Living With Invisible Illness

What lies hidden is an upcoming photographic art project by Portrait and Lifestyle photographer Martina La Trobe-Bateman. Within these series of portraits, Martina explores the aspect of identity and its co-existence with illness, trauma and inner challenges. Here, La Trobe-Bateman engages with her volunteers through the medium of art and discussion capturing representative portraits of her subjects and their view from the outside world.  The results are striking fine art images beautifully conveying the subject identity and hidden truth.

‘What Lies Hidden’ is a current and ongoing series of work, so we pull Martina away from her busy schedule, studio and study for a short talk on the subject of identity and illness.

What came to inspire the exploration of hidden illness and challenges in your current photo art project ‘What lies hidden?’

A house move and a deep interest and love for people. We moved to East Sussex only 6 months ago and, after 16 years in one place, I was suddenly confronted with completely new people and their stories. This gave me that rare and unique view on others purely from the outside without knowing anything about them in combination with having a much fuller picture only a few months later. I was struck by the stories of pain, suffering and incredible strength and integrity I discovered. All hidden behind the socially acceptable facade of: I’m fine.
This opened my eyes to just how many of us there are! And it made me determined to be a better friend, a better acquaintance and a better stranger. One that leaves room for the unseen.

The photographer Martina La Trobe-Bateman

Martina La Trobe-Bateman

Your portraits exhibit exquisite style and poise: is this a deliberate allegory behind the subjects and stories you’re hoping to represent? 

Yes. I want to give the incredible women I photograph a way to tell their own story. But I also want to show their inner strength, determination and immense value. So I am using the same ancient painterly lighting and setup that we all know well from the grand masters of painting in oil. Back then these visual clues were used to give style and gravitas to kings and queens and people of importance and I am using them in the same way now.

In the images, we observe the theme of crisp white shirts and vibrant foliage, are these elements an integral part of your photographic process in this series of work? 

They are indeed. The white shirt (and jeans in some images) serve as a uniform. I did not want the clothing to give anything away about the person with whom I am asking the viewer to engage. Instead my subjects choose a plant, twig or flower from a selection in representation of the fact that there is a hidden truth about them, coming to light. In one way, it is simply saying: I may look “fine” but if you really want to know then I need to tell you, I am not. This becomes their primary means of communication. Both the type of flower chosen, as well as its use, to hide behind, to present proudly or to use in a playful way becomes a means of telling us how they feel about themselves, their illness/ trauma and how all of this is affecting their lives.

You cited your wish to give your volunteers, in this project, women, “a voice behind their illness”. Would this project be an ongoing body of work and examination on this subject of identity? 

Already, after just a few weeks, this project has struck a chord with so many wonderful people. And those that are already part of it found it in many cases a “feeing and cathartic” thing to do. The first stage of the project has a strict deadline at the beginning of November and I would love anyone who has not done so yet encourage to take part. After that, I can see myself wanting to carry on to collect stories and images. These are clearly stories that want and need to be told.Living with invisible illness or past trauma

Ideally, how would you wish to have these series of portraits exhibited and where can our readers follow your work? 

It is easy to follow my work on my blog, I only post when there are new things to discover, so don’t worry about being spammed if you subscribe. If I could choose my perfect exhibition space it would be somewhere far away from a museum or classic exhibition platform. These are real stories that belong into the real world. A community center, a waiting room in a hospital, a local school or church or even an office environment. I think we ban the arts into these clinical spaces, where you feel you have to be quiet, expertly and solemn. When art has the power to speak to and transform society at a level where words must fail. I want to encourage, build up and open peoples’ eyes for each other. That doesn’t happen on a whitewashed wall.

The women portrayed in your photos are volunteers. What are you looking for in your in your portrait subjects and how can interested readers take part and apply? 

I am looking for women of all ages and all walks of life who live with a hidden illness (so one that you can’t spot just by looking) or trauma/ inner challenge. You can take part by writing about your experience and in particular how your sense of identity and relationship is affected by the things you are facing. This can be very short, long, as a poem or in bullet points. Whatever comes to mind. Or of course, you can be photographed. There are quite a few dates still available before the November cut off date.

To apply, head over to my website and use the contact page.

If you would like to take part in What lies hidden project you can visit Martina Le-Trobe’s official website here and submit your details and short story.

Right now is also the perfect time to take part in the project with the launch of Martina La Trobe-Batemans’ new hashtag  #whatlieshidden  Just find a flower, branch, some foliage or any bit of nature, hold it up in any way you like, snap a selfie and upload. You can reveal your illness or struggle in a word or sentence next to your image, or leave people guessing. It’s up to you!

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