Too Tired Week: Louis Quail: Big Brother
Too Tired Project is a nonprofit arts organization advancing mental health advocacy through photography. They work to develop and expand the ways photography can positively impact mental health—online, in person, and in print. Current initiatives include rotating exhibitions, a traveling slideshow series, a photobook publishing imprint, and social engagement via their instagram. This week’s features are curated by our Executive Director, Kelly Burgess, and spotlights artists who are making work exploring issues related to mental health.
Big Brother is not only an intimate study of Louis Quail’s brother’s (Justin) struggle with schizophrenia but is also commentary on the mental health crisis at large in the UK. Over the course of six years, Quail photographed Justin’s life with a documentary approach, creating a tender and warm portrait of what it’s like to live with schizophrenia. The work is a celebration of Justin’s life and the things and people he loves, and a way to fight the stigma around mental health. In the statement of Big Brother, Quail notes that an estimated one in four people will struggle with mental health issues at some point in their life. A lack of funding a public awareness of this is what drove him to begin making the work. In this project, Quail rallies against the destructive stigma around Justin’s schizophrenia by capturing his everyday experiences – his love of birdwatching, his relationship with his long-term girlfriend Jackie, and includes some of Justin’s own paintings and poetry.
Louis Quail is a documentary photographer who increasingly devotes his time to personal, long-term projects. His most recent work ‘Big Brother’ (published with Dewi Lewis, 2018), has received significant critical acclaim. It ( and parts) have been shortlisted for the Arles Book and Text award 2018, Wellcome Trust photography prize 2019 and is winner of the Renaissance Series Prize 2017. His Arts Council funded, Solo show, ‘Before They Were Fallen’ also received significant exposure. It toured the UK and reflects an interest in aftermath that has taken him, previously to Libya, Afghanistan, Haiti and Kosovo. He has worked extensively for some of the UK’s best known magazines and has been published internationally over a period of many years. He has twice been a finalist at the National Portrait Gallery portraiture award and is held in their permanent collection. He lectures, exhibits internationally and makes short films.
Big Brother is an intimate photographic portrayal of my brother, Justin’s struggle with schizophrenia. It utilises multiple sources of documentation to show his life from different perspectives; his art, my photographs and narration juxtapose with medical and police records. The work reveals a system in crisis, but at its heart is a love story and a project that values and celebrates those suffering from mental health.
Schizophrenia is a disease that can wreck lives; it can explode whole families (it did ours) and leave shock waves that can be felt generations later.
One in four of us will suffer from a mental health problem in the UK this year. Despite this, funding is shrinking and increasingly the police have to step in to fill the space; with sometimes absurd consequences.
Justin has been sectioned three times in his life and there is no getting away from the fact that his condition is severe. Yet hopefully as we turn the pages and get to know him better, we see there is more to Justin than his illness. He has interests, hobbies and yes, loves. Justin has been dating his girlfriend, Jackie for over 20 years; although its not always a straightforward relationship. Nevertheless, the love story is central to the projects narrative, revealing their lives and also the authorities ‘Kafkaesque’ and clumsy attempts to both care for, and or control the pair.
Justin’s passion for bird-watching is a theme which knits the book together from start to finish; the resilience he draws from this hobby is an important theme.
This book did not set out to be a political polemic; rather, my intention was to fight stigma and share Justin’s story so we can understand, empathize and celebrate Justin’s individuality. However, inevitably by studying the problems affecting my brother, the work speaks of and draws attention to the crisis in mental health care, raising important questions about how we look after our most vulnerable citizens.
Kelly Burgess (she/her) is a project-based conceptual photographer, curator, publisher, and arts administrator that lives and works in rural Vermont. Emotional narrative is the thematic thread running through her work, with much of her own photography and writing coming directly from personal experiences.
Kelly is a regular editorial contributor to The New York Times. Her work has also been published in The Wall Street Journal, Kodak’s Kodachrome Magazine, GROW Magazine, PDNEdu, and Art New England Magazine – where she was featured as one of their 30 Photographers Under 30. Her sold-out book/project, Sing Me Back Home, has been exhibited internationally, more recently at the Arctic Arts Festival in Norway, MassArt Museum, and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.
In addition to her personal work, she has over a decade of experience in arts administration. In 2020 Kelly joined the Too Tired Project (tootiredproject.com), a nonprofit arts organization advancing mental health advocacy through photography, as their Executive Director. With TTP, she launched Too Tired Press, where she works as the Publisher. Her mission for Too Tired Press is to focus on creating transparent, equitable, and affordable relationships between artists and the publishing industry. www.kelly-burgess.
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