A picture of health: portrait photography for mental health book

A picture of health: portrait photography for mental health book

To reveal something of a person’s inner world through the outer shell of the human image is the curious and vital goal of any portrait photographer. When author Catherine Amey asked me to take photographs for her book documenting her experiences with psychosis, it sparked a lot of intriguing questions and ideas about how she wanted to be represented.

Catherine is a scientific writer by trade and suffered a breakdown, which was diagnosed as a psychotic period induced by medication. Now fully recovered, she is in the remarkable position of being able to express both a subjective and objective view of the condition. The result is Psychosis Through My Eyes: A Personal And Professional Journey. The story needed cover imagery and Catherine needed promotional photos to go along with this, her first book.

The photo shoot took place at her home in West Sussex – familiar surroundings are great for helping a subject to relax. As a portrait photographer, I work with people with all sorts of schedules and lifestyles, so I’m always sensitive to practical requirements. Catherine had the demands of a young son, a part-time job and a busy life, so it was particularly convenient for her to not have to travel to another location.

We took a series of portraits in her garden, being fortunate to have a day of dry, bright weather. I incorporated all the backgrounds at hand – plain walls for distraction-free portraits, as well as the natural environment of trees and plants as a subtle reference to the growth and renewal the author felt having now recovered from her illness. Balancing more serious portraits with those enlivened by smiles and open postures, we found that it was the happier portraits that Catherine was more comfortable with. Ultimately, these also worked best with the positive and hopeful message of her book.

For the cover, Catherine wanted a close up photo of her eyes, to relate to the book title, so we did a few versions with her eyes increasingly and decreasingly wide to see which would best capture the most appropriate expression.

The photo above was one of her favourites from the promotional portraits we took – the vibrant colours and exuberant expression certainly capture the healthy, happy woman she’s become.

Catherine’s book is published through award-winning mental health publisher Chipmunkapublishing.

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