Photo by Kitty Clark

Here at The Creative Mental Health Charity PoetsIN we are very excited about this year. We are looking ahead to rather a lot of fundraisers and projects; some of which you can get involved with yourself, and some being undertaken by people who excel in their craft.

We are super pleased to introduce you to one of those very people. She’s honest, she’s creative, and she’s very good at photography. She also has something extremely exciting planned in conjunction with us. Please read more about super talented photographer Kitty:

The inimitable Kitty Clark in a self portrait

Who are you and what do you do? 

I’m Kitty (or Kirsty – it depends on which context you know me in) and I’m a dark-chaser, wild-capturer, soul-whisperer. I shoot love and emotion in all its forms, as unposed and as free as my subjects can manage. I’m a photographer, in short.

Please tell us about your mental health journey.

I would say that right now is the first time in my adult life that I have been pretty much stable and emotionally well. It has been a long road to get here, and my heart hurts for anyone still stuck in the mental place I was in for much of my teens and twenties. I remember sitting in a doctors surgery at 14 begging for antidepressants because I couldn’t handle the intensity of my feelings and the idea that this might last forever was unbearable.

I would love to say that it became easier from there, that I was given the treatment and support that my experiences required, but we all know that the mental health provisions as they stand (or stood) rarely allow that for anyone. I struggled with severe anxiety and clinical depression through what should have been some of the best years of my life; every photo I have from milestone events (my travels, my graduation, every birthday) are tinged with the darkness of those awful emotions. The only upside being that I can relate on a very visceral level to anyone who has to navigate this pain; I know how strong they are, what they’ve had to endure. It has made me compassionate to my core, and a much better artist.

Photo by Kitty Clark
Self Portrait by Kitty Clark

As is the case for so many, I only really began to heal after I reached my absolute lowest ebb. I had a total breakdown in 2018 which literally broke me, and then put me back together again. I saw psychiatrists, was treated on mental health wards, and took more medication than you could sink a ship with; all of the things I thought would help me, but which actually didn’t do much at all. The fact is, we know so little about how the brain works that these people are shooting deer in the dark in an attempt to treat people. Often they do more harm than good. What healed me was my own resolve and the inner strength it took to climb out of that very deep hole (with a little momentary lift from Quetiapine). Oh and the compassion and care of Dave the Driver – but that’s a different story.

Kitty Clark Photography
Kitty at the peak of her breakdown in 2018 – a self portrait

What is your relationship with creativity and how has that evolved?

I don’t want to peddle the madness/artistic genius thing, but I do think that emotional intensity lends itself to creating. Art in whatever form has to come from the heart, and there is no one with more heart than those who have experienced poor mental health.

I was always a bit arty; at school you could usually find me hunched over some painting or other, or quizzing the art teacher over some obscure technique I’d discovered in a text book. I’d write poetry and bore people with it at lunchtime, and pour my heart out on the page about whatever love interest there was at the time. Unfortunately, this more wordy side got me labelled as academic, and as such I was pushed into pursuing a less creative route. This was very much to my detriment, and I struggled for years in jobs that did not suit my skills.

I’ve dabbled with all kinds of creative fields, but it’s only photography which has really, properly stuck. I’ve written guidebooks, and articles for various companies, and a lot of rubbish poems, but writing never completely set my soul on fire and my work was never spectacular. Now my creativity in terms of photography is celebrated; it’s become woven into the fabric of my everyday, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much like sunshine that feels. I’m sure I will find other avenues and creativity-streams to paddle in, but for now, photography is where feels most like home.

Kity Clark Photography
Family Photo by Kitty Clark

How long have you been photographing/writing, and what is it that you like about it?

I’ve been writing since my teens. I like that I’m able to make something mundane into something beautiful by changing the perspective, the tone, the cadence, the words. I think, too, I have always liked it because it’s free (unless you spend thousands on Moleskin notebooks) – it was a way to be creative without using money I didn’t have.

Photography, on the other hand, is not free. I have started this much later, mainly because I needed the funds to buy the equipment. Man, that stuff is expensive. It is fun though, and I mostly like – again – creating beautiful things out of something ordinary. Taking something quite routine and everyday like pregnancy and making it artful with the different tones and shades and poses. There is beauty in most places if we look hard enough – the happiest times in my life have been when I have chosen to see it.

Photo by Kitty Clark
“Taking something quite routine and everyday and making it artful”

Can you remember the catalyst for you beginning to do this? If so, what was it?

I have always had a ‘good’ camera lurking around, but I never took the time to get to know how to use it properly. When I had my daughter I decided that I couldn’t let her beautiful little face and fleeting youth go undocumented, so I levelled up my camera and got some mentorship (I have since levelled up my camera twice since then). That was about a year ago and I haven’t put down the camera since.

