You Have Nothing to Worry About
September 15, 2017 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Melissa Spitz: "Since 2009, I have been making photographs of my mentally ill, substance-abusing mother. Her diagnoses change frequently—from alcoholism to dissociative identity disorder—and my relationship with her has been fraught with animosity for as long as I can remember.... By turning the camera toward my mother and my relationship with her, I capture her behavior as an echo of my own emotional response. The images function like an on going conversation." [some images nsfw]

Interview with Broadly
Spitz's Instagram.
posted by Grandysaur (29 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: This project has some serious consent problems that don't belong here. -- restless_nomad

Jesus, that's a LOT of prescriptions. Spitz describes her mother as a substance abuser, so maybe they're not all (or any?) prescribed legitimately for mental illness, but ... jesus, that's a lot of pills.

And the Bumbershoot picture is heartbreaking.
posted by scratch at 2:14 PM on September 15, 2017

Wow, these are very good. But oh so dark.
posted by mygothlaundry at 2:22 PM on September 15, 2017

Also, be sure to view her istagram feed in grid form, and to read the captions.
posted by Grandysaur at 2:26 PM on September 15, 2017

At the very least, this needs a NSFW tag.
posted by threetwentytwo at 2:58 PM on September 15, 2017

Turning someone's mental Illness into entertainment. This is the modern version of putting someone with downs into a circus. This is ableist as shit.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:04 PM on September 15, 2017 [16 favorites]

this is wrong.
posted by shockingbluamp at 3:26 PM on September 15, 2017 [15 favorites]

I really have problems with her publicizing photos of her mother's illness and addiction as a tool for her own "emotional response".
posted by Lexica at 3:44 PM on September 15, 2017 [13 favorites]

There've been ongoing and increasing efforts in the disability activism community to get parents of disabled children to understand that it's not okay to publish photos or videos of their children taken during meltdowns, or otherwise showcase "look what a burden this person is on me". It shouldn't be any more acceptable to do so when the person in question is an adult.

This project gives me a visceral "what is wrong with you?!" feeling towards the photographer. If she were writing essays without photographs trying to unpack how her mother's mental illness has affected her, that might feel different. But this feels like putting her mother on display in a freakshow.

If she were a paid caregiver and she publicized photos like this, that would be considered unacceptable and a violation of a relationship that needs to be based on trust. The fact that they're related doesn't make it okay.
posted by Lexica at 3:51 PM on September 15, 2017 [16 favorites]

The artist does address the issue of consent and states that the project "makes my mom feel so important and validated as a human, that this project is out there. "
posted by Ausamor at 3:51 PM on September 15, 2017 [5 favorites]

Yeah. A statement from the daughter. Why do I doubt the veracity?
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 4:13 PM on September 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

She statesthat her brother didn't want anything to do with this project...but she's posting pictures of him anyway because she's so excited to see him and he's so important to her.

Her dad regularly reads her posts to the point of rectifying misconceptions...even though her mom hates him hasn't spoken to him in years. Yet her mom herself never reads the posts (Melissa writes, for instance, that her mom would throw a fit if she knew abouther upcoming vacation with dad.) How willing a participant is she?

At the very least, I think Melissa's sense of boundaries is off - presumably living with boundary violating parents does that to you.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:23 PM on September 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

Speaking as someone who has had to deal with three immediate family members with serious mental illnesses, I can't imagine ever doing this to someone, even the family member I fucking hate. This is a disgusting violation of privacy, and I'm surprised no one has called adult protective services on her. In fact, I think on Monday I'll call them myself.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:09 PM on September 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

I came in here to ask whether the mother had released the photographs. I'm gratified to be in the majority on that one.
posted by d. z. wang at 5:50 PM on September 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

I can't quite say why photographs strike me as so deeply invasive. I could probably be talked into objecting to a tell-all personal essay too, but it would depend on what exactly the author chose to reveal. Photographs just seem bright-line wrong, somehow. Does anyone understand my feelings better?
posted by d. z. wang at 5:51 PM on September 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

The photographs aren't particularly compelling, aside from the given information that they're of a woman suffering from a terrible disease. This feels like a terrible carnival side-show, targeting someone without agency over their own representation.
I have nothing to say about the daughter's trauma - I assume it is real and valid - but this strikes me as an exploitative means of presenting it to the community.

