He Suffers With His Nerves by Hue Hale
Documenting a highly subjective and photographic reaction to the male struggle with mental health illness Hue Hale creates a body of work called He Suffers with His Nerves, in his own words the work is constructive reaction out of something difficult. Using photography as a facility to heal.
The male psyche is a problematic entity, and when drawn out into the harsh light of analysis and discussion reels, yearning to retreat back into the darkness. In Modern Ireland, the notion of a man seeking support for mental health issues, despite numerous awareness campaigns and the like, is still heavily weighted with stigma and shame. This project is a document of the emotional turmoil a young man faces in his everyday life. In photographing his body and the surrounding spaces in which he feels the most at war with himself, the feelings of isolation, insecurity, and melancholy are encompassed. Through this process, the project becomes transfigured as his mental anguish itself has been used as a catalyst for the recovery of his mind. Thus, the project functions as a method of therapy.
The project is a document of two years of my struggle with depression and mental health. I was photographing myself in everyday life, and photographing the spaces in which I felt isolated and the most alone. I used self-portraiture in these spaces as a method of photo-therapy, to make something out of the intense feelings I was experiencing.
Tell us more about yourself and your practice.
My name is Hue and I’m a visual artist who lives in Dublin, Ireland. My work deals with the darkness faced in the everyday.
What was your creative process for this series or for your work in general?
My projects tend to focus on personal experiences. These projects usually occur organically, I have an idea of photographing an object, a person, or a place. In the process of photographing these ideas, connections begin to form between the images as part of an underlying theme. I see these connections and then take the project from there.
He Suffers With His Nerves was shot over the course of about two years and was a very different project at the beginning, I was living away from home, in the last year of my Bachelor's degree in photography and documenting my dysfunctional relationship. The relationship ended very badly, and how I reacted to it was even worse. I’ve always had mental health issues, but this started a wave of depression in me that I never experienced so intensely before. I felt very isolated, and couldn’t really bring myself to leave the house so I began photographing myself around the house, and the space itself. This is where the project began.
I had to take a year out of college and moved back home to regain some stability in my life, I was very uninspired at the time and just stayed in bed most days. I was questioning my worth and identity. I began to document myself again in my living space, there was a certain sense of release when the camera snapped the image. This helped me to gain control.
It was a bit surreal looking at myself in the pictures, I felt that the person in the images wasn’t actually me. I felt like I’d almost captured my emotions on the film I was shooting with. Over the course of those two years, I ended up with many rolls of film and a backlog of images. I could evaluate the intensity of the depression I felt, by looking back over images. The process of shooting on film is a slow one so this enabled me to engage, and live with each image that comprised the final edit. Overall, this was the most cathartic experience in the making of ‘He Suffers’.
What work inspires or has inspired you?
I think the self-portraiture aspect of my work is influenced by an amalgamation of photographers, but the two that consistently come to mind are Francesca Woodman and Nan Goldin. I studied both of them throughout college, and their images would always be included in my visual research. I think there are touches of themes from their work that coincide with mine, especially in ‘He Suffers’.
There's an audiovisual collective called “WAVE” from Sweden who produce a lot of projects that I really love. The collective is consists of artist Jonna Lee and cinematographer/photographer John Strandh, who have both collaborated on ‘iamamiwhoami’ which is a music project. Every album that is released has an accompanying music video to each single which is always beautifully stylised. I usually watch the videos or listen to the music while I’m working to get inspired.
Are there any artistic movements you enjoy in particular and why?
I’m not very good at keeping up with artistic trends to be honest, but, I didn’t even realise until recently that I was part of a wave of photographers who are turning back to shooting on film. There’s a lot of high profile photographers who exclusively use film too, including Petra Collins and Sandy Kim. It’s very inspiring to see these photographers get work using film alone.
I see 3D rendered work come up frequently on my social media feeds. I think this is where the future of art is eventually going to head. Everything we do now is through the internet, I find it fascinating how art is influenced by this, two 3D artists I really enjoy are Pastelae and Sam Rolfes.
