When walking through life with any kind of mental health condition, it can be a struggle to work effectively. Five years ago, Singapore-based photographer Likhitha Muralikrishna, who goes by Anyā, was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and learned that she falls on the Bipolar Spectrum. During this time, Anyā was thrown into questioning her own identity and trying to make sense of her existence. It was through this struggle that Anyā found her way to photography, using the craft to decode and express her sometimes painful thoughts. She decided to live life by a new motto: “Darling, make the pain count. Let the pain lead the way. Strip away the fear.” This abstract still life series is the physical manifestation of this journey.
I built my photographic style around my new-found identity, and you can often find themes talking about mental health in my still life work.
Anyā wanted to find a way to express the culmination of the last few years through her art, and thus this otherworldly still life series was born. For each image, she goes through a series of stages to bring the original ideas to life. She chooses to never act immediately on an idea, but instead goes through bursts of doodling and scribbling down ideas and visions. She then allows them to have time to solidify before attempting to execute them. She often uses the method of drafting sketches and smearing colors to help cope through particularly difficult times, resulting in work with intense passion and emotion.
Every time I have a particularly tough time coping with things, I force myself to sit in front of a sketch book. I write words, I scribble visuals, and smear colours. None of them are coherent thoughts—I leave it up to my saner self to decode these thoughts later.
Because her visions are fairly abstract, finding a way to accurately portray them through photos was challenging. Towards the beginning of this series, Anyā decided that “the colour of the thoughts, the energy held and felt from the thoughts, and the movement of the thoughts,” was what she wanted to represent. Once this was decided, the rest of the visuals began falling into place. Anyā chose glittery backgrounds to be fantastical, and flowers as the subjects because they’re easily identifiable and graphic in nature.
I envisioned a starry night with rich blue tones. I knew I wanted to portray motion and light trails, and that they would stand out more on a darker background. This was not a dream, this was an alternate reality that I wanted to represent and it was important to have a certain crispness to the colours.
To achieve the effect she envisioned, Anyā had to go through a lot of trial and error for which materials would create the desired look. After a few months of trying, inspiration struck when she saw a fashion editorial with a model wearing stockings with the perfect sheen and sparkle. After obtaining the perfect rich blue and glittered stockings, she sought out a flower shop for the subjects of her series. She picked out the perfect ones, set the date of the shoot, and placed the order so she could have the freshest selections possible in front of the camera.
When the time came to shoot, Anyā made sure she was fully prepared.
As with any other still-life shoot, I keep my regular kit with me made of: brushes of different sizes, wooden sticks, translucent strings, clips and scissors, various tapes, and reflectors made of different materials and colours.
To create the canvases, Anyā stretched the blue stockings over a black background to make the colors more saturated. In the middle of the stocking, she cut a small hole and inserted the stems of the various flowers. A few required more finesse with weighting the flower from the back to keep the heavy flower head in place. For some of the long exposure shots, she moved the camera slightly to create the effect we see. For others, the framing and depth of the background was more difficult, so she had to move the plant itself.
She also had to be clever working with the delicate flowers, because they would begin looking dry and wilted after sitting in the hot light. Anyā created an ice bath which she would set them in while she was in between shots.
To me, abstract ideas are the hardest to translate into an image. It was not just another picture of a flower. To me these meant something— and that was to interpret my state of mind.
For Anyā, this was her first time trying to have her work directly reflect her mental health, though she recognizes it is indirectly a part of all of her work. She was excited to broach such a stigmatized area and show it in a beautiful light.
As Anyā receives positive feedback on this series and its beautiful connection to the world of mental health, she plans to keep developing her work. She’d like to have interpretations of all the different aspects of the Bipolar Spectrum, and style them in such a way that it can be an extension of this already brilliant original series.
To see more of Anyā’s photography, check out anya-photography.com!