Honestly I wish this post would be deleted.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 5:56 PM on September 15, 2017 [7 favorites]

Dissenting view: This is not entertainment. It is only entertainment if you make it so. It is a portrait that is touching and strong. This woman has nothing to be ashamed of, so why are you recoiling? If she were not mentally ill would you be saying that she could not be her daughter's subject? Does her illness make her too ugly to be an acceptable portrait subject?

I don't know the ins and the outs of this woman's situation, and I know, yes, there will be people who will make fun of her, the same way that any woman who is has her portrait posted will get ridiculed. The less conventionally perfect she is the more she will be ridiculed, the same way that people who are not conventional looking get ridiculed. But should she hide because she is not entirely conventionally beautiful?

I don't know, but I am afraid that your strong intense desire to protect her privacy might cover revulsion. I'm afraid that the response that the daughter has committed a violation by posting the pictures might be because the pictures disturb you and you would rather not see portraits unless they are of "normal" people.

I can't argue this because it comes down to feelings. She gave her consent - but I think that your response will be that because she is mentally ill she is not competent to give consent, or to see that her daughter is exploiting her - But I do know that children are denied rights in the name of protecting them, and women are denied rights in the name of protecting them, and mentally ill people are denied rights in the name of protecting them. People often justify controlling other people on the grounds that they are protecting them.

And I do know that we often shut down people whose stories disturb us, or censor them, and so people who have difficult stories often struggle with isolation because they get told to be ashamed.

I am not disturbed by your questioning if she is being exploited - but disturbed by the strength of your reaction. What I am reading in the other comments is not worry or concern, but outrage. I am afraid that you might be reacting as is the pictures of the woman is obscene, as if the woman is obscene and you are feeling fury that anyone would show you something that disturbs you. But I don't know what made you flinch so hard at these pictures.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:45 PM on September 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

Well I flinch so hard because I am not neurotypical and explotation by well meaning "normal" people is something I worry about every day. Quite frankly if my parents had been less moral this kind of project could have been done about me when I was younger. So to attack the strength of my reaction as being due to thinking the mother is obscene is shitty and ableist. The strength of my reaction is due to my own neurodivergence and my recognition of how shitty and explorative and ableist this photo series is. Shame on you. Not everyone on the blue is neurotypical, and quite a few of us identify more with the mother than the shitty daughter.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:05 PM on September 15, 2017 [8 favorites]

Josh: I see why you like this video camera so much.

Heather: You do?

Josh: It's not quite reality. ... It's like you can pretend everything is not quite the way it is.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 7:15 PM on September 15, 2017

Count me in as another neuroatypical person who finds this incredibly exploitive and upsetting. It's hard to overstate the extent to which this...kind of thing is a vicious real fear for so many of us, especially any person who has been disabled severely enough to need care, or who takes "too many" medications, or whatever. So yeah, I'm outraged, and I'm glad to see other people here are outraged too, because I was scared to comment about it upon seeing this.
posted by colorblock sock at 7:44 PM on September 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

Also- it would be one thing if this woman was documenting herself. But to accuse us of feeling revulsion for this woman because she's not typical or to accuse us of takin her rights away because she's a woman? What the hell? I've heard some weird defenses of ableism but accusing people concerned about the intrinsic dehumanizing nature of this shitty photo series treating someone with mental illness as a sideshow, as people who think this woman is obscene? That's a new one alright.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:48 PM on September 15, 2017 [6 favorites]

