Creating art is therapeutic for Christian Hopkins, known on Flickr as Capt. Truffles. He embraces surreal photography as an outlet to release his depression.
“I’ve always had demons I’m battling against — just some really, negative thoughts,” the now 20-year-old tells The Weekly Flickr in the accompanying video. “Photography has been a therapy for me, because it’s given me control over my emotions in a way that I never had before.”
It was never part of Christian’s plan to become a photographer. A few years ago, his mom bought him a high-end point-and-shoot camera for a trip to China. Out of guilt, not passion, he unwillingly began to take pictures. But after some time, Christian developed an interest in photography and his perspective changed.
“I slowly began seeing the world through my lens and not my eyes — both literally and figuratively,” Christian says. “I’d look for interesting compositions, complimentary colors and contrasting lines. I soon discovered I had an innate selfishness for the world. I would see something I thought to be beautiful, and I would want to take it home with me. All of a sudden, I became ‘that guy’ taking pictures of almost everything, wishing to fortify my collection of beauty.”
Unfortunately a few months later, Christian’s new found euphoria changed to what he describes as a black void. He woke up one morning, and nothing was satisfying to him. He felt everything seemed so pointless and wanted it all to end.
“To put it simply, I tried to kill myself,” Christian says. “There was no reason for it. There was no explanation. No warning or a trigger. I just couldn’t stand living the way I was; just waking up to go to sleep and sleeping to wake up.”
At the time, Christian’s doctors and therapists couldn’t discern whether he was bipolar, suffered from anxiety, depression or some hybrid of the three. They finally diagnosed him with Severe Affective Disorder, and he spent three months in a psychiatric ward.
“Everything disappeared into that black void,” Christian recalls. “The photography, the beauty — all gone. It was a moment where all priorities and inclinations of the future just dropped. There was no thought or creation at all.”
Photography didn’t gradually come back into Christian’s life, rather it was a sudden transition when he returned to high school. After missing the first half of his senior year, Christian was required to do a senior project. Given his rough year, Christian wanted to find something that didn’t require talking or being around people. It was during this time that Christian discovered Flickr.
“I came across these stunning self-portraits of these really talented artists,” Christian says. “But it wasn’t just the photography. All these pictures advanced beyond ‘finding’ a beautiful moment and were really about ‘creating’ a beautiful moment. It’s something I never thought about before and it gave me a sense of direction.”
Christian decided to center his senior project around photography; trying to create beautiful moments. At first, he began to take selfies of himself, trying to imitate a lot of the art he’d seen on Flickr. After awhile, it started to evolve into something bigger.
“Instead of trying to create a cool image,” Christian says, “I made each photograph represent a manifestation of some specific demon that I needed to purge from myself before its corruption became unbearable. It’s the pain that drove me. It was the pain that inspired me. Ultimately, my photography became a form of therapy.”
Christian found it incredibly relieving — creating an image based on a haunting emotion and staring at it through his photography. He felt liberated; almost as if he finally was in control of himself.
“Creating this image and knowing that I have the control to choose what it looks like,” Christian explains. “To decide whether it’s happy or sad, positive or negative. I choose what it looks like, and it’s my choice. That control was the therapy for me. It gave me a sense of closure, even.”
One of his favorite images is titled Inner Demons. It shows a picture of a subject’s back with hands and faces emerging from it. Apart from the technical and visual aspects of the photograph, Christian admires it because it accurately expresses his feelings.
“I’m always struggling to define my emotions to gain this control over them,” Christian says. “And this picture, you don’t ever have to have felt that emotion before. But you get it. You understand that struggle and its power.”
Christian is still struggling with depression on a daily basis; an ongoing battle that has good days and bad.
“I would love to say that I’ve been getting better,” he admits. “If you asked others, perhaps that’s what they would say. But behind my eyes, I’m still not sure. Fortunately, my photos recently have been less dominated by such a negative force and are starting to be replaced with a fascination of creating worlds and enhancing reality.”
While Christian’s mental and emotional state may be heightened at different intervals, he says photography has been an excellent tool in reminding him how human he is – that we all are. “I’ll often, very often, fail,” Christian admits. “I may be sad or I may be crushed by failure, but I’ll never regret it. Because from every failure, I’ve learned something, which makes it worth it.”
“Now that I actually think about it, it’s probably Flickr that ended up saving me at the time,” Christian admits. “Before I actually started, I couldn’t imagine myself with photography. And now, I can’t imagine what I would do throughout the day if I didn’t have photography in my life.”
Visit Christian’s photostream to see more of his photography.
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