Have you made formal portrait of schizophrenic person?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by jtk, Aug 18, 2018.

  1. jtk

    jtk Subscriber
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    I am confronted with the opportunity to photograph a medically diagnosed, obviously schizophrenic adult who cannot function in the world outside his family home.

    I do have some direct experience and formal education that's relevant.

    But I'm asking myself questions.

    If I do this I will not be allowed to share the results without family permission... and I know that my motivation is something like an athlete's private self-tests, involving ego... Why, then, would I do it?

    One partial answer is that the family wants it...and maybe the subject will appreciate it in some way.

    An ethical question: Would I be taking advantage of this disabled person for my own self-seeking reasons? I'm not nearly as dedicated as Arbus, about whom that sort of question is often asked.

    Have you photographically dealt with something like this, asked yourself similar questions?

    What's your non-hypothetical, real experience?

    I'm envisioning a very simple Avedon simulation at the person's home with minimal lights.
     
  2. Pieter12

    Pieter12 Member
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    Is the subject on board? If so, I would think you are not taking advantage of anyone, just taking advantage of the opportunity. Go for it. Arbus was notorious for tricking and lying to her subjects about the photos she was taking and subsequently published. O'Keefe hated the Penn photo of her and asked for it to be destroyed. Gertrude Stein did not like the portrait Picasso painted of her...although I am not suggesting your photo would fall into any of the above examples.

    “The creation of a painting takes as much trickery and premeditation as the commitment of a crime.”
    Edgar Degas
     
  3. Arthurwg

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    There's a local schizophrenic women here who I would love to photograph. She walks around town but can burst into violent and threatening diatribes. Still......
     
  4. BrianShaw

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    I have such experience but it was with a diagnosed Schizophrenic who was living independently... as independent as possible... which was really minimally independent. That person was a friend of a friend and if it weren’t for her mental condition she was a very nice human being. Photographing her actually was a pleasure, but after the fact - when she was off her medication- the nature of the session changed from the headshot session it was to a porno session. It was a dangerous situation which I regret. Serious regret that only stopped after she eventually committed suicide. I don’t know what conclusion I expect for you to draw from my response. But since your asking the question I suspect your having serious thoughts about probable implications. If you do this session, get a legally binding agreement and model release.
     
  5. Rick A

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    My ex-wife's sister is paranoid-Schizophrenic, photographed he many times. Get to know your subject, make friends with them, stay calm and explain what you are doing, involve them. It's no big deal.
     
  6. jim10219

    jim10219 Member
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    One of my best friends is schizophrenic. My brother also has a schizophrenic friend. As long as they’re on their medication, and it’s working (they grow tolerant of their medications and so are constantly having to rotate through all of the various medications, until none of them work anymore), they’re both highly intelligent and extremely pleasant people to be around. You’d likely never know they had any issues. When they’re off their meds, or having issues with their meds, they can be erratic and unstable, but are never violent or dangerous to anyone but themselves. I’ve photographed my friend many times, and it was never a problem. Even when my friend is off their meds, I enjoy spending time with them. I like to have conversations with the voices they hear using my friend as the mediator. The voices they hear, which in this one person’s case is two regular individuals with names (voice only) and a nameless shadow that likes to dance. One voice is nice and the other is mean. But they both are excellent conversationalists!

    Since you have access to the family that probably has a good idea of where they are at in regards to their mental health, I’d coordinate the shoot with them so that you do it during one of their good days. Even on a bad day, they can still be pleasant to be around, but won’t be thinking rationally. Usually, if you remain calm and allow them to interact with their hallucination without judgement, you won’t have any issues. Don’t try to reason with them if they’re not in the mood. It won’t work, and you’re not their therapist. You can stand firm in your own opinions, but don’t try to change their minds if they don’t want you to. Basically, act like you would if their behavior were normal.

    On a good day while their medications are working properly, they are fully capable of making their own decisions. In fact, they are on average more intelligent than the average person. So you’d only be taking advantage of them if you were intentionally trying to take advantage of them. Treating them like a normal person is what they want, and is the right thing to do. Hollywood and society has stigmatized these individuals and tends to portray very incorrectly. They’re not crazed serial killers ready to snap without a moments notice. They’re regular people with some irregular problems, most of which are the result of the collective ignorance of society.

