Recently more and more people have begun discussing openly the so-called “hidden pandemic”. Not Covid-19, of course, as this is very much obvious, but in fact, something that’s been hiding in plain sight for a long time and it was exacerbated by coronavirus — mental health and stability. It has become more common to talk about it and fight the stigma that’s so prevalent and embedded in our psyche, especially in men, but it’s important to remember that the current global pandemic didn’t only create mental health issues. Yes, it played its part — how could it not when millions were confined to their own space, most likely a tiny apartment, with no human contact or meaningful interaction for days on end. Be that as it may, mental instability and fragility goes way back to the days before Covid-19.
Benedict Stenning opens up about his own struggles with Black Eyed Dog — A Photographic Healing Process. It was born out of a breakdown, a complete shutdown of his nervous system which made him find himself in a dark, gloomy place, one which he has never visited before. As he admits, he had to listen to his inner self; stop, take some time to find space, breathe and heal. Cuckmere Haven in Sussex turned out to be the perfect respite to help him restore his inner equilibrium.
The body of work created is dark and desolate — it depicts a barren place, devoid of any human presence; the only man-made structures are a couple of houses in the horizon. White cliffs, naked trees, dynamic waters and strong rocks were his environment during the healing process. It’s a place far from civilisation, technology and the general hustle and bustle of daily life. No television, mobile phones, 24/7 news cycle, cars or flashing ads. A digital detox if you like. It’s admirable that the photographer found the mental and emotional capacity to keep creating images while at the same time battling his daemons and attempting to regain his normal state of being. Did the process of making images play a part in his recovery? One can only guess. Stenning asks us to reconsider our modern ways of living which as great as they are in some respects are also absolutely appalling and unhealthy in others.
It’s a project which is seemingly despondent and morose but also speaks of the human fortitude of spirit, the desire to overcome and appear on the other side where the grass is greener and the sun is shining. The sheer fact that we are now seeing these pictures is a testament to how Stenning beat his depression, at least for the time being, and that’s a reason for celebration.
— foreword by Zak R. Dimitrov
The project Black Eyed Dog was born out of a breakdown. Whilst I’m lucky enough to not suffer as much with mental health issues as many do, towards the end of 2018 I found I’d tipped over my own personal limits into a dark place I’d not been before.
There is also a supporting text I wrote to accompany the images.
The cut and thrust of this instant, digital life had built up to become such a cacophony in my head that I could no longer think rationally or clearly. This time it couldn’t be surpressed, I had to listen to my inner self, stop; take some time to find space, breathe and heal.
During that time I decided to channel that tangle of feelings and emotions into creating a small body of work to try and find a new home for the noise that was trapped in my mind. Some solitude at Cuckmere Haven in Sussex provided the silence needed to cut through that noise and provided the setting for this series of black and white photographs and accompanying text. This ultimately aided my recovery and turned a negative situation into a positive path out.
A tangle of thoughts and emotions I can't untangle.
Confused and lost in a labyrinth of half-formed plans and ideas.
I need to get out of here right now.
Need space. Need to breathe.
It carries all of my deepest troubles into the wind and crashing sea.
It's not enough.
This feels weird, I feel weird.
Is this a breakdown, is this what one feels like?
A black eyed dog he called at my door
A black eyed dog he called for more
A black eyed dog knew my name...
Nick Drakes haunting song going around and around in my head.
I feel this has been travelling towards me for a while now and finally found me, it knew my name and today it came knocking.
My being feels torn.
Snagged on the bards of this instant, digital life.
'Have you tried restarting?' they say.
That usually fixes things...
Or so we're told.