very manic) and is also a recovering alcoholic.
To others dealing with a mental illness she says, “It's ok to get help and reach out. Gotta take care of yourself to enjoy the life you were given to the best of your ability.”
Candace admits that life can still be difficult today. She's dealing with a lot of issues. She hadn't been to counseling for years, but when her husband died a couple years ago, she sought help. She also attends AA more often. Candace feels like she has limits. Her mental illness has “changed who I am. I feel like I have a lost soul. Hurt. Abandoned. It robbed me of my life. It's scary because I don't know when my life is going to be manic or depressed. I have feelings of loneliness and uncertainty, but it is slowly getting better.”
For more information on my project What Mental Illness Feels Like, visit the Introduction page.
PS - why the dark corners on the first photo? It’s the lens cap. Had to crop the photograph to get rid of that. A 20mm lens is pretty wide, and that lens cap creeping into the frame is a common thing. But without the lens hood, you get a lot of glare, and if you don’t want that effect, you gotta use a lens hood.