The challenge with a project like my current one is always going to be finding volunteers to take part. I am asking people to be honest and bear their soul. They have no makeup or costume to hide behind. The ‘Behind the Mask’ project is dependent on people sharing personal thoughts and feelings in front of the camera. This is completely different to my previous projects where performance in front of the camera was key and this requires the participants to trust me.
So, where do you start to find volunteers?
My process has been to post a request on my Facebook, Twitter and website pages detailing the project. This brought in my first five volunteers. These were people who know me and know how I work. They trust me to do the right thing with the images. This initial set of volunteers then created another wave of interest from friends and some strangers. Launching the project Facebook, Instagram and website has now opened up the project to more people and has brought forward more volunteers. In some cases, the volunteers are friends of friends who have seen what the process involves and how the resultant images look.
I was the first person that was photographed as part of the project. I have used this experience and my images to further publicise the project. As someone who hates having their photo taken (let alone posted on the internet), this is a powerful part of the recruitment process.
Each time someone contacts me about taking part, I explain what the process involves. I have published details of the process and the associated paperwork on the website (and on here), and I encourage people to read that before they volunteer. I am mindful that people need to feel comfortable enough to take part, so I am doing my best to reassure them of the intent before they step in front of the camera.
Figure 1: Sutherst. Questionnaires. 2017
I then arrange the photo shoot to suit the volunteer. They can be photographed in the studio or in their own home. I want to make the process as easy as possible for them.
I have been very lucky so far with the numbers of volunteers coming forward. I have tried to make the process as easy as possible, including the ability to take part anywhere in the world with an upload feature.
I have surveyed those who have taken part so far to find out why they have taken part. Each volunteer is given a questionnaire to complete after the shoot. I have typed some of the responses below in order to protect the identity of each volunteer and to prevent their handwriting being recognised.
“It’s important to show the real you. We shouldn’t be ashamed.”
“I felt it important because the mask is a concept people have associated with me!”
“It is something that people should be aware of.”
“Jo is a fabulous friend, plus she is the only person I have willingly posed for.”
“Loved the idea”
“It is something close to my heart and relevant to my situation”
“I love Jo’s work, but find the concept of an interrogation of self particularly personal. We all have a mask that we choose to wear, sometimes for short periods, sometimes for years.”
“To raise awareness of depression”
As the following of the project grows and word gets out, I hope that I may be in a position of more volunteers coming forward to take part and hopefully people submitting images from around the world. I am very grateful to everyone who volunteers.