Underwater photographs of rising, shimmering figures that look like oil paintings

Presence, 2019 © Barbara Cole

Artist Barbara Cole’s newest collection of works, Surfacing, represents triumph, survival and self-actualisation, fuelled by her own story of overcoming mental illness.

The underwater photographs of rising, shimmering figures against the enigmatic backdrop of the ocean are much like many of her other works: fantastical and elegant.

They open up a dialogue on mental health but also help to make those who are suffering silently aware that there are resources accessible to them. Barbara remarks: "My work not only echoes my own struggles and personal and artistic achievements, it speaks to all women who rise up, take back power and lead the way."

Essence, 2019 © Barbara Cole

Essence, 2019 © Barbara Cole

Barbara recalls the early 1960s, and the decades afterwards, when there was a huge stigma surrounding mental health issues. "It was swept under the rug and was very isolating," she says, "I was struggling with my own mental illness then and have been since."

Barbara first showed symptoms of depression when she was about 7 years old. By the middle of high school, it became increasingly difficult for her to function. At 17, she went to a psychiatric hospital for three months, which "seemed like the end". But after regular sessions with a therapist and through positive lifestyle changes, she slowly began to recover.

Disguise, 2019 © Barbara Cole

Disguise, 2019 © Barbara Cole

Summit, 2019 © Barbara Cole

Summit, 2019 © Barbara Cole

"The best way to challenge the perception of what a person with mental illness looks like, and combat the stigma of mental illness, is to begin a free and open dialogue. That is what I am attempting to do with Surfacing," she continues.

"Nobody is more surprised than me at what my life looks like today. Despite, and perhaps because of, my many years of struggling with depression, I more fully appreciate my current life as a successful working photographic artist, mother and wife.

"I’ve learned that even in its darkest days, life isn’t hopeless, no matter how much one might feel that it is. There are always ways to find resilience and personal strength. My story is an ongoing testament to that."

Alliance, 2019 © Barbara Cole

Alliance, 2019 © Barbara Cole

Surfacing, 2019 © Barbara Cole

Surfacing, 2019 © Barbara Cole

Barbara is working with the organizations Bell Let’s Talk and the Campaign to Change Direction to further their initiatives in spreading awareness and de-stigmatising mental health issues, as well as highlighting the accessibility of getting help by providing links and resources for those in need.

Surfacing by Barbara Cole is currently on show at Montreal's Galerie LeRoyer. It will then move to Los Angeles's Art Angels gallery. It will then be capped off with a solo exhibition this September at Toronto’s Bau-Xi Photo. Find out more: barbaracole.com.