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Unflinching Photos Capture One Photographer’s Struggle with Self-Harm

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For The Bearable, photographer Zhe Chen documents her own struggle with self-harm, constructing an indexical account of her years’ long experience with the addiction. After countless months of psychological alienation and a self-inflicted quarantine, the artist was compelled to share her private lamentations publicly, with the visceral confession of her secrets becoming a means of release from isolation.

Where patterns of self-harm are normally kept confidential and closely-guarded, Chen breaks the silence. In asking that we confront her hidden trauma, she invites us to ask the same questions that she has battled with in solitude. Decontextualized from the moments in which they were borne, Chen’s wounds evidence her pain without offering any easy answers. Here, slow burning impulses are frozen within a single instant, and frenzied emotions are condensed into meticulously ordered, forensic frames.

The Bearable sees Chen’s injuries in a way that is both intimate and detached, the tightness of her frame serving both to bring us into her deepest confidence and to remove her lacerations from the context of any fixed meanings. In this way, the series avoids making definite claims, opting instead for a heightened ambiguity that draws us ever more desperately into her tormented psyche.

The Bearable is now on view at Unseen Photo Fair.

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All images © Zhe Chen

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