In 2012 — MJ, the focus of this project, entered a rehabilitation center, reluctantly leaving Syracuse University her freshman year of college. She underwent treatment for substance abuse, addiction, anxiety disorder, and an eating disorder which stayed present in her life for many years.
Beginning September of 2013, my senior year of college, MJ gave me permission to document her life in the raw. When the project began, we both made an agreement that I would not share the collected content with anybody including her, until the end of the school year. This would be her first year back at Syracuse University after being readmitted, following her leave of absence.
After studying the body of work that I had gathered during those months, I came to realize that the documentation of her life was utterly relatable to me. When I first reached out to MJ about this project, she accepted and was eager to participate, which I saw as a cry for help. I could understand her loneliness —not being able to talk to anyone— I have been there, and I believe our story goes hand in hand.
My curiosity about her life was drawn from experiences I had lived through with my father. When I was a teenager, my father entered multiple psychiatric hospitals for behavioral therapy and anger management due to bipolar disorder. On some level I understood that his behavior was not intentional, since psychiatric illnesses do in fact take over the mind, but for years, my father mentally and emotionally abused me and would threaten to take his life if I didn’t do as he said. At one point, I was forced to get a restraining order against him, and ever since then, our relationship had been a tough pill to swallow. For this and many other reasons, I was interested in the way MJ lived her life post-rehab. The word rehabilitation had always seemed like a misnomer to me, since I have witnessed instant relapse once a patient who is institutionalized, is liberated from medical surveillance, and is placed back onto our side of the world.
As a photographer, it is important that my pictures remain grounded in the world of lived experiences. My work is typically inspired by direct observation and involvement with peoples’ lives, especially those that relate to mine. In this project, the images are somewhat autobiographical.
Through the photographic process, I am allowed a uniquely confidential access into the subject's world. It is the subtle gestures and anxiety toward the poses that I suggest, that bring the images into full fruition. It is at the moment of clicking the shutter that both of our voices meet, and through a close reading of the image, the dialogue between artist and subject is found.