Photographer Laura Hospes' UCP-UMCG Project Provides A Powerful Look At Life After A Suicide Attempt
Suicide is rarely discussed in our culture, and life for those who make an attempt is even more taboo. Dutch photography student Laura Hospes' UCP-UMCG project, however, gives viewers a glimpse into exactly that. The deeply personal portraits were taken in the days following Hospes' suicide attempt earlier this year, during her hospitalization in psychiatric unit the series was named after.
"Until a couple of months ago, I had a dream... to make exhibitions and photobooks with the self-portraits I made. That dream [was] cruelly pushed far away from me when I ended up in hospital after a suicide attempt," she tells Bustle over email. Initially, her stay in the hospital was "just awful" — while she had previusly been in "very intensive" therapy for her eating disorder, she had never been forced to stay overnight before. "I cried the whole day. And the next and the day after. But after days or even weeks I felt some security and safety in my hospital room," she writes.
Her adjustment was no doubt aided by the discovery that self-portraits actually provided emotional release for all the pain she was feeling.
"I was able to cry, to be angry, to be terrified and everything around those feelings which I was unable to show in real life," she writes. These portraits, taken from April through July of 2015, turned into a powerful, emotionally vivid photography series depicting her recovery.
"I always turn my photos in black and white after shooting, to create some distance between the extremely personal moment I have in front of my camera and the viewer," she writes.
Although she originally created the photographs for herself, she quickly discovered that they held another meaning for her. "After sharing them, I discovered I also feel a little rebellious about the fact that many people show only the perfect things in their life on Facebook or other social media," she says. "I want to show that difficult stories are also 'allowed' and inspire people to do so."
The series has become incredibly popular online, which means that Hospes sometimes stumbles across her work in unexpected places. "Sometimes it's like it's someone else [in] the photos," she writes. "Then I can't relate to the person [in] the photo anymore."
Other times, the portraits strike a nerve. "Sometimes I get very emotional seeing my photos... and feel the pain again. And I think that's good for my process, to feel that pain again a few times. To fully connect and process it," she says. "But if I really need to express myself, I take my camera and do a self-portrait session."
Does Hospes have any advice for others who are suffering from depression? "In my case art therapy was very helpful, if you want to give it that name. But there are lots of different people in this world and lots of different therapies that suit in different ways, " she says. I definitely recommend it for everybody to try it, but I can't [guarantee] it works for you the same as it did for me." However, she strongly recommends reaching out to friends and family, no matter how alone you may feel. "It really helped me to feel less alone and less crazy. It gave so much [relief] to be myself, even in this miserable situation," she writes.
"The last thing I want to tell is that I am not crazy," she writes. "Nobody who ends up in hospital is crazy. It can overcome everybody and it feels terrible to slowly lose control of your behaviour. Think of that and think of the people around you who are not able to contact you, because of their mental problems. They don't choose to be in this situation... Send them love and let them know you think about them. That is the most thankful message a hospitalized person can receive."
Hospes is technically still hospitalized, although she writes that she is allowed to sleep in her own bed at night. The rest of the series is below, and you can find more of her work at her website.