Photography by Sian Davey

Siân Davey on mental health, poverty and photography

The psychotherapist turned photographer is working on a Wellcome Trust commission exploring the link between poverty and mental health. Before the series is revealed this summer, she discusses the considerations, ethics and urgency behind this kind of work

Informed by psychotherapy and imbued with sensitivity, Siân Davey’s portraits transcend voyeurism to produce compassionate photography that delves into the human condition. In previous projects, she has navigated her own family life, including an intimate and thought-provoking series focusing on her daughter Alice, who was born with Down’s Syndrome. It’s this proven sensitive touch that likely earned her a commission from the Wellcome Trust in the run up to its 2020 Photo Prize themed around mental health.

Davey’s commission, titled Testament, is set to address the link between depression, anxiety and families living in poverty – a subject that’s close to home. “Up until I was nearly 14, I was in temporary accommodation,” she says. “I lived in Brighton – we kept losing our home, there was instability, I was in temporary housing of the worst kind – bed and breakfasts. Those are the headlines really.”

On top of this, her parents were coping with “profound mental health issues”, and by the time she left home, unresourced, she was struggling with her own mental health. “Then I hit the wall and went into psychotherapy myself. We explored my history and tried to find some meaning in it, and then I became a psychotherapist,” she says. “I really, really understand the depths of depression and grief and all the kind of key emotions – I kind of get them. So having worked through all of that, it seemed like a natural conclusion for me to be a psychotherapist.”