Do you have any opinions or ideals underlying your art?
I wanted to visually represent how I felt and what was happening to me. I wanted the project to be an honest documentation of my depression. It’s not wildly crying yourself to sleep every night. It’s the monotonous boredom of being so mentally and physically exhausted you can only manage to stare at the walls, lying on your bed. Towards the completion of the project I wanted to open up a dialogue on how men suffer with mental health but can’t seem to find help with it.
He Suffers With His Nerves is an intensely deep personal rhetoric on your own struggle with depression and how being a male suffering from mental illness carries its own prejudice. You’ve said you used this as a kind of therapy to dealing with the isolation of depression. What sort of message would you want young men to glean from your work? What is your overall message to an audience from this series?
I think the overall message of ‘He Suffers With His Nerves’ is transforming emotional trauma into something constructive to keep you from the edge. I used the project as a way of working through my emotions to heal myself when I felt there was nothing else I could do.
If there’s a young man (or anyone for that matter), going through similar struggles with depression, upon seeing the project I’d like to think that they can identify with it, and not feel so isolated like I was. I hope that they can see that there’s always a way of dealing with your emotions, even at the lowest low.
There’s still a lot of stigma associated with men seeking help for emotional problems, toxic masculinity is still very much present in Irish society, but there’s been a shift since I completed the project in early 2016. There’s more awareness of men’s mental health now, such as Men’s Health Week which I think is very much needed in Irish society.
In my own experience, documenting my depression helped me to look at it in a different way. I would encourage people suffering to not go through it alone, try seeing a counselor, or even just talk to a friend, I find talking about my problems relieves a lot of pressure. I still struggle with depression but I like to look back on this project and see that I’m a completely different person to the one who’s in those photos. I’ve grown and can deal with it better, the project serves as a reminder that I can recover.
Any words for aspiring artists?
First and foremost, is to keep making work. Though small breaks in between are necessary, keep producing art. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, deep-meaningful projects all the time, it’s more than okay to produce fun things for yourself. Collaborate and try something new, collaboration is great when you want to reach out and interact with other artists. I think showing your work is very important, gaining a different perspective on your projects can really help you to remedy little problems that have been bothering you.
Having an online presence is key in the digital age, even if it’s just an Instagram account of your work. I’d suggest making a website with a portfolio of your work, and your CV, this way your work is easily accessible. In the same vein, subscribe to a mailing list of websites that look for submissions. Never stop submitting and applying for things, even if you don’t hear anything back for a long time, there is always someone who will identify and want to interact with your work. Don’t give up.
Is there anything you’re currently working on?
I have a few projects I’m working on at the moment. I have a sort of brother project to ‘He Suffers With His Nerves’ on the way, I dealt with a lot of anxiety and crisis of identity over the course of 2017. I shot a couple of mini projects that never seemed to go anywhere but upon further examination, they all had the same underlying theme, which connected them together and became ‘He Wasn’t There’. I’m using video in this particular project which I need to finish and then if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to put it forward for an exhibition.
I also have a collaboration with Rebecca Flynn a fellow Irish visual artist, coming up. The first time my images will be combined with 3D rendered graphics, I’m very excited!
Where else can our readers find your work?
I found out recently, that ‘He Suffers With His Nerves’ is going to be made into a photography edition (zine) by The Library Project. “TLP Editions is the latest ongoing project from PhotoIreland Foundation – a collection of emerging talent and new projects in the form of accessible and inexpensive publications.” I’m still in shock by this amazing news, TLP is a prominent fixture in the Irish art industry, It’s a very big honour to me.
In April, a piece from ‘He Suffers’ will be shown as part of LoosenArt’s group exhibition ‘About Me’ in the Millepiani artist space, Rome. My work has only been shown in Ireland and the UK, so this is very exciting news to me.