How Photography Helped me: Hannah Laycock

Photography has therapeutic benefits that can provide catharsis for those who need it. Hannah Laycock has used photography as a means to process her father’s diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease and to express her own experiences of living with Multiple Sclerosis. This is the first in a series of guest blogs that share how photography has helped people.  

It was 2009 that photography became my saving grace. That was the year my father was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

Towards the end of my 2nd and into my 3rd year of my photography degree I created two volumes of work; ‘Railing At The Enthrallment to The Failing of The light’, part I and II, which documented my family’s life as they and I came to terms with the pronouncement of my father’s MND.

After graduating, my creative practice lapsed between 2011 and 2014. I had focused my energy on capturing and presenting my father’s diagnosis in both a truthful and loving way, but the process dulled my creativity. It wasn’t until I was dealt with my own diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 2013, aged 31, that my creativity began, ironically, to flourish and bounce back again.

A few months after diagnosis, I was introduced to George Pepper, Co-founder of Shiftms, a social network for people with MS. I became closely connected with the Shiftms team and in August 2014 I was invited to create a new body of work in response to their #Good Out of Bad (#GOOB) commission, as part of their MS Energy initiative. With this, ‘Perceiving Identity’ was created, which launched my photography back into the public domain with the #GOOB exhibition in London, February 2015.

After relocating from London back to Scotland in April 2015, in May of the same year, I won an Artist in Residence in Glasgow at Six Foot Gallery and sponsorship from Street Level Photoworks for the month of July. It was during this time that I created ‘Awakenings’, which launched as a solo exhibition at the end of the residency.

© Hannah Haycock, Untitled 01, from the Awakenings series

© Hannah Haycock, Untitled 01, from the Awakenings series

July 2015 was a month that tore me apart physically and mentally. So many transitions had taken place in my life in such a short space of time. My body and mind were bearing the brunt of all those changes. There was nothing I could do to escape its overwhelming presence, but to turn to my camera. It was a passage to forget, to gain clarity, resilience; to break free from the numbness of living with MS.

MS always changes. It never stays the same. I’m not trying to document it. It’s impossible to do that with MS. It’s an intangible disease for those without the experience of it. I have to engage with what I’m feeling to portray the experience of having the condition.

‘Perceiving Identity’ and ‘Awakenings’ are photographic journeys that explore my feelings of uncertainty, fear, loss and liberation, intuitively delving into and questioning the notion of neurological ‘lack’.

For me, photography is painting with light. I was never really skilled at painting in the traditional sense, nor was I skilled at other creative mediums. Photography has enabled me to skillfully explore my creativity, providing me with a tool to better understand and work through such events in my life.  It has been a means of artistic expression and catharsis.

© Hannah Haycock, Untitled 01, from the Perceiving Identity series

© Hannah Haycock, Untitled 01, from the Perceiving Identity series

Using photography, I aim to reach out and help the general population, patients and health professionals to tell complex and unique stories of illness through the use of visual language. With this, I hope that people will better understand such conditions as MND or MS.

My latest project, ‘Awakenings’, has been gaining national and international media interest; select images are currently showing at Glasgow Women’s Library and the project appeared as the cover piece in the BMJ’s Medical Humanities journal in February of this year. I have also spoken about photography, MND and MS for BBC Radio Scotland.

Wex Photographic, the UK’s largest online specialist photographic retailer produced the series ‘#MoreThanAnImage‘ to question what photography means to people and the power it can have to affect people’s lives. Below is their film with Hannah Laycock.

To find out more about Hannah’s work please visit:

Featured image: © Hannah Laycock, Untitled 14, from the Awakenings series

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