    The biggest problems they face are not being able to hold down a job due to frequent hospitalizations during their episodes, and the gradual tolerances to their medications. Plus their meds make them feel lethargic, both mentally and physically. It’s like being hung over. No one wants to feel that way all of the time, so they will often frequently stop taking their meds if not closely monitored. Those who live fully independently and don’t have the resources of a good and attentive support system are the most likely to have issues. That’s why so many wind up homeless. But those who come from families with the means to assist and monitor them can live relatively normal lives.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2018
  7. OP
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    jtk

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    Thanks. Mine would be family supervised.
     
  8. OP
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    jtk

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    Thanks. I don't know anything yet about my person's medication..he's maintained in a calm, withdrawn, "episode-free" condition from which he can emerge to be entertaining while remaining very strange. At his most-normal he attracts attention from bystanders but can deal with that by being charming and entertaining. I think he'd have trouble from strangers if he wandered freely.
     
  9. BrianShaw

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    You said the subject is an adult. Is this an adult with mental competence or under a legal control of a family member? Could make a difference.

    But if none of that matters to you, then the photo session will likely be quite interesting for both.
     
  10. OP
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    jtk

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    Thanks for bringing up that mental competence/legal control question. I'll need to address that.

    I do think "interesting for both" would the number one best outcome, even surpassing the photos.

    I'm concerned that medication may take-away from positive experience just as it might prevent bad experience.
     
  11. BrianShaw

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    If the person (and/or) family is under doctors care and compliant with medication plan, then that person could very likely be quite easy and pleasant to be part of a photo session.

    Not intending to be offensive, but there is no ethical question here... is that really your concern?. You quite clearly have no intention to exploit this person.
     
  12. Sirius Glass

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    In your case, you know what you are dealing with, you know the family, you will not share the photograph with anyone outside the family, so if you can deal with it and do a good job why not?
     
  13. jim10219

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    I am not a psychiatrist and didn’t know this person, so I have no right to address their condition directly. However, I do know that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are often confused for one another by even the most skilled doctors. They have many overlapping symptoms. There also a condition called schizoaffective disorder which kind of straddles the two. Sexual promiscuity and extreme depression sound more like bipolar or schizoaffective disorder to me than true schizophrenia. But again, I’m not a doctor and my opinion isn’t worth the electricity it takes to project it on your screen.

    In any case, I’m sorry to hear of your ordeal. I can imagine that it would be very hard on you to have experienced such an event.
     
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  15. Oren Grad

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    If there is the slightest doubt about whether the subject him- or herself fully understands and consents to what you propose to do *and* expressly wishes for you to do it, then don't. If all you have to go on is "maybe the subject will appreciate it in some way", then don't.
    If you are certain that the subject fully understands and wants you to do it, show him or her examples of the kinds of pictures that you have in mind to create when you say "a very simple Avedon simulation" and make sure he or she still wants to do it. If not, or if there's any doubt, then don't.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2018
  16. BrianShaw

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    I didn’t want to say that. But... possibly.
     
  17. awty

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    Antipsychotic medications are basically sedative in nature, its a fine line between over medicated and under and all the other side effects. Everybody is different, but its a good bet that there anxieties will be 10x yours, even if they are outwardly calm, even the relative will be anxious. You will need very good people skills to keep any pressure away.
    Also would need to check with their sleeping patterns, could be all over the shop. No point in expecting a 10AM Wednesday to work, they could be ready for bed at that time or way too anxious to see anyone. Need to talk to the family member/s to how best approach it.
    It will require a lot of calm patience from you, may nail it the first time may take several visits, might not happen at all. Concentrate on the person not the illness. Should be a really worthwhile project.
    I have no direct connection with anyone with Schizophrenia, but do with some other brain chemistry problems.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2018
  18. Pieter12

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    I think the crux of the OP is "An ethical question: Would I be taking advantage of this disabled person for my own self-seeking reasons?"

