In 2009 I was deeply affected by the suicide of a friend and coworker. This by a young man, who was successful in his career, had a wife and two children, and a zest for the good life. Max took his own life by hanging. After his death I began extensive research about suicide and decided that my best opportunity to help bring about a more public debate would be through my art. Not to sensationalize it, but focusing on suicide attempt survivors that have managed to move their lives forward on the road to recovery. The project combines portraits of suicide attempt survivors with audio interviews.
Suicide is a social problem that more people die from annually than war and violence, combined, globally. In the US that is more than 35,000 people every year. This despite only 10% of suicide attempts resulting in death. 90% of all people that attempt suicide have one or more mental health and/or substance abuse disorder.
There appears to be a general liability fear in the US medical community to even use the word “suicide” in public. These fears include the risk that suicide is glorified or romanticized, possibly leading to pandemic or copycat suicides. Except for a handful of copycat suicides in Japan none of these fears have materialized. At the same time the medical community wants to own the topic of suicide as a medical problem, which I strongly disagree with, rather than a social one. There are other reasons why people commit suicide other than due to mental health and substance abuse, including (cyber) bullying which is very much on the rise, financial destitution, loss of a loved one, and more. As the US medical community would not support my project I was forced to start it in Canada thanks to the referrals from a group therapy program in Toronto for people that have attempted multiple suicide attempts. My first visit there resulted in six portrait sessions and audio interviews.
The media does not want to cover this topic either through debate. It’s not sexy and won’t sell ads for the morning shows. The last couple of years there have been more reports on suicide in the media due to an increase of high profile and celebrity suicides. That is just reporting the news, not a public debate. No problem ever gets solved by not talking about it and the issue of suicide is too great to be left to the medical community and media alone.
From a photography perspective this project is a first for me in several ways. It’s my first documentary project (not a new direction). It’s the first body of work where people are the main subject matter.