Typically, when we think of the act of taking a photograph of something we think of the emotional underpinning process of wanting to remember that thing. Be it on our phones or cameras, if we take a photo of the sunset, our loved ones, a meal, or the reflection of the sun on a wall, it tends to be because we want to hold onto that memory, we want to have proof that we were here, that we saw what we saw and we want to remember how it made us feel. Typically.
Now, of course there is an entirely different branch, so to say, of photography. A very different road to take is to try and immortalize not just that which is beautiful or which was nice, but that which matters, in one way or another. With this I am referring to trauma photography, the act of photographing trauma.
Often when one looks into trauma photography, one of the most well known examples are those of shared and collective trauma – the Holocaust, 9/11, war photography, victimhood and survival. There are many documentary photographers, such as Sebastião Salgado, who traveled in over a hundred and twenty countries, known for working in less developed countries and capturing the pain, suffering and traumas of their inhabitants. Fires, deaths, starvation, poverty.
In a similar way, aftermath photography, also called late photography, offers capturing trauma where it occurred, even if not visible at the moment it's being photographed. "A term often used for trauma and memory in Germany after 1945" , aftermath photography attempts to capture the lingering feeling after an event, the way that the earth looks after a hurricane.
This paper will concern itself with the representation, or capturing, of mental trauma through photography. It does not attempt to compare different traumas in any way, only to point at the difference in conceptualizing them.
Physical trauma, such as abuse, can be captured. Donna Ferrato, for example, does just that through her photobook Living with the enemy (1991) in which she captures domestic abuse both as it is happening as well as in its aftermath. The photos capture the blows taken by women, the police flooding their living rooms, the crying children, the bruised ribs and faces, the blood, the hospital lights. It is a horrific and traumatic sight. But it is a sight. It can be seen, it can be pointed to. Even if the crying or screaming cannot be heard, it can still be seen. Still be brought to light. It cannot be denied, not once confronted with the imagery of it. It is tangible.
Mental trauma is a very different story. There is no one way that it looks, whilst you can always point to a photograph of a person and clearly see if they are bruised and battered and say, Yes, this is a photo of someone who has been abused, the same does not stand for mental trauma. You cannot always (if never) point to a photograph and say, Yes, clearly this is the photo of a depressed person, or so on. Because there is no one way trauma looks. When it is mental, when it is internal, it shifts and squeezes to fit the person. And it can go unnoticed by even those closest to it, sometimes, including the person suffering from it.
Thus this paper aims to raise several questions, the largest of which is, how do we document, photograph, materialize mental trauma? What does a photograph of a mental wound look like? How can photography serve to visualize, to make tangible that which is often blurry and hard to express? And finally, can the self-documentation of mental trauma, of trauma in general, help the person heal? Can forcing oneself to remember, to immortalize one's pain be a way of healing it?
In order to attempt to answer these questions, this essay will take as an example a selection of a few photographs from Beijing-based multimedia artist Chen Zhe's series "Bees & The Bearable" (2007–2012). The series takes a specific take on the embodiment of mental trauma; the lived experience of trauma onto the body. "Bees" is a combination of two separate photographic projects. "The Bearable" documents Zhe's years of self harm, whilst "Bees" reaches to take in and photograph the experience of others who have self harmed. It is a deeply personal project aiming to take a look at both the pain we inflict ourselves, as well as that of others. It brings to light the practice of bringing pain from the mental realm to that of the body, of creating a visible wound, one that was born out of the pre-existence of a mental one.
Self harm knows many faces, and whilst often it is predominantly depicted as self mutilation, it can also be found in smoking, cigarette burns, alcohol, eating disorders, etc… all portrayed in Zhe's work.
This paper will begin with a step into trauma theory altogether, followed by, what will be a central point to the analysis, the conceptualization of the body as a lived place, and a textual analysis of a number of chosen photographs from Zhe's work.
Part I – Trauma sits in places
When looking into trauma theory one of the first and most focal components that becomes evident is the role of memory, or lack thereof. In a way, the first place trauma sits is memory, and it also often happens to hide there as well as just sit. There is a general consensus and idea of trauma as something that is not assimilated at the time it is experienced and rather comes back to haunt us later on . When discussing the phenomenon of repressing trauma and memory, especially in relation to identity building, Culbertson  writes that this (whatever it may be) trauma finds itself "repressed by some part of himself which functions as a stranger, hiding self from the self's experience" [6, p. 169].