    Not how will this affect this person, what will the shoot be like, or even the outcome of the shoot. The person's disability is something that the photographer expects will lead to a unique and interesting image. As far as the subject expressing consent, no one has qualms about that doing street photography. Unless the actual photo shoot were to be disturbing or very uncomfortable for them and if you are honest in your portrayal and behavior towards your subject, I don't think it is unethical to use them for a photo that pleases you.
     
  19. awty

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    Just to clarify Schizophrenia has no bearing on someone intellect. You should treat them like any other person in that sense.
     
  20. OP
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    jtk

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    I'm pretty confident in my ability to discern things about people that they may not necessarily be capable of expressing. However, I'm sharp enough to recognize boundaries...and the value sometimes of transgressing. In other words, few people want to be photographed but it can be valuable to them when someone steps on their toes...like photographers often do...

    For me this feels something like theatre, where more can be conveyed than can be expressed...more than is in the script.

    Pieter's post is very much to the point, however the fact that this subject is probably not legally competent means that his "permission" is legally irrelevant. Therefore I need to address this with his family/caretaker.

    I'm reading everybody's posts...thanks!
     
  21. BrianShaw

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    You’ll do fine!
     
  22. jim10219

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    I have never met a schizophrenic person who wasn’t legally competent. I’m not saying they don’t exist. But most schizophrenic individuals should be legally competent. They drive cars, pay bills, clean their house, feed their dog, read books, get married, have kids, and do all of the everyday stuff we all do. My schizophrenic friend owns a successful restaurant and is a musical genius. This person can hear a song once and play it back, note perfect, on several different instruments, months later. Another I know is a very talented and well paid computer programmer. My brother’s schizophrenic friend is a scratch golfer.

    I think you’re overthinking this. Having spent my life around various schizophrenic people, I think you’ll be surprised by just how ordinary they are. Unless they are in the middle of an episode, you’ll likely find someone who’s extremely intelligent, friendly, and a bit scared that you will judge them based solely on their condition, and not on the person whom they are. And if they are having an episode, you’ll likely find someone who is extremely intelligent, friendly, and a bit scared that you’ll judge them based solely on their condition. The only real difference is they may be hearing voices, seeing things that aren’t there, and making mental connections that the rest of us wouldn’t make. And in today’s hyper-politicized environment, those aren’t rare traits. Schizophrenic people are not mentally handicapped, but they are often stigmatized as such. And just like the rest of us, no two are alike.

    So just go into this with an open mind, and treat this person like you would treat anyone else. Since the family is involved, you likely won’t have anything to worry about. And most of all, relax and have fun!
     
  23. ced

    ced Member

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    Yes, self portrait!
     
  24. tedr1

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    Perhaps I have misunderstood? It makes no difference what the mental condition of the subject is, if the person who commissions the work (in this case the family) lays down conditions that you can't meet then don't accept the project, walk away and allow them to find someone else who will agree to their terms.
     
  25. OP
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    jtk

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    Ted, I understand your point however I think portraits involve two-way participation. Family (one parent) terms aren't by themselves sufficient, but in this situation are critical.
    The challenge to me is to do right by the subject and by my own values...no problem with whatever family terms might emerge.
     
  26. alentine

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    jtk, great query and great discussion.
    I think setting with his doctor is worth much, to know how much that person brought under control.
    Alternatively, if doctor is not possible, you may ask a close family member. Just build true expectations from that particular patient.
    On dealing with him personally, try to hold your reaction not to over do, not to over react, not to negotiate his thoughts.
    Try to be very ordinary as possible to him. If controlled, I think they can understand friendship, and may appreciate it.
    Try to avoid appearing anxious or in fear, as possible, even if you can act as dull or stupid, sorry.
    Being for time on medications and fighting self thoughts, do not expect to find deep meaningful facial expressions from the few first visits. But illness expressions if it is there, are much true and genuine than being acted by model or actor.
    Always keep in mind, your safety is primary, but patient safety is also important as well, just be cautious the session/s not to put him in a situation that may admit him to a relapse phase while he has been already brought under control.
    Simple thought based on meeting few people with mental illness from long time ago.
     
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