“Shattered” by Jaimie Campbell (photo by Brett Rutowski)
By Grant J Everett
Last year, JAIMIE CAMPBELL helped to open the BRUSHES WITH LIFE art exhibition held at Flourish Australia’s Taree service. A photographer, Jaimie has also shared her story at forums such as those conducted by the Australian College of Applied Psychology and The Australian and New Zealand Eating Disorders and Obesity Conference. As eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa are still a total mystery to many people, Jaimie decided to use her experiences – and her art – to help spread awareness.
PANORAMA: Jaimie, you have been involved in the “Brushes with Life Exhibition” at Taree for two years in a row. Please tell us about your involvement.
JAIMIE: The 2015 “Brushes With Life Exhibition” was the first time that I’d publicly showcased my photography project. At the 2016 exhibition, though, I was invited to do the official opening speech by their committee. Once again, the talent of the artists and their courage to showcase their work blew me away.
I didn’t showcase any [of my own] work in the 2016 exhibition. I’m currently working on a new photography instalment that I’m hoping to submit in the next (2017) exhibition.
P: What is your connection to Flourish Australia’s Taree service?
JAIMIE: I first heard of Flourish Australia through a good friend of mine who was working there. I had recently moved back to Taree after living in Sydney for four years, and was in the process of completing my photography project. She told me about “Brushes With Life” and their upcoming exhibition, and she asked me if I’d be willing to showcase my work.
P: We understand that you’ve been working on a major photography project about what it’s like to experience Anorexia, especially the psychological aspects. Where did you get the idea for this?
JAIMIE: The idea to photograph “It” (my eating disorder) came from a link I stumbled across on Facebook where a college student had photographed her mother’s mental illness (bipolar) for her major work. This gave me an idea, and I went through my diary and tried to imagine ways to convey my voice – not “Its” voice – through images. My hope is to use photography as a platform to bring about a deeper level of understanding of what an eating disorder is really about. My experience is that society, and the health profession, still don’t understand this illness. There is too much emphasis put on the physical state and not the mental state, which is where it derives.
P: We noticed that you are the star of many of your photos. Do you have somebody helping to take some of the shots exactly as you specify?
JAIMIE: I do appear in a few of the photographs, but I consciously made the decision not to be in all of them. So while my work depicts my experiences with an eating disorder, I didn’t want people to just associate the illness with me. For instance, my sister and my best friend appeared in some of the photographs, too, and the three of us look very different to each other (hair colour, body type, etc). The statement I was making is that this illness does not discriminate. I didn’t want people to associate Anorexia with a certain demographic.
I did hire a photographer for some of my photographs. I knew what I wanted, but he was the one with the experience to help my message come to life.
“The Safe” by Jaimie Campbell’s sister
P: Why do you use photography as your artistic medium?
JAIMIE: As I mentioned previously, my photography project began because of the struggles I was having with writing in my diary. Initially, it was never my intention for my work to be seen publicly. It was only when the opportunities arose, and I was encouraged by people close to me, that my work took on a different approach.
P: Have you had any formal training in photography or photo manipulation?
JAIMIE: I don’t have any formal training in photography.
P: Your “Shattered” photo was extensively Photoshopped. Do you tend to use a lot of filters and other effects in your photos?
JAIMIE: We did use special effects for a few of my photographs. This was purely to portray a message in a way that would resonate with people. We didn’t use any enhancements for the purpose of changing the way that we looked or the size of our bodies. This project was done on a tight budget, so a lot of the images were captured at my house or my sister’s house, which proved to be a challenge with lighting at times.
P: When it comes to your writing,what form does it take? Is it usually poetry, short sayings or something else?
JAIMIE: A lady I know referred to my written work as “hard won knowledge”. I think that’s the best way to describe my writing. It’s raw, honest and vulnerable.
P: Could you give me an example?
JAIMIE: Sure! “Both physically and mentally, ‘It slowly and inconspicuously constricts who you are, until you’re in a position where you’re compromising your morals and values. You lie to your 7-year-old niece, who so desperately wants you to have a sleep over, about having to work, but really ‘It’ won’t allow you to stay because that would mean that you would have to eat dinner. You become apathetic. You drop out of University because your starving brain struggles to understand the bus timetable let alone write an essay on developmental psychology. You steal laxatives because you can’t afford your 240 tablet a day addiction. You defer university again because your electrolytes get so low that you end up in ICU. ‘It’ narrows things so minutely until you’re all consumed and your capacity to focus on anything other than ‘It’ is nonexistent.”
P: So there is writing and photography. Have you always been a creative type? Did you express yourself in other ways besides photography art?
JAIMIE: I suppose I’ve always been creative. I used to dance, and at one point I’d teach it 6 days a week. Dancing is something that I’ll always love. I’ve recently started to learn guitar, too, and although I’m no Adele, I do love to sing (mainly in the shower). I’m still exploring photography and learning about the many possibilities involved in this platform of expression.
P: Have your creative projects generally been an ongoing source of help for you over the years? Do you find it “therapeutic,” so to speak?
JAIMIE: For years, dancing was a way to express myself. It was a way to communicate without having to speak. It’s only in the past year and a half that I’ve been doing the same thing with photography.
P: You were invited to present your work to The Australian College of Applied Psychology (ACAP) in Sydney. How did that happen?
JAIMIE: The offer to present at ACAP came about through a lady that I met at a mental health conference. She is a teacher at the college and she asked me if I’d be willing to present my work to the students.
P: Do you think that your presentation made an impact? For instance, did you get a chance to clarify a lot of questions, and did you get any good feedback?
JAIMIE: I got some great feedback and people were overwhelmingly encouraging and supportive. I was invited to do a second presentation to their Alumni in October and, again, the response was great.
P: We understand that you also presented your work to The Australian and New Zealand Eating Disorders and Obesity Conference on the Gold Coast. Did this presentation make a splash, too?
JAIMIE: Showcasing my work at the conference was a daunting experience but one that was very empowering. There were a few presenters that I was very impressed with but for the most part, I found that there was still a strong focus on the physical side of the illness, which isn’t getting us anywhere. I received some great feedback and have recently been contacted by ‘The Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association’ to write an article for them as a follow up. A friend and I are currently working together on submitting an abstract for this year’s conference.
P: Do you have a day job? As would-be novelists, the Panorama staff know very well that art doesn’t always pay the bills!
JAIMIE: Haha, it most definitely doesn’t! I co-ordinate an Indigenous-based youth program and I’ve just taken a position with an organization that works with children and adolescents who are in residential care.