We’re pleased to share an interview with Jessica Hays, whose thought-provoking photography is on display at Miri Gallery during the “Welcome to My World: Mental Health Awareness Through Art” exhibit.
•• How is your personality reflected in your work?
The majority of my work deals with my experiences as a woman in the outdoors, or with mental health issues. I would say both of these are major parts of my personality.
•• What is your current medium and why have you chosen to work with it?
I work mainly in photography. I fell in love with photography in high school, and haven’t put down the camera since. It has become a form of therapy and well as a career path. Making photographs, whether out photographing, working in the darkroom, or editing and printing has become the thing that feels like home.
•• Please tell us a bit about your pieces that are being exhibited at Miri Gallery. How do they fall into the theme of mental health awareness?
The pieces being shown are all about my own struggles with treating my anxiety and depression. When my therapist suggested I consider medication as a temporary measure to help with panic attacks, I was terrified. I was afraid of what the medications might do to me, becoming addicted, or becoming worse because of side effects.
I had an incredible friend who served as my support system through the whole ordeal, but I found few outside resources. Almost no one talked about their struggles with medication. I felt as if I was the only one who was afraid of my treatment options. I began making the work as a way to cope with the idea that I needed medication. The whole series began with one idea of photographing myself with a line of pills down my throat. It all grew out of that one image in my head. The work transformed into a way to deal with the side effects and continuing fears as I attempted several medications. Making the work allowed me to talk about my illnesses with people in a way I never had before. The more I opened up, the more I realized I was not alone in my experiences. So many people experience apprehension and negative outcomes when they seek help and treatment through medication, but felt that it wasn’t normal or “allowed” to have these struggles. I want to make this part of mental health something people can talk about and feel less alone in.
•• Can you describe the time when you first realized that creating was something you absolutely had to do?
I think I really realized, more than ever, that I had to create things in the past 18 months. Struggling with relapses in depression, developing anxiety, and having my entire life turned upside down has made me realize how important making things was to me. Writing and making art has always been important to me, but just how important it was became apparent as the rest of my life went through a painful metamorphosis. Beyond that, I have started to use art making as a form of therapy, and it has been more healing than any other treatment I have tried.
•• Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
I want to try more sculpture. I made a few small pieces for a class, and there was something so satisfying about making a large tangible piece, something that took up space. I want to make more sculptures and experiment with different media within that discipline.
•• What’s the best advice you ever had about how to be more creative?
The best advice I had is a mix of what several friends have told me and my own additions to those conversations. It boils down to “Don’t worry about living up to what you have made before, just come up with ideas and make them.” In the back of my sketch book and in various other places I have “Your next piece doesn’t have to be your best piece.”