Some time ago, I wrote a blog eulogizing a friend that passed away suddenly, a friend that I had fallen out of touch with for many years and was never afforded a good bye. I wanted to know my friend more, but that fate was gone, instead I could only know him now by those his life impacted. I reckoned it to the trees refusing to dance, but only swaying to the wind’s influence upon their branches. This is how our journey as photographers, as creatives and as human beings begins, exists and ends.
Sitting at a lunch with my friend Bob Case and an extremely talented creative director, we were discussing the flight of one’s mind. He is a man that I both trust and respect and even though this was our first lunch, he was open about a syndrome that I had kept hidden out of embarrassment for so long, panic attacks. It was at that point that I saw a greater picture than one a camera will ever create, I saw the unity and the family that this industry is, that this medium and art are. Our pieces will be the visual memories that the future will remember us by, but our contributions to the lives around us will be the only things that can truly satisfy the creative soul we all possess.
In the past I have talked to you about what it was like to lose my mind, diving deep into panic attacks that found me curled up in cold sweats fighting to stay conscious. For so long my battle was just to exist on any platform of normalcy, to my friends, my family, and those that knew me. Strength is often hard to muster against an unseen adversary, and my reserves to create were exhausted.
However, with time, education and the support of my family, friends and you, control over the loss of control has presented itself. While the panic attacks still exist, and are present from time to time, my fear of them has waned. Perhaps it is how this job has created me, but I have started to find ways to light the darkness. Surprisingly the struggle of internal conflict has resolve in existential common ground. We (read: “I”) can find our armor in the hand, conversation, and embrace of another.
With the delivery of our second gin and tonic, my friend presented me a challenge, he asked me to photograph a panic attack. More specifically he asked that the next time I was in the grip of one, that I produce a photo that resembled where my mind was.
A couple months later I was on set, and unbeknownst to the crew around, I was struggling. Far beyond the tension in my shoulders and pin pricks in my fingers, I was at the point where meditation becomes futile (read: “take a Xanax”). I asked the model that I was working with if I could take a couple images for a personal piece and he obliged. This is the image I created.
When I first spoke/wrote about having panic attacks, I received a ton of emails (over three thousand in the first hour) from others that live the same fate. I read and replied to every single one, and I remembered one in particular from an artist/retoucher in South Africa named Chris Slabber. Funny enough it was because he spoke of the same stuff I go through and I noticed his work carried a color palette that I appreciated. I thought it would be an exploration of our mind’s narrative and asked if he would retouch/illustrate the image I created with one caveat… he do it while going through a panic attack. He agreed.
A few months passed and I heard nothing. Then one day I got an email that he was having a rough one… a couple days later, this image showed up.
I was in bed and when the image appeared on my BlackBerry, I was in tears. It wasn’t that I liked the image (although I did), it was that I understood it so fluidly. I knew, that to create it, much pain and anguish had to exist. The piece was saddening, and unifying. From the close proximity of two friends at lunch in America to South Africa, I knew that our fight was not unique and more important, it was NOT ALONE.
Project Panic Attack was the name we gave the image. It represented a concept from a Creative Director with panic attacks, photographed by a photographer with panic attacks and retouched by a retoucher with panic attacks. It is the wind that moves the branches of my life and it will be why the cold sweats and tears of my worst panic attacks have reason.
So for this moment, let’s forget any inner turmoil that politics, work and life present us and find a common ground to create. For once let’s celebrate being the ones that have struggled alone, and have discovered the meaning of the word “dread.” While mental health is a battle that forces solidarity, let’s approach the idea of talking about it. Be vulnerable, talk about it to a colleague, to a family member, to a friend. But more than anything, know that you are not alone. Forever, and ever and ever again you are not alone.