Seven striking photos from our mental health series: From Lagos to Lima

Mar 20, 2024 | News

How does it feel when you photograph people whose portraits are related to their mental health. We commissioned professional photographers from around the world to tell us the stories behind some of their best photos for our Developing Mental Wealth Series.

Phindi Mgele is a South African mom who has benefited greatly from a travelling creative therapy caravan that brings innovative therapy to townships. It aims at tackling gender-based violence from its roots

Cebisile Mbonani, South Africa

“When I hold the lens and immerse my self in the scene, all else fades away.” I stop worrying about what could have been and what couldn’t. I am fully present and aware.

It was exactly this that happened when I photographed Phindi Mgele. Meeting her was a revelation. It was a testament to human spirit and mind’s limitless potential. Her mother, sister, and husband had all died within a short time. Her pain was palpable but her resilience and optimism shone through. She is determined to rebuild for her son.

She told me about her traumatizing experience, and I could feel the pain in her voice as I took her picture. I asked her to tell me about the framed photos of her and her mother that were behind her. This helped her feel more at ease. I also noticed that she kept her son near her at all times. I wanted to use these two elements to capture Mgele’s resilience and strength in my photographs. Mgele’s story reminded me to never give up and to try again .”.

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Dr Russell Razzaque is a psychiatrist based in east London who has played a key role in bringing to the UK the Finnish “open dialogue” approach to treating schizophrenia.

Sam Bush, London

“I was commissioned by the psychiatrist Russell Razzaque to shoot him in summer 2023. I arrived at his north London home on a rainy morning in July. I had hoped for sun, but this is England. We left his office after photographing him. I noticed that the sun was just starting to peek through the clouds at the end window of the hallway. I asked Russell to lean on the wall and to look back at me. That was the shot. I like how the window looks like a new horizon or a light at a tunnel’s end. I thought it was an excellent visual metaphor for his story and his role as a pioneer in psychiatry .”

Children in the Guatemalan mountains draw while their mothers lead a women’s group, empowering one another to find their voice after centuries of oppression

James Rodriguez, Guatemala

“I thought that this photograph was the most meaningful moment I witnessed during my trip to Guatemalan highlands, where I photographed the Buena semilla project. This community collective uses women’s circle to revive Indigenous concepts about mental health. Women’s circles are a place where women can express themselves through drawing. The little girls accompanying their mothers wanted to draw as well. This was a good example of the many effects of the programme. It builds community at all levels (not only the women), sets a good example for future generations, promotes harmony and education.

I take my time when I photograph groups Indigenous women in Guatemala. I asked permission, explained my purpose, and sat back to watch from a distance. I then noticed that the girls were in their own little circle and decided to take a photo of them .”

Ayomide Olude, project manager for The Eco-anxiety in Africa Project has launched a climate café in Lagos to help Nigerians process the emotions they feel about the climate crisis.

Taiwo Aina, Nigeria

“My favourite photo from my visit to Nigeria’s first climate café is this portrait Ayo, who is the project manager of The Eco-Anxiety Project. The organisation behind the cafe. I had already photographed Ayo in the cafe, but I wanted a picture with more colour and that would tell a story about a place. Ayo lives in Lagos, Nigeria. She commutes to work using tricycles as well as the local Danfo buses (yellow minibuses which carry passengers for a small fee and are part of Lagos’ informal transportation system). This portrait of Ayo shows how she is connected to her city and climate, with the small trees, the buzzing of the city, and the tricycles that pass by.

I’ve changed my perspective on my surroundings after listening to the people at the Zen Cafe and taking photos. I now give my plastic waste to shops who reuse it, instead of throwing them away. I’ve learned about ‘eco anxiety’ and how the community deals with it. It has made me more aware of the environmental issues .”

Emma McKenzie is a PhD student who is researching the Finnish ‘open dialogue approach’ to psychosis in relation to ethnic minorities

Anselm Ebulue in London

“Emma said she wasn’t comfortable being photographed, but her relaxed demeanour shows and I like the way it shows that she trusted me with a camera. She was a PhD candidate at University College London, studying the approach to psychosis. She was interviewed for a story about the UK’s trial of Finland’s unique mental healthcare approach.

Before I met her, I did a quick scan of the area. I didn’t wish to stray far from her workplace, but I was drawn to this small park.

The natural surroundings created a feeling of idyllic tranquility that belied the fact we were in the heart of the city during lunchtime. It looks as if it was taken in a nature preserve rather than central London. Emma was unable to relax at first because we heard rustling behind her. We didn’t spot any rats, but we decided to leave the bench before too long. We were able to spend some time there before the city workers arrived for lunch .”

Mayra Orellano, Alejandra Montoya and co-founders Coalition Neurodivergent Peru are liberating Peruvians of stigma and abuse. It started as a picnic in the park

Angela Ponce, Peru

“A few weeks back, I attended a picnic in Lima (Peru) where neurodivergent individuals shared their experiences and talked about their everyday lives. Others simply listen until they are ready to speak. It was a very friendly environment.

I only wanted to be a witness so I had be careful not to interrupt the conversation with my camera. After introducing myself I sat in between them and listened to what they had to say before starting the photos. This is my favorite image and moment from the meeting. The founders read the messages that each member had written for their inner child. They were beautiful messages with a hint of nostalgia.

The testimonies were anonymous, but when they were read out loud it was evident that more than one individual identified with them. These spaces are essential to support the community, and it is a rare opportunity where mental health no longer remains taboo.

I felt a sense of hope at the end of this assignment that there were changes happening for the better, and that they were driven by young people.”

Oliver (pictured right above), who was diagnosed as having schizophrenia in his teens. He believes that the Finnish “open dialogue” approach to psychosis would have changed his experience of mental illness.

Joanne Crawford, Halifax

“When I planned this shoot, I thought that the picture of Oliver with his dad should show their close relationship but also not dismiss the nightmare few years they’ve had.

We shot the photo near Oliver’s home because I wanted to show how he lives on a typical residential street. We tried several different setups, but I think this one with the foliage and the wall that his dad could lean against and the houses in background is the best. They look relaxed, but since the article is about incredibly serious issues in their lives, I didn’t want it to be too ‘happy.’ Oliver and his father were not used to being photographed so I worked quickly and constantly put them at ease, showing them the photos as we went .”

The Solutions Journalism Accelerator, a program of the European Journalism Centre funded by Positive News, produces Developing Mental Wealth. This fund is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


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