Photographer explores anonymity and mental illness

camera equipment
Photography breaks through anonymity

A reality often associated with having a mental illness is that to avoid stigmatization, individuals choose anonymity over disclosure. French photographer, Anne Betton aims to discuss and debunk this reality.

Betton began exploring her passion for photography as a method of illustrating her experiences with mental illness, as well as the experiences of others. Betton herself has bipolar disorder, as well as the resulting depression.

Through the project, called “Putting a Face on Mental Illness” she aims to address the lack of awareness of mental illness, with the goal to “reflect on the soul” of each of the individuals portrayed in her work. Betton emphasizes that her motivation for the series comes from the current situation of many people with mental illnesses, stating, “Because we are part of your family, your neighbors, your colleagues, and we dare not reveal ourselves for fear of being stigmatized…Because the media, especially the “trash journalism” which aims to sell and not to inform, and most police series, want you to believe that we can be often aggressive or dangerous … We decided to come forward and show our features. STOP the isolation we create or we suffer.”

As part of the project, the participants do not have to declare their mental illness; instead, each photograph is accompanied by basic information, such as their age and occupation, and a quote chosen by the individual. The photographs are black and white, ranging from close-up headshots to full-body profiles, with the subjects portrayed either facing the camera directly or focusing on an unseen point. In all cases, however, the individual’s faces are clearly visible and recognizable, leaving behind the stigma that mental illness requires anonymity.

One of the participants, Jorge, chose a quote that in my opinion fits Betton’s project aptly: “An artist must exhibit, but he must also expose to impose, and if necessary, explode.” – Nicolas Schöffer.

More information can be found in the Huffington Post’s article on Betton’s project, as well as Betton’s website.

Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.