The Survivor// ©Sofia Conti
The Story behind the Portrait
Whilst studying for my degree I decided that I wanted to collaborate with veterans who have, and are suffering from, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Initially, I contacted relevant charities and services who aid people in the forces. The barrier that I came across was that veterans’ personal experiences of conflict is not something which is openly discussed, especially with a civilian like myself who have never served. From that response, I realised this project at that point could not progress, so I opted for another concept and put that interest aside until I could find a better way to work with it.
Not long after, we were given a brief to photograph under one of the following topics ‘People, Places or Things’. It was at that point I contacted Donald who I have known in a professional capacity for many years. Donald is a veteran who served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and his experiences helped me understand mental health issues linked to the traumas of war. Due to the pandemic, it was made evident there was limited support for so many who desperately required access to mental health services. For me, this made the work even more important to raise awareness on the subject matter.
The plan initially was to photograph Donald at his home with my mobile studio. When I arrived, Donald was dressed in his uniform and standing in the living room. I realised it made more sense to depict him within that space as it was more authentic than a mobile studio. Donald kindly consented to this and other than moving the coffee table to get a clear view with which to photograph, everything is shown exactly how it was. The image illustrates that even though Donald no longer serves in the forces, his experiences and memories are continually present and cross over into his now civilian life.
After the image was completed, I gave Donald a copy and he told me that it made him feel proud. The best outcome from this image was when Donald told me, ‘Believe it or not, it was after looking at myself in the photo, I started to seek help and advice’.
In general, collaboration is vital in my practice as a social-documentary photographer. The work that I produce is all about ethically representing the people and the places. In my work, I have spent a large proportion of my time connecting with various communities, services and charitable organisations. I believe that it is about continually holding regular discussions with those involved to deliberate about what is being produced and build a trusting bond. Entering people’s personal lives, which in turn gives them power to advocate for change in relation to the issues raised.
I am currently studying for a postgraduate degree and within this, I am exploring issues surrounding ‘The Glasgow Effect’. To enhance my photographic practice, I am experimenting with other mediums, for example by using ‘moving portrait’ to see if this helps to communicate my collaborator’s stories and will bring them to life. I’m also exploring how these new ways of working can offer my current collaboration with people in recovery from substance abuse more layers and the potential to engage with the audience on a much deeper level.
Due to the pandemic, it was made evident there was limited support for so many who desperately required access to mental health services. For me, this made the work even more important to raise awareness on the subject matter.
Sofia Conti is an award winning social-documentary photographer who is based in Glasgow, Scotland. Over the past four years Sofia has embarked upon a photography journey as a mature student. Recently Sofia received a distinction in a BA Professional Photography degree via Robert Gordon University, Gray’s School of Art, Scotland.
Currently Sofia is furthering her studies at Falmouth University (Falmouth Flexible) where she aims to achieve a degree in MA Photography that will enhance her practice, knowledge, and professionalism. The intentions of the projects produced are to collaborate with communities that enable them to have a voice to raise awareness on specific issues that aesthetically enlighten the audience too evoke a change in attitudes.
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