Photographer Teams up With Refinery29 to Change How Mental Health Looks Online

Photographer Teams up With Refinery29 to Change How Mental Health Looks Online

One in four people suffer from a mental illness, but it is still extremely misrepresented in stock photography. I've always admired Refinery29 for placing a high value on sharing the real women's experience in their imagery and articles. Now they're teaming up with photographer Flora Maclean to confront the poor portrayal of mental illness in stock imagery by creating their own. Refinery explains in their article that when you Google search "depression stock photos" the results are predominantly white men who look like they have a headache. 

Not only did Refinery want to expand the subjects shown in mental health-related stock content, but they also aim to reflect depression, anxiety, and mood disorders through actual feelings opposed to the currently untreatable cliche content. To represent the feelings of different mental illness Maclean used various lighting, makeup, and set techniques. The team came up with the concepts after asking readers how mental illness truly felt to them.  

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This beauty 💙💎 @bwalya_b

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I love how the project turned out and think it is a great example of what mental health in stock photography needs to transition towards. Have any of you taken images to portray mental illness in creative ways?

Lead image by Gabrielle Colton

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7 Comments

user-156929's picture

Beyond stock photography, most people don't know what mental illness looks like. I know because I don't. Thanks for the heads up!

Matthias Kirk's picture

First of all, don't let the panic attacks bring you down and kudos for talking about it openly!
It is tough to represent an abstract concept without using cliches that society agrees upon and interprets imagery accordingly. Would love to see what you come up with!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Definitely is a broad spectrum, but the more people who post images like this replacing the current ones the better represented it will become. Thank you for your comments!

user-187388's picture

I agree Jonathan. Even in extremes of depression we can still present well. I was photographing a wedding once where I suffered an acute attack of "the black dog". The people in the wedding did not know and my photos of the wedding were fine. The only time I was relatively functional during that shoot was when I had a camera to my eye or about to.Someone else could have taken photos of me in action and had no idea what was going on.Having my wife there as my assistant was a lifesaver.This was a condition I had for about 2 years. I withdrew for a while from most work. I do see images that probably cause people to read articles about mental health. Whether the images are good or not can only be judged if the viewer decided to read the accompanying article.Well done for anyone trying to help in this field with their photography.

I had silent mental issues because I couldn't afford a Hasselblad H6D-100c Medium Format, and my condition worsened when I sold the house to buy one only to find my FD collection wouldn't work with it. Now I'm waiting for Canon to do one.

"Predominantly white men": well most of IG fashion or photography is predominantly skinny white women. Willing to bet so is R29. No offense but these photos are lackluster in my opinion. A girl with sand on her back touching her neck ever so gently doesnt make me feel or understand much about mental health. The second one just looks like a very average portrait of a girl with her eyes closed. After looking at the whole slideshow on their website, its all mostly unenergetic, emotionless photos of girls, hands, other weird props. For me, this isnt changing how mental health looks at all. It feels like a lazy attempt. Sorry if this is harsh.