Thus, to a degree when concerning ourselves with trauma photography, in the act of it, there is a process of recognition and healing, a regaining of the self, a regaining of the trauma and of the events which have occurred. Sometimes that happens when provoked, such as when in therapy, for example  or simply in a natural way, through time and resurfacing of memories.
The role of memory, in the way it was just exposed, will not be central nor studied in this paper as it is not its aim.
However, it is relevant to mention the importance of memory when it comes to trauma and healing and it cannot ever be fully (if at all) separated. Its weight and significance is all the more pressing in relation to this paper and the case study because of the very time-related or memory-related component of photography itself, especially as it was mentioned in the introduction, in relation to late photography. For example, when discussing late photography, Campany  quotes Meyerowits saying that if "there was no photographic record allowed, then it was history erased" [4, p. 123]. Whilst this is in relation to historical and collective traumas, hence history here is used to signify history at a larger degree, the same must surely apply to an individual's personal traumas and history.
"In general, historical events, notably war and genocide, thave been the major drivers of the study of traumatic stress; it has taken much longer for the significance of individual, private traumas to be widely acknowledged" [8, p. 44].
Taking this into account, naturally at first look when thinking or looking at trauma photography one is faced with historical events and collective trauma. Similarly, when adding the degree of memory to the mix, it is a matter of collective memory and the importance of remembering history, a recollection of events and suffering.
Personal trauma on the other hand is a more intimate narrative. When it comes to its documentation, so to speak, I would argue that historically it has primarily been communicated through words. Literature and poetry hold a vast archive of human suffering that is intimate and private. Anything raging from actual diaries, to plays, novels, self help books and poetry books holds accounts of the many subtle traumas of human experience as well as reflections of more particular traumatic experiences. Writers such as Sylvia Plath for instance, dedicated their entire careers to the act of trying to place a finger on their trauma, whatever that trauma may be. Plath wrote about her father, her childhood, her suicide attempts, love and motherhood, and through writing about all of that she always wrote of her depression. Of course, she was far from the first and far from the last, but this was used as an example here as her name remained in history synonymous to the self expression of her trauma.
Another interesting aspect of the sharing of one's individual traumas through art, (something that will be relevant and talked about later on when discussing Zhe's body of work) is that whilst it is a personal story being told, it still becomes collective trauma in a sense. Whilst many details of Plath's depression might not have resonated with her readers, what did was the general stomaching of life and taste of sadness. The same applies to Zhe's work.
As it was mentioned earlier, "The Bearable" is an account of Zhe's years of self harm – it presents imagery of her arms, her cuts, her hair, her skin and her blood alone. "Bees" however, extends that outside of herself.
"From the relatively simple act of tattooing one's skin, or of ear piercing to the more serious acts of auto-mutilation and body modification, Zhe found those she calls "Bees" by showing them first her own scars. She calls them "Bees" out of Virgil's quote: They left their lives in the very wounds they had created for themselves" .
Hence, through the expression of personal trauma in art there is still a forming of a collective. Following that thread of thought it can also be argued that there are then two acts of recognition; the first, the recognition of the self and of the trauma and the recognition of a community of people who from their side recognize parts of their trauma in said art.
Before getting to the actual work and photographic portrayal of this community of self-harmers, I would like to discuss the nature of the trauma about to be portrayed first. So far trauma has been discussed as an event, as something that happens to us, forced onto us through the outside world, with examples such as childhood abuse, sexual abuse, etc.  In the case of Zhe's work, and photographs without explicit context, we of course cannot be sure what the basis of the trauma experienced by those photographed is and so in this paper when trauma is referred to it also incorporates mental trauma such as mental illness.
However, there is another layer of trauma that is central to the case study and overall analysis. The trauma expressed in Zhe's collection of photographs is double. For the whole body of work represents different forms of self harm and mental struggles the trauma there is dual.
First, there must have been a pre-existing trauma, one that is not communicated nor expressed to the audience, one that remains personal and secret to the individuals and only its existence is known.