Does have a creative outlet help you with your mental health?

It is absolutely essential for my mental health to have some kind of creative project on the go. My mind is a constant swirl of ideas and thoughts, and if left without purpose, these ideas and thoughts tend to get a bit messy and dark. The photography especially has given me a (mostly) wonderful supportive community which I would now be a bit lost without. When we’re allowed, too, being outside with people on shoots is always a real mood-lifter – the social (and adventure) element of it all is a real bonus for me and my mental health.

Photo of Kitty Clark by Kitty Clark
“What healed me was my own resolve and inner strength”

You have a project in mind in collaboration with PoetsIN. What’s it all about?

I’m working on a project which hopes to challenge the current face of mental health; the one which dictates we have to look broken and dishevelled to have a mental health condition. I won’t reveal too much but it will involve mental-health focussed shoots with people who are willing to share their story and their time. It’s very exciting, and I can’t wait to get started.

We are seriously excited about this, what is it about PoetsIN that made you want to do this?

As someone who knows how broken the mental health system is, I am just overjoyed that there are people out there taking a different approach. I know from personal experience that creativity is a very powerful tool in the fight against the demons, so I am fully behind the mission of the charity. When I discussed the project with Paul, we both knew that this mission and my work were a perfect match, and that we can create something hopefully very impactful for people struggling and hopefully too for those who aren’t, to help them understand the issues and the ways they can help in more depth.

Photo by Kitty Clark
“I’m a dark-chaser, wild-capturer, soul-whisperer”

What book is on your bedside table right now?

I’ve been really out of touch with reading for a long time, I just didn’t have the attention span. I have however decided to make it a practice to put my phone away in a drawer for some or all of the weekend – lo and behold, I can read again. I’ve just read The Midnight Library by Matt Haig and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I have nothing against Haig – in fact I do like his social media presence and his openness about mental health – but there was something missing from that book. It felt a bit forced and lacking proper depth. Crawdads however; that is a masterpiece. Poetic but still accessible, and the characterisation of the protagonist is beautiful in a way I haven’t experienced for a long time. You should read it if you haven’t!

Is there any advice you can give to aspiring photographers?

Grasp every chance you get to take pictures with both hands. Network like you’ve never networked before; until you feel like maybe you’re annoying people with your persistence. Until you are annoying yourself with your persistence. Invest in your kit (the lens is more important than the body) and in education – hire a mentor to guide the way. There is so much to learn, but it’s the most enjoyable process finding your path and the things that make your work unique.

Kitty Clark Photography
Epitomising the essence of The Face of Mental Health Project

What is the favourite picture that you’ve taken?

Ok, come on. What’s your kit?

I shoot with a Canon 5DIII for the main normally with a 35mm lens, or 85mm for details. I also have a Sony a7III which is smaller and better in lower light situations, but I’m still learning the ropes with it. 

Writer’s block, real or a myth? Is there such a thing as Photographer’s block?

Absolutely real. I’ve yet to experience photographer’s block but I have seen experienced photographers say that they haven’t picked up their camera for months. For writing, for me, it’s usually when I am feeling low that the words don’t come, but I know for some that the down moments are prime scribing time. I think there are different catalysts for different people, but that frustrating feeling of WHY WON’T THE WORDS COME is essentially the same. 

Photo by Kitty Clark
Portrait of Mother and Child by Kitty Clark

Finish this sentence… Words/Photography are/is the epitome of…

Words are the epitome of human uniqueness

Photography is the epitome of that uniqueness celebrated

What does the future hold for you?

I hope there will just be more of the same, only bigger and with more depth. I hope there will be books and exhibitions and awards (of course), but really I just hope there will be the kinds of connections that make me feel lucky to be alive. There was a time when I didn’t know how I would survive another moment of this existence, and now I don’t know how to cope with the fact that I won’t get endless moments of this existence. I feel lucky to be alive, like I was given a second chance – I hope my future is filled with moments that make me feel that in my bones.

Kitty Clark Photography
Self Portrait by Kitty. Follow her on Instagram.

What social media channels can people find you on?

Instagram: @kittyclarkphotography

Facebook: www.facebook.com/kittyclarkphotography

Huge thanks to Kitty for firstly sharing her mental health journey with us, and secondly, for undertaking this fascinating project. We cannot wait to see what unfurls. If you would like to be interviewed and share your mental health journey, please contact us on info@poetsin.com

Kitty Clark Photography
Instagram account is @kittyclarkphotography

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