Chloë Tibbatts – Low Stock Levels
WORDS BY HANNAH GEDDES
Resurrected from the web, the spider awoke, an ever-changing entity… The first line of British photographer Chloë Tibbatts’ poem that accompanies her new body of work Low Stock Levels draws us into her natural world full of spiders, plants and shimmering water. Is the spider a metaphor for the artist? Or is she referring to the one that is photographed entangled in fine, silvery webs? This ongoing project is a “scrapbook of emotion” that is open to interpretation by the viewer. By combing delicate images of plants, insects and underwater self-portraits with poetry, Tibbatts explores how photography can be used as a tool to improve general wellbeing and mental health.
Generation Z (ages 18-22) and Millennials (ages 23-37) rate themselves highest on feelings of loneliness. It is often blamed on our over-use of social media and the sensitivity of snowflakes. However, global recession, rising cost of living and education, climate change and Brexit have had a significant effect on young people, causing an increase in poor mental health.
For Tibbatts photography is a therapeutic tool to help improve her wellbeing and confront life-changing situations, including her friend’s suicide in 2015 and witnessing a man drowning in the Thames in 2012. Tibbatts has also been dealing with ongoing family issues as her father “lost his job a couple of times and they decided to buy a village shop which they now can't afford financially and this means that he is working 70 hours a week.” This was on top of Tibbatts having to drop out of a degree in fine art at Bath after being diagnosed with glandular fever that resulted in chronic post viral fatigue. She is now about to graduate in photography at Birmingham City University.
The work looks at “homesickness” and her project has become a means to “improve the perception of current family struggles, lost friendships and changing loves” and a “coping mechanism for the current period of uncertainty and loneliness.” The images are dream-like as they are doused in sunlight or cropped to distort the reality of the image. At first glance they look like contemporary botanical or entomological studies. But as the artist has said, the insect images are “reminiscent of ink blot tests”, a psychological test developed in the 1920s. The underwater self-portraits allow Tibbatts to address her difficult relationship with water, representing “reflection and vulnerability” while printing “onto silk shows delicacy and femininity.”
Photography has long been used by artists as a therapeutic tool. British photographer and photo therapist Jo Spence (1934–92) used the medium to record her fight with breast cancer. More recently, French photographer Nathalie Ghanem-Latour’s The Six Months documents her struggle with depression. Sian Davey’s Looking for Alice, used photography to help her come to terms with her child’s Down Syndrome. Tibbatts’ images look at “the way memories connect and change” and how documenting certain places can alter how we remember them.
The project is ongoing and Tibbatts hopes that, “using photography in this way over a prolonged period of time will make [her] an overall healthier person, just like meditation or prayer or exercise does for others.” Her project confirms the adaptivity of the medium - producing art while at the same time being used as a practical tool.
And as for the spider, in Tibbatts’ words, it is “symbolic of feminine energy, patience, receptivity and creativity, whilst also being weavers of life's fate, delicacy and strength” and she is “using it now to represent what I should be aiming for.”