Leeds based women Jo Ritchie and Faye Dawson have created a platform to explore the use of creativity to help cope with loss and grief.
‘Projecting Grief’ collects stories and portraits of those who have used their skills to create something in response to their loss and those who have started their creative journeys to help cope with their grief – and more contributions are being invited.
The idea was formed following the death of Jo’s brother Jack at the end of 2017. She wanted to connect with people in similar situations, and it fascinated her to see how people use creative expression to channel their grief at a time where Jo felt “not creative at all”.
“We started it as something we found interesting and hoped it would be interesting to share with others how people are coping.”
In 2019, she began to take her job as a freelance photographer further by taking portraits of those who had used creativity as relief. “It felt like the natural thing to do, to start photographing people as I spoke to them”.
Jo decided she needed a writer to add context to the portraits, so she then teamed up with communications consultant Faye Dawson, who had suffered two miscarriages in the space of nine months.
“I met Faye through work things – we just got on really well.” Jo didn’t know about Faye’s losses until they began discussing the grief process more. “It turned out Faye had done a lot of writing after she had her miscarriages – she got involved quite naturally.”
Faye and Jo began to work together in March of this year, and have created quite the collection of portraits and personal stories, including that of Leeds actor, Luke Dickson and comedian Luisa Omielan. Authors, embroiderers, musicians and cooks are also among those who Jo and Faye have spoken to. “It’s definitely not just a distraction – a lot of people use it to actively channel their grief into something positive.” Jo felt that she wasn’t the sort of person to turn to creativity to deal with her grief, so she found it astounding to see the ways in which many people did.
“They don’t only survive these horrific things; they thrive beyond that and turn it into something amazing.”
They are looking for a wide range of people to contribute their stories. “It could be anything!” Says Jo. From pottery to jewellery making, writing to dance, music to painting – anything that helps you deal with the grief.
“A lot of people we have spoken to started by doing something because it’s helping them. They’re not doing it thinking this will be a final product or this is what will save me.”
Jo advises anybody who is grieving to give themselves time. “Allow yourself to have days where you just don’t do anything….. you don’t have to be doing all these productive things.” Many people have turned to creativity during lockdown, such as learning to paint or to sew, which Jo says it can be really positive for mental health and coping with hard times.
“It’s not about fixing yourself, it’s not about getting better because I don’t think you do. You don’t get over losing somebody; you just live alongside it.
In terms of the future of Projecting Grief, Faye and Jo are keeping all their options open. It has had amazing reception, and could go on to become an exhibition, a book or anything that comes their way.
Faye and Jo intend to keep Projecting Grief really accessible to everyone to inspire anyone who is struggling with grief or is looking to support someone who is grieving.
Photographs by Jo Ritchie. Feature photograph is a self-portrait.