Hidden Project

Producer Alice Holland. Photo by Rosie Powell

Unlimited Impact Trainee Becky Dann attended the Root Experience event ‘Hidden Project Conversation Day’, a day designed to listen to speakers and share best practice around arts and invisible illness/disabilities. Here are two talks that Becky found particularly thought-provoking.

The first speaker was Gemma Taylor who is a photographer and Project Manager at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance. During her talk she spoke about a piece of work she did around how International charities represent LGBT+ rights and health.

Gemma’s work is aimed at challenging stereotypes. When working with Rachel, a transgender woman, sex worker and founder of Voice of Hope, she had gone in wanting to show Rachel as something other than the ‘stereotype’. When Rachel got ready to go out she put on a very short mini dress which Gemma had really hoped wasn’t going to be the choice of clothing; she didn’t want to portray the ‘stereotype’. It was then that Rachel expressed that she enjoyed wearing clothes like this because it made her feel like a diva, Beyoncé-like even. When she walked into a room everyone looked at her. She admitted that she knew people thought that sex workers wore miniskirts all the time, but that she can wear a miniskirt, she can also wear jeans and a t-shirt, or a business suit.

This lead to a series of photos of Rachel in her everyday life and when she is at work. In which the response of the public was that it ‘looked like a GAP advert’.

Gemma realised then that her mistake was going out to photograph someone with a fixed vision of portraying them differently, however soon realised that everyone has their own stories and wants to be represented in different ways.

This lead to a discussion about whether we felt photography was an important tool to represent invisible impairments. One lady spoke up and described how she used photography as a personal tool to help portray her depression and emotional collapses. She found it almost therapeutic, but still felt that this type of work had to be kept quiet and hidden away, even admitting that although the work was on her website, it took some finding because she had a ‘professional self’ and a ‘personal self’.

As someone that has used photography before as a tool to educate and challenge perceptions on disability, I have related to the idea of trying to portray a stereotype on camera and being stuck with one vision, but then again I definitely think that photography should be used more to represent invisible impairments. It should be encouraged more because, as they say, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.

The second talk I really enjoyed was by Alice Holland, who we recently nominated for Watershed’s Creative Producers International. She spoke about her work with MAYK’s Agent for Change Programme and the work she’s doing to create a ‘mental health, wellbeing and flexible working in the arts’ policy.

The idea of the policy is to allow people to remain professional, but to allow vulnerability; ensuring employers have an understanding of when a person needs time off for reasons linking to mental health or invisible illnesses.

When Alice was conducting a survey for research towards this, she asked the question ‘have you ever hidden a mental health condition or symptoms for professional reasons?’ and every response received back was ‘yes’. All too often when people apply for work they don’t disclose their invisible illness. When having a bad day, it’s very common that people will make up false reasons for taking time off, reasons that seem more ‘valid’. But in the world of invisible illness, we should be encouraging more people to talk about things like this and for it to be okay to ring up and say, for example, that you had a bad PTSD relapse and need a few days to just be alone and recuperate, or you need to take some time off to go and speak to your therapist.

Alice spoke about how one day someone she worked with sent an email to say that she wouldn’t be in work because she was having a bad mental health day, to which the manager responded and thanked her for being so honest, reminding them that it is important for everyone to take the time they need for their mental health and that everyone should be open about when they need to take some time away. This response isn’t something a lot of people are used to. I think that more people should be encouraged to speak out and not feel the need to make false reasons to have a completely acceptable time off.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how far this goes and hope it takes off.

For more information on The Hidden Project and to keep up to date with their next adventure please check out http://www.rootexperience.org/hidden-project/

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