Therapeutic Photography | by Jessica Miles
My passion for photography focuses on capturing the beauty of people in all elements. I strive to portray raw, emotive vulnerability in many of my images. I tend to be a rule-breaker, and I’m drawn to photos that are often outside the box, such as purposeful motion blur, long exposure, reflections, and working with different types of shadows and light. The driving force behind my photography is for my subjects to leave a bold legacy for their families, a desire that motivates my self portraiture as well. In January 2017, I was invited to participate in a group self portrait challenge, something I had never considered doing previously. When my physical health took a turn in June 2017, I discovered it was a powerful way to document my journey and what I was going through. It enabled me to see my progress, as well as setbacks, in a cathartic way.
In 2015, after almost five years of unexplained symptoms, countless procedures, hospitalizations, tests, and a couple of misdiagnoses, it was confirmed that I had a genetic connective tissue disorder caused by faulty collagen. I ended up having multiple surgeries within an 18 month period, resulting in a port and a permanent ostomy.
I’ve learned to take everything step by step and day by day. My goal is to break down the stigma of ostomies, and while it’s not always easy, to show that one can still thrive and live a happy life with chronic illness. Due to pain and fatigue, I’ve learned to budget my energy, and while I may function normally one day, I usually need to rest the next. It’s all about finding balance and what works for you.
I believe that art enhances the well-being of individuals, society, and our environment, and that artists have the power to heal, inspire, provoke, challenge, and offer hope. Everyone views the world in a unique way, seeing beauty in things that others may not. Photography allows people to see those different perspectives, and self portraiture can be used as a tool for personal healing and positive change for many while nurturing creativity and self-expression.
Throughout history, artists have searched for self understanding by depicting themselves in self portraits, such as Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo. Kahlo’s famous quote, “I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best,” particularly resonates with me.
My illness has caused me to know myself better, which keeps my self portraiture honest and true.
I connect with Kahlo’s observation because I know what it is to grapple with a health issue for so long. In the process, you truly meet yourself, which makes for better, more authentic work.