The Pro Ana community has turned anorexia (Ana) into its dogma. They venerate the illness giving meaning to their totalitarian “lifestyle”. It’s a virtual reality where they state commandments, share motivating tricks and exchange hundreds of images of models via their blogs. They created Thinspiration, a visual new language – obsessively consumed to keep on wrestling with the scales day after day.
Now, they evolved interacting with their cameras portraying their bony clavicles or flat bellies; or consuming extreme anorexic images, the pro Ana have made thinspiration evolve. I re-take their self-portraits, photographing and reinterpreting their images from the screen, resulting the visual response to the bond between obsession and self-destruction; the disappearance of one’s own identity. The project is a personal and introspective journey across the nature of obsessive desire and the limits of auto-destruction, denouncing disease’s new risk factors: social networks and photography.
Interview with Laia Abril
(by Anna Mola)
Anna Mola: Regarding your pictures, we can observe two different aspects: the self-destruction of these girls and their the will to show to others girls their illness. Even if a lot of people know nothing about this problem, they try to communicate their condition; using a dramatic, terrible, explicit way, but it’s a communication. How did you know this community? How much important is, in your opinion, the opportunity to show each other through the web the state of illness?
Laia Abril: My knowledge of this community comes firsthand. I started a long-term project on eating disorders in 2010 after one year in treatment to cure 10 years of bulimia. My first chapter to document this disorder was a multimedia about Jo, a girl battling the same disease that I suffered. There are great photographers who have worked on Eating Disorders, but rarely they have focused on this disease. Actually most of the audience tend to relate the ED with a very thin girl who will not eat. This approach is confusing and reduces eating disorders to anorexia, misinformation which avoids a possible prevention.
All my aim began as a reflexion on the lateral aspects of treating disease and approaching the stories that nobody wants to see. The pro-ana community is another example of how complex the Eating Disorders can be, and how the media and our society prefers to turn the face and not facing the problems we have home. The pro-anorexics stem from the need to draw attention to the muffled silence of anorexia together with the social networks and digital photography. I had access to it that world and felt the moral obligation to confront and try to document this problem in an honest way more appropriate to my experience.
A.M.: Your project is composed by pictures of pictures. As photographer, I think you have a very special “relation” with your camera. How did you feel when you discovered that those girls use the camera just like a mean for represent their undernourished bodies? Don’t you think these shoots with no aesthetic research or studied composition are in itself a kind of “reportage”?
L.A.: My research on Thinspiration was very intuitive and visceral. My approach was slow and struggling. And I did not realize why it was so hard to face these images until I understood how dangerous they were. It was also then when I realized that this was not a reportage on the pro-anorexic by itself but rather on the use of photography in this community. In front of me I had the representation of the power of photography used to destroy rather than to “help” as I had always preached as a photojournalist following the path of the “great masters”. I panicked and my world as communicator and photographer shuddered. I had in my hands a powerful material and an example of the use of photography that I needed to denounce. Building that warning was what I decided to do instead of closing the browser and look away.
A.M.: Do you think the fact to be a woman has entailed a greater involvement in this work?
L.A.: What I do know is, as a woman, that the project has evidenced a lot of contradictions. The images do not only represent an obsession for self-destruction, the disappearance of one’s own identity, the fine line between admiration and repulsion, also, many of the images contain a high degree of erotism and sensuality. The duality of how someone wants to be desired and sexy while she tries to get destroyed and punished daily, is as a woman, a real brain collapse.
A.M.: Sometimes for a photographer it’s difficult to decide the right way to exhibit his artworks. Would you prefer to show this particular project in a “classical” location for art and photography (gallery, books, magazines, temporary exposition) or maybe in a different location, for example a school, as a part of a educational project for teen girls?
L.A.: That’s the long term goal. Right now I’m building a series of chapters and researching about how I can contribute as a journalist and photographer to a therapeutic group. On one hand I want to target a certain audience to be aware about the disease, and so I make use of the media and conventional platforms. Working with a group of girls with eating disorders or in preventing adolescents, is something I want to do but always in collaboration with experts and after having reached a level of maturity in my project.