Overview of Current PhD Research
Juliet Chenery-Robson is a visual artist who works mainly with lens-based media. She is currently doing an AHRC funded, practice-led PhD in Photography at the University of Sunderland. Her research practice continues and develops the project that she undertook for her MA and focuses on the visual representation of the invisible illness M.E. Adopting a participatory action research methodology Juliet works with volunteers who are suffering from M.E. and incorporates staged portraits, environmental photographs, SenseCam images, family album pictures and diary notes. Alongside these personal portrayals of living with M.E. she is also exploring the global impact of this devastating illness using Google Earth images.
Background to the Research
When my daughter became ill with ME four years ago I found myself cast as a traveller between two worlds, worlds that are eloquently described by Susan Sontag in her book Illness as Metaphor:
'Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.'
Residing in the world of the well I felt assuaged with guilt at not being able to offer my daughter any firm answers as to why she was trapped in the land of the sick. And, because ME is still shrouded within an aura of disbelief and misconception, I decided to explore ways in which, through photography, this invisible illness could be made visible to a disbelieving audience.
About the Project
Social anthropologist Lakshmi Krishnamurty suggests that empowerment comes from making public something that used to be kept private and transforming what was a private indignity into a public social problem.
With this in mind my current project is entitled, Mimesis 3: Visualising the invisible Illness ME (working title). It straddles the boundaries between socially-engaged documentary and art-based photographic practice by focusing on the visual representation of the private indignity and public social problem that is the illness ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis). Dubbed the disease of a thousand names, ME affects over 250,000 people in the UK and many hundreds of thousands worldwide. My research considers how photographic practice might articulate aspects of ME, an illness that is not only ‘invisible’, but has been challenged and questioned in terms of its very existence by many quarters, despite having been accepted as a neurological illness by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Finding ways to represent the ‘invisible’ aspects of ME will hopefully help to eliminate the prejudices surrounding this devastating chronic illness. Being a complex disease with no visible signs, but rather a collection of symptoms, photography cannot be used simply to record ME, but rather has to be thought of in terms of metaphor.
Why 'Mimesis 3'?
My use of 'Mimesis 3' in the title stems from the fact that I have readapted Rita Charon’s interpretation of Paul Ricoeur’s three-part framework of Mimesis (derived from the Greek term for representation/immitation) as outlined in his work ‘Time and Narrative’, but by incorporating visual dialogue as well as textual.
The three stages of Mimesis complement my methodology by:
(Mimesis1) The pre-understanding and realisation that meaning can, in this instance, be derived from sufferers experiences of living with ME;
(Mimesis 2) The creation of something representable with form (photographs) from raw experience, making it visible and understandable;
(Mimesis 3) The final stage refers to the outcome of the creation (photographs) being observed and interpreted by the viewer whether it be via exhibition, publication or website.
The culmination of all three facets has the potential to alter or expand awareness and bring about change, not just for the ME sufferers themselves but also for wider audiences of the general public, researchers and the medical community.
 Rita Charon, Narrative medicine: honoring the stories of illness, Oxford University Press, 2006
 Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, University of Chicago Press, 2003
Qualifications and training
- 2010 Phd Photography (Practice-based): The visualisation of the invisible illness ME through the production of contemporary photographic practice, University of Sunderland, Sunderland
- 2008 MA Photography (Distinction), University of Sunderland, Sunderland
- 2010 A Diagnosis of Exclusion, Durham Museum and Art Gallery, Durham
- 2009 Unpredictable Patterns, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art
Competitions, prizes and awards
- 2009 Arts Council England Grant Awarded, ACE, North East
- 2008 Axis MAStars 2008 Award, Axis, North East
- 2010 A Diagnosis of Exclusion, Newcastle University Medical Training Facility, Newcastle