Second, is the expression of that first trauma, whatever may it be, through the many acts of self harm. "Self-injury is associated with negative psychological consequences" [9, p. 42]. For in this case, the act of self harm is a brand new trauma, but this time one that is self-inflicted in order to deal with the previous one. It is, in a way, once again "the trace of a trace of an event" [2, p. 5].
Part II – The body as a place
If we say that trauma sits in places, it is important, individually and personally to know where those places are. If we are referring to a traumatic event, of course it seems evident to say that trauma sits there where it happened. Concentration camps and battlefields. In our childhood homes, out in the street. Once again here, there is an intention to separate personal and individual trauma from the collective one, as it is not the topic of this paper. However, it's still worth noting that even that which is collective trauma is experienced by individuals and hence the process and conceptualization of space that is going to be used to analyze Zhe's work is relevant in all cases of trauma.
Trauma sits in places, and naturally, it has outside world triggers. It sits in rooms, and smells, in words, behaviours, in who other people are to us. It can sit in a month which comes around every year bringing the same weather and heaviness, shoveling that which was asleep until then. There can be an infinite amount of triggers. And then there is the place where trauma not only sits but lives and breathes, which is inside of us. Furthemore, when "inside of us" is used here it does not merely refer to our internal worlds (our minds) but to our bodies.
This paper focuses and relies on one important concept which is the body as a place. The body is a place where things happen, time sits, experience is felt and lived.
Edward Casey's "Between Geographies and Philosophy: What does it mean to be in a place-world?" (2001) will be mentioned on several occasions as it was a founding into this existent and more or less emerging disposition of viewing the body as a place.
In this essay when referring to the first degree of trauma previously mentioned (the mental trauma which led the individual to a state of self harm, to becoming a bee) is going to be referred as the trauma of the self, whilst the second degree of trauma, (that of self inflicted pain) will be referred to as the trauma of the body. Both are deeply interconnected as what this essay will argue is precisely that the body is a place, and the self lives in the body. "Self-injury is associated with negative psychological and physical consequences [9, p. 42].
Casey takes a look at different approaches in philosophy thus far when dealing with the conceptualization of the body and the self. "Contra Descartes, the body is recognized as integral to selfhood, with the result that we can no longer distinguish neatly between physical and personal identity" [5, p. 684]. What this translates to is the following: if the body is a place where the self lives, then the two are directly connected. A trauma undergone by the self lives in the body, in the muscles and the tensions. A trauma to the body is integrated by the self as a direct trauma to the self.
If we take for example domestic abuse this becomes all too evident. A trauma to the body, inflicted by a person that is supposedly loved, cannot be isolated to the body. That is inherently a traumatic experience for the self. This direction of the exchange, or enmeshment of body and self is typically more widely discussed and seen. The questions that Zhe's work arises however, the questions that this essay asks, are about the opposite direction. What about a trauma of the self? A trauma that first occurs within the self. That cannot be seen nor perceived by anyone, including the one who is suffering of its affliction.
Perhaps that kind of trauma can feel almost like a phantom limb, like an imagined reality. Is that then, not the role that these many different rituals of self harm play? To make something out of that which is felt but hard to pin down. To have a bodily experience, lived proof of its living.
Following which comes the third step of Zhe's journey, the photographing of the body.
When delving into the exchange that happens between the lived body and the outside world in which it lives, Casey differentiates between an outgoing and an incoming relationship. The outgoing being that of the body going into an outside space and changing it through its presence, whilst the ingoing being the way that the body "bears the traces of the places it has known" [5, p. 688].
"There is an impression of the place by which the presence of a place remains lodged in our body long after we have left it; this presence is held within the body in a virtual state" – [5, p. 688]
In this sense, when spoken of here, the same holds true giving "the presence of a place" a larger definition. In this analysis that is understood as the presence of any trauma, of any experience which has been had and keeps living in the body.
In order to analyze and look at the discourse in Zhe's work there is value in understanding self-harm. Once more a reminder that self harm is an umbrella term and does not solely refer to the act of cutting one's skin open, even if Zhe had a specific fascination with blood. As will be seen further in other of her photos, they are far from all centering mutilated bodies. Instead self harm is communicated through a wink, a reminder, a suggestion, a feeling.