And last thing- I need to step back, I know- I am really REALLY sick of things like this, ableist things/ racist things/ misogynistic things being presented as "high art" and when people rightfully call out the artist as shitty- "but it's art!!!"
"Art" does not absolve you of ableist behavior.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:54 PM on September 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I guess I'm just not seeing how the mother is portrayed as clownish or a sideshow freak in the photographs. I think her humanity is pretty evident in the portraits. I can't detect a mocking or a caricaturist or a cartoonish edge to them. Maybe I'm not looking at them the right way?
posted by Panthalassa at 8:11 PM on September 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think they're very good photos and I think the strong reaction they evoke is part of their strength. I don't feel they are exploitative: the mother knew very well she was being photographed. She participated in this project. Do you feel she is without agency? Should she not have the right to agree to be part of the project? The pictures aren't snapshots and they were not taken without the subjects knowledge. For one thing, I guarantee you that they took a very long time to set up and take. In the artist's linked interview in Broadly, which goes into quite a bit more depth, there is an image of mother and daughter together. She states she feels like that's where the series is heading, into more images of both of them. And, in that article, what, exactly, is objectionable about, for example, Dandelion? Or the image of her embracing her daughters work at her MFA thesis show? I would think of this as collaborative work and actually even venture to say it might be healing on some levels for both of them.

There's a whole history of documentary art photography and these are pretty firmly ensconced in that tradition. Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, that woman whose name I can't remember who did that heart wrenching series on the woman in the abusive marriage are all photographers who spring to mind.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:34 PM on September 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

Does Spitz take photographs of anything else? If her mother awoke one morning, all healed and fine and "normal", what would Spitz do?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:24 PM on September 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

She gave her consent

you don't know that, nobody does but her, whoever she is. Her daughter relayed her alleged consent without even giving "this woman"'s name. A lot of the pictures look very posed -- like she knows she's being photographed. this of course is different from consent. but suppose she consents to each and every one of them, does she also consent to their internet publication and distribution? does she know exactly how that works?

again, maybe, sure! but there's absolutely no evidence of it. and, again, not even a name attached to her. which is fucking gross, if I may say so. They're good photographs, some of them. As revenge against a hated and abusive mother, if they were fully claimed as that, with no half-heartedness or wishy-washing, I think I would defend them, supposing that was what they were. but the pretense of a collaborative project while withholding any reason to believe in the artist's statements is what repels and chills the blood. she probably has whatever evidence of ethical behavior she needs to have in order to secure a book deal, she may even have evidence that hiding the woman's name is at her own request. but she is making an "artistic" choice to hide that evidence for the time being, for reasons that are not good. for all we know it is a stunt designed to prove that people are all voyeurs who are willing to look at these pictures without knowing any of the answers for sure and without caring.

I have a lot of time and respect for people who hate their parents. I really do. her defense, that this woman didn't raise her and is the real exploiter, is a non sequitur but effective nonetheless. Reducing her from whoever she is, whoever she was, to "mom" and "this woman" is damned effective. I salute it. but it is bad stuff.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:31 PM on September 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

does she also consent to their internet publication and distribution? does she know exactly how that works?

oh, never mind, I got to the instagram post where she explains in public on the instagram dedicated to pics of her mother how the thing she's doing at the moment is a secret from her mom who will be mean about it if she ever finds out. so, ha ha, no, her mom doesn't know where these photos are going, or doesn't know how to get there, or both.

someone comments on that same post to compliment her, apparently sincerely, on her spectacular boundaries. that little interchange is Art, if anything is.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:44 PM on September 15, 2017 [4 favorites]

This makes me want to cry. It reminds me of the Victorian "entertainment" of upper-class people visiting asylums. I think this photographer is treating her mother like property that she has a right to use as a prop in her photos. It's dehumanizing and I am identifying more with the mother than the daughter here. This could be me someday, if the meds stop working as well, or if I have a few more tragedies and life upheavals.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 10:07 PM on September 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

please mods- this post is wrong. Please take down this post.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:10 PM on September 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

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