With our series “An artist´s life.” we want to share the stories of the people behind the art.
“An artist´s life.”
The stories of the people behind the art
Daniel Nuderscher #18
For around 35 years I was suffering from chronic depression, also known as Dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder. It must have started when I was a kid and lasted until summer 2020. I had better and worse times, some years were good, some years were horrible. When I say horrible it meant that I could barely manage a 10 hours- a-week job in a pretty safe and supportive environment, it meant that going to the supermarket for groceries was a terrifying experience for me. It meant that for years I could not talk with my closest friends about how I feel, because I was so ashamed of myself and how horrible I feel.
The darkest hour was sitting on a roof contemplating to jump or not. I did not jump. One of the best decisions of my life. Back then I thought „Why am I continuing my life? For what? Nothing will ever be good again.“ The horrible thing with Dysthymia is that I did not know how it feels to not have depression. Even worse is the hopelessness, because despite having the vague idea that how I feel is not normal, the hopelessness takes away any motivation to change anything. If you read this text and recognize yourself in it, read on. There is hope!
In the better times suffering from chronic depression I felt ok, sometimes even high in a way. I thought back then, that this is how it feels to not be depressed. I was wrong, it was just me boosting my ego which – as I know now – is not the right way to get out of this illness.
After many failing relationships and not getting my life on track I realized clearly, that there is something wrong with me, so I started analytical therapy.
Committing to psychotherapy is unfortunately stigmatized. In my circle of friends there was not a single person who made that step before which really did not help. What made it even worse, was that suffering from a mood disorder was really shameful for me. It felt like this: I had the feeling that there was something wrong with me. I did not want or choose that, but it was my reality. I often brought people down, my sadness und hopelessness made my friends feel bad too. But again, I did not choose to be like that. If I would have had the possibility to choose, of course I would have chosen a good life, a happy and fulfilling life where I can make my friends and people around me feel good about themselves. But the only choice I had was committing to psychotherapy, doing all the emotional work that I did in the recent years.
Over the years – yeah, years – my therapy was getting really frustrating. There were many times when I thought „Why I am still suffering from depressive episodes? Why is that stupid therapy not working? Am I too crazy? Is my counselor incompetent?“ Luckily I did not quit therapy, really, I am thankful to myself that I did not and I am thankful to my counselor that he didn’t quit either.
Photography is a part of me since I am 10 years old. When I was 12, I met a very inspiring person and we started to take photography seriously, buying old SLRs, setting up a darkroom and spending days in Vienna taking photos of trashy things, spending nights in the darkroom. It was magical for me. At that time – given that I was depressed already – for the first time in my life I found a way to express my emotions. I made lonely, hard and dark, often sad images.
“The art in my project is not the result, its the process. The process of two humans getting to know each other and the documentation of this process. Establishing connection between two humans and for some hours feeling safe, heard, understood and free.”
25 years later I found myself being a professional commercial photographer, working with different clients in different fields. I was really unhappy. Commercial work – I realized – made me really unhappy. So I moved to Vietnam in September 2019 to make a cut in my life. Moving there was really messy, I did not prepare well and not having much money did not help either. Luckily after a few month in Hanoi I met an artist from Russia who invited me to a group exhibition about portraits. As I did not bring my hard drives with my old photos, I needed to make around 10 portrait sessions in 2 weeks to get a body of work for the exhibition.
I was utterly happy and fulfilled in those 2 weeks. The night I came home from the vernissage – with the work finished, my unhappiness and depression were back.
Two month later, in March 2020, I needed to go back from Hanoi to Vienna to renew my visa. Corona was a topic, Italy was pretty bad already but I had to get a new visa so I took the flight. Only a week after I came here, Vietnam closed their borders for foreigners so I was – and still am – stuck here in Austria.
In August 2020 I was pretty frustrated. I wanted to go back to Hanoi but I could not. There was no chance to go back any time soon. Remembering the time when I made the portraits in Hanoi I thought „Why am I not doing that here? It was so nice to make portraits of people just for fun“ so I started to do that. After the first few sessions I realized that my depression is gone. It was lovely. And as I was really serious about finally getting rid of my depression for good, I promised to myself to do this as a big, ongoing project. The portrait project, the intimacy project, the connection project. I made the clear plan to have at least two portrait sessions a week for the next 5 years. So I started.
It’s December now and its the first year that I don’t suffer from winter depression. The first year where I enjoyed autumn, its a miracle for me. I consider myself so lucky that I found what makes me happy, fulfilled.
I shape the photo sessions as I need and want them. In Austria (and Vietnam too btw) when people make photo sessions just for fun it is common to present a concept. Make a story about dancing. Make a story in a factory/white room/old hotel. Make a story with eccentric clothes in the woods. Artificial elements in the photo session. As I never had good ideas for concepts like that, I decided to make sessions without a concept. Who said that this is necessary anyway? Only because most people do it? Fuck that.
“Every single session has something special, a deep connection, a bit of important information or clarity about a topic, the closeness between the two of us, a new song to listen too.”
So I create a situation where I can only work intuitively. The model and me, we meet for the first time on the day of the session, we write on Instagram before to set a date but I don’t even look at their instagram feeds, how they look like and what content they post. I have no idea about them. I work in the flat of the model so I can not prepare any lightning or location. I only bring my camera and a 50 mm f1.8 lens.
When I go there, we talk. Around one hour or more, about where I am in my life right now, where they are in their life. What topic they struggle with, what topics I struggle with, what makes them happy, what makes me happy. They sometimes tell me their life story. It is an intense, emotional atmosphere. After some time of talking we start making photos. Lately I really don’t care anymore how the photos turn out, if they are good or not. I don’t care because the sessions are where the magic happens and the photos are only a by-product. I am really free in my head, the situation allows the model and me to show who we are and appreciate the other in who they are, appreciate each others existence.
I am often surprised by what kind of photos I take on that day. It’s awesome! I really go there with an open mind. Every session is unique and could never be reproduced. Every single session has something special, a deep connection, a bit of important information or clarity about a topic, the closeness between the two of us, a new song to listen too.
The model and me, we can do what we want and only that. The art in this project is not the result, its the process. The process of two humans getting to know each other and the documentation of this process. Establishing connection between two humans and for some hours feeling safe, heard, understood and free.
I am really looking forward to the next 5 years. I am curious what sort of people I will meet, what will happen with the project and with me as an individual. I am curious about my future and that is a feeling that is both new to me and really awesome.
As I am always looking for non-professional models, I want to invite you to contact me via Instagram @portraithanoi if you want to be part of my project. I would be very happy to make a session with you, understand who you are and what your life is about.