My inspiration and drive for working on ‘Getting Through This’ is due to losing my little Sister Leanne Bridgewater to suicide in March 2019. This has been amplified by the epidemic of Mental Health decline during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The loss of my Sister is still so raw but I have found my own ways to work through the hard moments each day. Leanne was a very strong person, a creative fun-loving, Vegan, Animal Rights Activist, Poet, Artist, Performer and a Library Manager. Leanne created dark but humorous work, creative rhymes and riddles. Leanne stopped writing poems, performing and painting. You would always find her with a pen and paper, writing a poem or sketching but even when she passed, Leanne had plain pieces of paper with her. I have always felt that her creativity was a release to help soothe the darkness in her mind. To this day there are still events that take place in memory of Leanne and we have kept her books on sale to raise money for her favourite charity West Midland Hunt Saboteurs. These books are called ‘Confessions of a Cyclist’ and ‘Dharma Dialog’; both books are very different. ‘Confessions of a Cyclist’ is where she rhymes words from the things and people, she sees on her bike ride through Coventry City Centre on the way to work. ‘Dharma Dialog’ is a creative mix of words and sketches rhyming together in ingenious ways. Each page flows with the spirit of Leanne and her character as a writer but also personality.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on so many lives, from job losses to loneliness or deaths of loved ones. During the pandemic I have been teaching virtually online to my students and of course my Photography business called Bridgewater Photography was put on hold for a while. My photography business has had to pause jobs that I was excited to complete which took a toll on my own emotions. I made sure I used my time to give myself kindness and love by practising meditation, yoga and also exercising on my bike but taking my camera with me to photograph Birmingham City Centre in lockdown. Continuing my Photography practise through lockdown really helped my own mental health.
Over the months I was constantly hearing how much the COVID-19 is causing deaths, not just from the virus but suicide. Now to this day there is more of a demand for more local mental health charities and services.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 everyone has found it difficult, or some people have found it has given them time to take a break from the stress of life. After hearing more and more how the pandemic has affected people’s lives mentally it pushed me to work on the project ‘Getting Through This’.
The project ‘Getting Through This’ gives people a platform to voice how they are feeling but also to express any positive messages or quotes they want to share with others. In the portrait photographs each subject displays a powerful but positive message to help people get through these uncertain times. I want people to be able to read the message and feel like they are not alone or to bring a positive outlook on someone’s day. To let people, know, that it is ok to not feel ok but also to allow people to connect with the messages that have been expressed by others. I took myself off to Birmingham City Centre and captured a range of portraits using my Canon camera and my Canon 70-200 zoom lens.
As a Photographer I have a love of capturing portraits that tell stories, I was lucky enough to work as a Photojournalist at Coventry Telegraph Newspaper whilst completing my Photography Degree at Coventry University. The work at the newspaper I feel helped me practice capturing portraits that display emotion and natural special documentary moments. I have been able to use these skills in my photographic work, teaching and practise.
My mission is to continue this project even after the pandemic ends, whenever that is. Some students I met a few weeks ago said that mental health matters post pandemic. This is true; even as everything eases not everyone will be able to adjust straight away.
The subject of mental health is rarely openly discussed, it is a subject that needs to be spoken about more freely and openly. I want this project to help remove the barrier, to allow people to be open, to express that it is ok if you’re not feeling the best today. Mental health is difficult, I myself in the past have struggled with mental health and dark thoughts. Dealing with mental health and finding life a struggle, by reading one positive quote can help. Reading somebody else reflect on their own anxieties can make you feel like you’re not alone in this world. The messages are so powerful, my aim is to help bring a little light to someone’s life.
Editor’s Note: Donna Bridgewater teaches Photography and Mixed Media at Hereward College, Coventry which is a national further education college specialising in skills for independent living and employment for young people with disabilities and additional needs. She has used her personal dyslexia and dyspraxia as an inspirational motive force to teach students with ADHD, Autism, Down Syndrome and many more physical and learning difficulties.
Donna’s photography company, Bridgewater Photography, was started with support from the Prince's Trust. In 2018 Bridgewater Photography was the Prince's Trust Regional Enterprise winner for the West Midlands. She has received media coverage on BBC Midlands Today and on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire Radio.
Donna’s work is concordant with The RPS Strategic Plan 2021-2026 ‘Photography for Everyone’ Section 2.6 is ‘Photography for Wellbeing’: The practice of everyday photography can have a very positive impact on mental health. We will develop the evidence base for this, working in partnership with health and social care charities, to develop new practices and projects, helping people from many disadvantaged groups.
The Royal Patron of the RPS, The Duchess of Cambridge, supports ‘Heads Together’ (https://www.headstogether.org.uk/), a charity conglomerate which challenges challenge the stigma perceived to be associated with mental health and getting people talking about it.
Donna Bridgewater is speaking to the RPS Contemporary Group on May 17th https://rps.org/events/groups/contemporary/2021/may/donna-bridgewater/
Donna’s sister, Leanne Bridgewater’s works are:
Dharma Dialog (ISBN 9780368938290): https://hesterglock.net/Catalogue
Confessions of a Cyclist (ISBN 978-1912211456): https://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk/product-page/confessions-of-a-cyclist-by-leanne-bridgewater-217-pages
Other blogs in this series: