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Photographer Flora Maclean collaborates with Refinery29 to change the way mental health looks online

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Flora Maclean/Refinery29

Always one to push positive and inclusive attitudes to mental health, Refinery29 have released a new series of images with photographer Flora Maclean, with the aim to reframe how mental health issues are visualised online.

Born out of a frustration with ‘depression stock images’ being mostly populated by white males, the Refinery29 design and photo team – led by Art Director Anna Jay – decided to commission a series of mental health-related stock images to use globally across the R29 sites.

Beginning by setting up an anonymous survey with an aim to get to the root of how mental health issues make their readers feel, they collated the responses of words and phrases that summed up their audiences mental health experiences and went about putting these into sensitive and respectful visual representations with the help of Flora Maclean.

The answers they received were hard hitting, displaying the complex and distressing reality of the mental health conditions those who submitted survey responses experienced. “[Depression] feels like I can barely keep my head above water”, read one. “[OCD is] like there’s someone in your head just feeding you lies”, said another. “[Depression is] foggy, like you’re behind a thick pane of glass watching everyone else live life”, yet another stated, and “[Stress] feels like loads of brightly coloured squiggles intersecting with each other, too much going on.”

Anna says: “This project was really close to us, as mental health is something that touches all of us in some way or another. While it’s brilliant that the conversation around mental health has really opened up in the media in the last few years, visually, it’s still disappointing to see such limited imagery out there on major platforms, making depression look like a headache. It’s vitally important that the women on the Refinery29 website are representative and relatable, and we hope the resulting series of images make some of the more complex feelings of the mind tangible.”

Well versed in the limitations of existing stock imagery, this project is just one instance where the Refinery29 team have produced their own stock photography, aiming to represent the real experiences of women for over five years.

The series is on show at the Exposure Gallery in partnership with The Photography Movement from 19th – 31st October, entry is free.

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Flora Maclean/Refinery29