This morning my husband handed me a copy of the February 12th issue of Time magazine that he had opened to a story. “Read this and let me know what you think,” he said. The title of the article is, “Her Mother’s Mind.” It is about a photographer, Melissa Spitz and the pictures she takes of her mother and posts on Instagram (apparently she has over 14,000 followers). Melissa’s mother has the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and substance abuse. Melissa has posted over 6,000 pictures of her mother online, the account is called, “You Have Nothing to Worry About.”
I haven’t seen the Instagram account, but I assume Time magazine tried to pick some of the pictures they thought were representative of the project. There are six photographs in total. The largest photo is the photographer in the mirror with her mother. Her mother has clips and rollers in her hair and is putting something on her bare face (lotion, or something). The photographer is slightly in the background with her camera. Two of the pictures are of Deborah (Melissa’s mother) smoking – one in a car and one in a chair with a blanket full of what I can only assume are cigarette burns.
Let me just say that I hate this project. I find it exploitive in every way. First, I think Deborah looks like an average woman; except one image where she is in what appears to be a hospital bed with her arms stretched toward the ceiling. People can disagree with me on this, and I’m sure some do, but I think this is the worst form of sensationalizing mental illness. I had some pictures of me when I was psychotic, and they haunt me. I look lost, I look far away, and I look ill. Is that how I look today? No. Would I want those pictures posted online for everyone to see what a “crazy” woman looks like? No.
The article says that Deborah occasionally asks Melissa if the photographs are really helping people and Melissa tells her yes. There is a quote in the article from Melissa, “This is my way of coping, of making art out of chaos.” It sounds to me like the project has more to do with the photographer and her wants, dreams, desires, etc. than it does with Deborah whose most vulnerable and intimate states are made public.