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João Carlos: Dealing with mental illness in a post-Covid world 

“Each picture represents a week of isolation and the emotions it generated,” says photographer Joao Carlos about his series: “Stages of isolation”. His exhibition is held at the Kirchberg hospital. 


Can you describe your background in a few words? 

I was born in New York to Portuguese parents. These two cultures have permeated me throughout my life. As far back as I can remember, photography has always held an important place in my life. When I was six years old, I asked my parents for a camera they gave me a disposable camera, it did not have a flash so I gave it back and asked for a real camera, Six years later, I was shooting my first horror and science fiction movie. Later, I studied painting and photography at the Visual Communication Art Center (ar. co) in Portugal. Then I worked with big brands like TAG Heuer and Nike with magazines like Elle or more recently, Forbes. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have refocused on my personal and artistic productions. At the same time, I continued to work internationally, for example by photographing the heads of EU member states for the Porto Social Summit. 

“By exhibiting in a hospital, as many people as possible can be made aware of the impact of the pandemic on mental health” 


What was your inspiration for this series? 

In March 2020, as I was returning from a trip to Italy and Slovakia, I visited my father for his birthday. What was supposed to be a simple visit turned into a 4-month stay, in confinement with my parents, without photo material. I hadn't spent this much time with my parents in over 20 years, and I observed their different reactions during that time. As for my work, everything came to an abrupt end: all my appointments were canceled and I did not get a contract for more than 5 months. In one year, I lost 85% of my income. Back in the studio, I capitalized on the fear I felt and started working on the series “Stages of Isolation” with two model friends. Each with a different expression and range of emotions that I wanted to express. Each picture in the series represents a week of isolation and the emotions it generated. All the pictures were taken in less than two hours and without a photoshoot crew. It was only me and the model, Rodrigo Castelhano. The choice of nudity is explained by the fact that I did not want the clothes to interfere in the transmission of emotions. 


How has your work been received by the public? 

The visitors easily identify with this exhibition, because it deals with the subject of mental health undermined by the pandemic. We have all felt at least one of the emotions expressed by each picture, no matter our age or background. I also created glass domes, in which the pictures appear in three dimensions. Each of the two exhibitions in Portugal had a particular set-up; the Luxembourg one has this particularity that it is held in a hospital, on a single long wall. By exhibiting in a hospital, as many people as possible will be able to access it and be made aware of the impact of the pandemic on mental health. 


How do our societies deal with the issue of mental health? 

Mental health remains a taboo subject in our society. Yet everyone has been affected by the pandemic and can connect on different levels to the emotions expressed in this series. In a way, the exhibition will allow them to identify the emotions they have felt and to accept them because months later, the discomfort is still revealed. We’ve all tended to close in on ourselves before accepting the situation. The goal of my work is to create awareness, to help the spectators identify their emotions, and to force them to talk about them. Through these pictures, they can understand that they are not alone in this situation. 

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