Behind the screen: A Zoom portrait series

Oct 10, 2020

Behind the screen: A Zoom portrait series

We are fortunate to engage every day with incredible community-based mental health initiatives across the globe - even though we've never met face-to-face. We often highlight the work that these projects are doing, but we rarely get the opportunity to share the stories and voices of the people behind this work.

So much of the strength of local mental health initiatives lies in their teams. They listen to their communities and, amidst numerous challenges, tirelessly work to address their needs. Their empathy, dedication and teamwork are the driving force of local level change.

For World Mental Health Day 2020, we want to celebrate these people.

To this end, we decided to try a creative experiment: we took a process that's usually done in person - portrait photography - and did it remotely, using zoom. Both metaphorically and visually, in these sessions we focused in on the individual people behind each of these projects. Even though it was a virtual space - a digital studio if you will - it was one in which they could be vulnerable and open, sharing the emotions and motivations that drive them.

The outcome is a series of zoom portraits accompanied by short extracts of the stories they shared while their photo was being taken. The series captures what makes these team members passionate about working in mental health through their own perspectives.

At Ember, we're used to working remotely via digital technologies, but physical distance does not have to be a barrier to human closeness. In a time of COVID-19, it's more important than ever that we make sure this is true.

This beautiful series has been created by London-based photographer Sadé Elufowoju and South Africa-based aspiring psychologist Kelebogile Motlopye, who worked with us last month as part of the SHM Foundation's Summer Internship programme 2020.

Portrait of Bonnie from Open Hands: Bonnie smiles at the camera wearing a patterned t-shirt standing in front of a white wall. Quote reads: We are a group of young LGBTI people advocating for the mental health of our community. We envision a world where people can be who they want to be. Through our work, we are able to grow too, to look inside ourselves, it's mutual. It liberates us too.
Portrait of Eric from Open Hands: Black and white image showing Eric giving a friendly smile to the camera. Quote reads: When people tell us 'the work you did helped me' - that smile that people have, it motivates us. It might sound small, but it's a big change in people's lives. Seeing that smile makes me happy. I can sleep knowing I made a difference in somebody’s life.
Portrait of the Green String Network team: Eigh people are sitting next to each other on a sofa, while two people crouch in front. Everyone is smiling at the camera. One woman holds a small dog in her lap. The walls behind them are a vibrant green, with paintings on them.
Portrait of Eleni from MHSUA: Eleni smiles at the camera, sitting in front of a purple curtain. Quote reads: For me, this is a passion. It's in me and it's what I believe in. I am a firm believer that the more service users are empowered to be their own advocates, the better things will be in the mental health system as a whole. My passion comes from a desire to make that change. That’s my driving force.
Portrait of Dagmawi from MHSUA: Dagmawi sits in front of a wooden cabinet with glass windows. He is wearing a blue jacket. The shadows are dark and the light is bright. Quote reads:My role within the organisation has lots of responsibilities and it matters to me very much - to be part of this team and to work together towards a shared purpose.
Portrait of Trang from Quan Tam Network: Trang is smiling at the camera with her dark hair tucked behind her ears, in front of a white wall. Quote reads: Women are so often the main caregivers of people with mental illness - in Vietnam and many other countries. We want to empower them, to help them feel strong. This is my passion, I love working with the community and being able to see the effectiveness of my idea take hold.
Portrait of Kaaren from Burans: Kaaren smiles at the camera wearing a blue patterned scarf, in front of a white wall. Quote reads: There is so much wisdom and grace in communities that are often considered disadvantaged. It gives me encouragement and hope that the world can be better.