One girl said the images made her feel like she belonged. I never made that kind of impact in photojournalism.
R&K: Was he part of the decision to publish as well?
Lacar: Well, he knew I was going to go live with it. I don’t remember how it happened exactly. I remember I compiled it and then showed it to my friends in group therapy. And I was taken aback by their response.
R&K: What was their reaction?
Lacar: One girl said that seeing the images made her feel like she belonged. Those were her words. And I thought, well hell, I never made that kind of impact in photojournalism. And so I told Ben. And I think it was Ben who told me about Levallois photo festival. And I just submitted the work to that. I completely forgot I submitted that work till a few months later I get this call from France and they said, you won $10,000 for the project and it was out. But I didn’t know what to do with it after that. It felt like a vanity piece.
R&K: I never saw it that way.
Lacar: I mean, I knew it was meaningful to people who connected with it. I understood that but I didn’t know what to do with it. So I sat on it forever. I thought it was going to be a book or a multimedia piece or an interactive piece or an app. There were so many iterations in my head. But it never really came together until a month ago.
R&K: So it took six years to get from A Love Story to the 1in20 project.
Lacar: Well, I also had kids. So every time I would say, I’m going to put an hour into this, someone needed to eat or be changed. And I was managing Ben’s house accounts. I still looked at it as if I would be the one reporting or telling their stories which was another wall I thought I had run into because how would you fund that and who would stay with my kids? Then I thought, well maybe it’s an app and then I met with Teru [Kuwayama] (Facebook’s Photo Community Manager), who advised that an app would be such a headache so why not use a platform that’s already available. Then about 5 people recommended I talk to Peter DiCampo who co-founded Everyday Africa and it finally came together for me. I understood that I can still do my story and everyone else’s, use a platform that is already available, and not just allow a few people to contribute but open it to everyone.
A portrait from photographer Ruddy Roye that accompanies his submission to 1in20.
R&K: Those are good angels to have on any project. At first blush, though, Instagram seems like an unlikely vehicle for 1in20. The captions are long. The stories are so intense. The image isn’t always the most important part.
Lacar: No. But I do pick images that are strong enough to make people pause or at least interest them enough to read hopefully the first line. But the entries are the most important part of it. What’s great about instagram is that it allows for video, and I have one woman I’ve been corresponding with who decided to send a song.
She sang it so beautifully that I decided it wouldn’t do it much justice to slap a photo on there, so I’ve volunteered Ben and a few friends and we’re going to make this video and post the 15 second trailer on Instagram, and the longer form on the web.
R&K: So now the Instagram is launched. Why tackle mental illness through photography?
Lacar: There’s a gap between how academics and clinicians learn about mental illness and what it truly feels like for the sufferer. There are case studies but interestingly enough, there aren’t pictures in the DSM-V. Obviously, I don’t expect it to be in comic book form, but when I myself was doing research about my own illness, I didn’t really find anything that was emotionally relatable. I found I would connect to songs, or movies, but in terms of finding something that made sense in the academic and mental health arena, none. Maybe I wasn’t researching it well enough… Part of the goal of 1in20 is to try to help connect that divide. I strongly believe that there is a place for the anecdotal stories and beyond that, they don’t have to always be in text form. For an experience that is so visceral, I think it is OK for people to describe their own emotions as passionately as they feel it and in whatever medium that they feel the most comfortable with.
From photographer Kerry Payne’s project on those who have lost loved ones to suicide, contributed to 1in20.
R&K: So how would you measure success for 1in20?
Lacar: Not monetarily that’s for sure. 1in20 would be successful when we get a lot of contributors from people of all walks of life from different countries and talk about their own experience with mental illness whether it is a genetic predisposition, from a trauma, an addiction… and from the perspective of the sufferer, the caregiver, friend, loved one.
R&K: It seems there aren’t a lot of places in social media for this kind of open introspection and outreach.
Lacar: No, I think the support groups are very specific and compartmentalized and that’s great. That has a place too. That’s how I got better. But sometimes, it’s hard to get up, get dressed and go somewhere. I also have to be conscious about making sure we are not only providing a safe space for people to share their stories but also to moderate the images and text coming in so they aren’t glorifying harmful behavior.
R&K: Has that been a challenge so far? Do you have guidelines to follow, or is it just gut feeling?
Lacar: It’s so new but I am in contact with an “expert” who is very supportive of the work and I do feel that we are headed in the direction having standardized guidelines at some point. There are followers I see who have followed certain feeds like the pro-ana ones. I didn’t want to block them because its good that they’re seeing this feed, and seeing a different perspective.
R&K: Can 1in20 help people get better?
Lacar: 1in20 is a virtual group therapy (at least that’s how I think of it).
R&K: That’s fascinating. But is there also something of an activism role, spreading awareness of the disease seems a big part, no?
Lacar: Yes of course. I want to normalize the conversation. It is an illness. People seem to feel bad when someone has heart disease but for some odd reason people expect you to snap out of it when it is the subject of mental illness. I think a huge part of it is just not understanding the beast itself.
R&K: So practically speaking, how do submissions work?
Lacar: Sometimes I just invite people who I know have a body of work already made, like Kerry Payne. Sometimes, I pair text submissions with photo submissions. Sometimes I’ll look at IM messages and email message from people who just want to talk and they’ll say something that I think is really relatable and I’ll ask them if I could use it as a submission. Sometimes I’ll translate the text into images myself, sometimes I’ll art direct and Ben gets tasked to shoot. Sometimes I’ll talk to someone for a while… someone who thinks they don’t have much to say. We have the tools to tell our stories.
R&K: You’ve said that A Love Story will be released as an ebookat some point. Is that put aside for now?
Lacar: I think Love Story is part of it. I guess I see my life as chapters. So [mental illness in] 2008 was a chapter in my life that was A Love Story. Having kids at this age is a different chapter. 1in20 is me coming to my own again, as a photographer, as a curator, independent of Ben and my kids. That’s a different chapter. And it isn’t all altruistic… obviously doing this is a big part of my own journey. I find it to be very purposeful.
R&K: To stave off relapse? Understand what happened? Both?
Lacar: For a good four years I sat on this work not knowing what to do with it, thinking my career was over, thinking I was just going to be “Ben Lowy’s wife” or “mom” and those are all identities that I can fully embrace now. But for a while I felt like I had really lost myself. And now I find that I have a balance.