University: Goldsmiths, University of London
Artist Statement: Working with individuals living with brain tumours, photographer Trix Carver creates a space to discuss the representation of those living with invisible illnesses. Using conversational portraiture, she asks the sitters to “talk her through” their experiences living with brain tumours, from diagnosis, MRI scans, current conditions, through to their wider personal lives. The sitters brought objects which they felt represented their personal experiences, individualising each experience beyond the common imagery frequently used by media and charity campaigns.
The accompanying 3D printed brain reflects the processes used by surgeons to repair the skull post-surgery.
Talk Me Through It is still an on-going project. If you would like to become a sitter for the project, please do get in touch via my website.
Where did you attend university and what year did you graduate? I attended Goldsmiths College, University of London and graduated with a Masters in 2017. Previously, I graduated with a Bachelors at London South Bank University in 2016.
What are some standout moments from your time at university? An outstanding moment for me was having the opportunity to co-found a student led photographic agency called the South Bank Collective with my peers at LSBU. A highlight with the South Bank Collective was being commissioned to shoot a calendar for the Italian crane manufacturer Fassi, who flew us out to Italy to shoot in their factory.
What themes do you find yourself exploring? I usually find myself exploring themes of technology, the networked image and social media. I am particularly interested in how we interact with one another in the digital age and how we use imagery to interact and build our understanding of the world around us and of each other.
What initially inspired you to make this work? The initial inspiration for Talk Me Through It came from speaking to one of my closest friends about her experiences living with brain tumours and chronic illness. The topic we kept coming back to was the lack of representation of people living with brain tumours and the social effects of living with an invisible illness. This lack of representation was found to be a result of seemingly ubiquitous charity images of ‘the ill’. In these images the sitter is only represented as far as their illness. I was interested in creating a body of work that collaborated with the sitters living with illness to visually articulate a discussion on the subject.
Why did you ask each sitter to talk to you about their health? How did this influence the work? I asked the sitters to ‘talk me through it’ as I wanted to open up the discussion to the direction the sitter would like. This allowed the sitter to control the narrative and thus, their representation. The sitters took me through their diagnosis, their friends and family’s understanding of the tumours, hospital visits and their daily experiences living with brain tumours. These discussions were essential to creating these conversational portraits. Whilst I listened to them tell me about their lives and experiences I continuously took the pictures, capturing their micro gestures and expressions. The images capture the moments that they discuss MRI Scans, show me where their tumours are or describe their daily lives living with the tumours. These conversations are translated to the viewer in the series of three images that told a small narrative about the sitter, based on the stories that they had chosen to share.
Have the sitters seen the final images? What are their thoughts on being part of your series? Yes! In the selection of the images I consulted each of the sitters to see which images they were happy to be presented. As the work aimed to be representational, it was important to me that the sitters had input and control of their own representation rather than a photographer deciding it for them. I had incredibly kind responses from the sitters, with a few of them being able to attend the opening of the exhibition. They were happy to be featured in a work that focused on the person living with and illness, rather than being shown as just as an ‘ill person’.
What would you like for your viewer to learn from the work? I would like viewers to see people living with illness as individuals. We are surrounded by imagery of people living with illness for charity fundraising/marketing campaigns that is often sensationalised. We often see the image of the child or adult in the hospital setting accompanied by text insinuating imminent death with a call to action from the viewer. Whilst these images raise money for some amazing charities and help so many people, they also often represent people only dying from illness, rather than individual persons living with illness. I would also like to draw attention to invisible illness. All of the sitters in the images appear to be healthy, this distanced the viewer from immediate associations of illness, allowing focus to be on the sitter as a person rather than what they’re living with.
Where do you see Talk Me Through It taking you? What do you think the final outcome will be? My aim is to continue the work and I would like to get involved with more volunteers to hear their experiences. For the final outcome I would be keen to do another exhibition in which I develop the 3D printing aspect of the work, where in the exhibition I presented just one brain. I would like to work with MRI scans to print brains representational of each sitter, allowing them to interact with the object if they wish. I would also like to start a group workshop to create a curated exhibition by/with future sitters.
Can you name some photographers who really influenced your portraits? Talk Me Through It was influenced by a varied set of digital artists and photographers. Moreshin Allahyari and Daniel Rourke’s Additivist Cookbook influenced my decision to introduce the 3D printed brains into my work. Additivist Cookbook critiques the current 3D printing trend and pushes what can be printed to bizarre limits. Their work combined with information from my sitters about 3D printing technology used in their own brain surgeries definitely influenced my decision to incorporate this technology into my own work. Naturally, of course, it only made sense to start 3D printing brains. My photographic influence came from a few sources involved in the Brains: The Mind as Matter exhibition for the Wellcome Trust. In particular, photographers Ania Dabrowska (The Brain Donors) and Daniel Alexander’s work influenced Talk Me Through It. Dabrowska’s work played into my discussions around the social effects of my work and the audience’s relationship to the sitter. Alexander’s work made me consider the history of medicine’s study of the brain and as the brain as object. His more recent work around the exploration of medical objects influenced my decision to incorporate the sitters’ own objects.