||Photographic notes from
photographs and text by
lauren e. simonutti
(Editor’s note: This remarkable body of work arrived one morning not long ago with a letter of introduction. The range and richness and consistency of the work thrilled me, while the background story created a deep uneasiness of emotion. These impressions and strong feelings have remained. What follows is an edited version of the photographer’s email exchanges with me. My questions have been edited out. These are all her own words.)
This is a visual narrative of an unexpected & devastating situation in which I find myself, which also is relevant to the lives of many others. It’s just not often spoken about.
Madness strips things down to their core. It takes everything, and in exchange offers more madness, and the occasional ability to see things that are not there.
The problem with insanity is that you can feel it coming, but when you tell people you think you are going crazy they don’t believe you. It is too distant a concept. Too melodramatic. You don’t believe it yourself until you have fallen so quickly and so far that your fingernails are the only thing holding you up, balanced with your feet dangling on either side of a narrow fence with your heart and mind directly over center, so that when you do fall it will split you in two. Split equally. So there’s not even a stronger side left to win.
For mental illness the cure is not worse — because nothing is worse — but is just as bad as the disease. At the end of the end of the rope, after several years of trial and error, prescribed drug after drug, commitments, hospitalizations and three inexplicably unsuccessful suicide attempts, it came down to one last try.
Sequestered in the house that I had made, a madhouse in its own right, only leaving to see the doctor or for food, I am dosed with as much stardust* as a body can take without breaking, trying to balance the threat of organ failure against the redirection of the bio-chemical misfirings that conspire to convince me to destroy all.
(*Lithium really is stardust. It is the 3rd to last element that an exploding star expels before it goes nova. Only hydrogen and helium come after).
I am aware enough to know the things I see and hear are not real, but that does not mean I do not still see them.
I have reached the point where if I do not have a photograph of something I cannot be certain it happened. So, locked inside the house with nothing else left, I shoot this. Heart & mind, hallucination & dream. I figure it could go one of two ways — I will either capture my ascension from madness to as much a level of sanity for which one of my composition could hope, or I will leave a document of it all, in the case that I should lose.
Comes a point in telling the story where you have to stop trying to direct it and simply do as you’re told. Even if you like your characters you cannot force a happy ending.
As for my working technique: All work is 100% digital free. Any manipulation has been done either in camera (occasionally), or in darkroom (usually).
Let me clarify that I have nothing against digital. I do not desire to disparage, denigrate or disrespect it. I simply prefer to get my hands wet.
Nearly all my images are large format (4x5 or 5x7 inch negatives) contact prints, exposed under a 100 watt bulb, then selectively bleached and toned. I apply the chemistry with brushes.
While I have my preferred techniques, (sepia, selenium and silver bleach are my main palette), there is always the element of chance. Chemistry does not always react the same, water does not always run in the same direction. I have been known to spill things. Each print is different.
For some reason I only listen to music in the darkroom. I find watching clocks tiresome so I time film processing by music — I have a range of songs of the proper length. Film goes in, music goes on (Tom Waits, Bowie, Bauhaus), song ends, film comes out.
I don’t time prints, I print by inspection. My favourite papers have both been discontinued to date, (Azo & Bergger contact printing papers), so at some point I will have to adapt my working technique, as I have virtually no supply. I am curious to see what will happen.
— lauren e. simonutti
You can also view these photographs in larger format, as a self-running slide show, in another window.