January Turla’s Rorschach Inspired Photos Help Her Combat Mental Illness

All images and words by January Turla. Used with permission.

​​​​I am Ja Turla and I’ve been shooting since my sophomore year in my secondary education here in the Philippines. University came and I met my late Photojournalism professor, Amer Amor, who taught me to keep on shooting and be great at what I do despite the fact that I didn’t have my own gear that time. He was a great influence and still is even though he left the material world so early.

Now at 23 with Bipolar I disorder and with rapidly fluctuating state at freelancing (equal to my mood), I have been engaging myself in tweaking photos of trees to create mirrored images. I was inspired by Rorschach from the graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore. Rorschach inkblot test got my attention and I merged my love for nature and this psychological test. I call it Mirrored Trees. It then progressed to kaleidoscopes and mandalas that I guess are very new to my audience’s eyes.

After my last doctor diagnosed me with a mood disorder, I have tried a lot of medication. From anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics (because I suffer form psychosis and I hear things at times) to anti-anxiety tabs, I even tried natural supplements for the brain, I still haven’t found what works for me. I was also admitted to a psychiatric facility twice and I found myself getting worse there.

I decided to surrender medical help and I clung towards art and nature as a method of healing. This works but I must admit depressive and psychotic episodes still sneak in our house and give me unsolicited breakdowns.

I got into this genre because it is a powerful method of story telling. I notice that people nowadays have so little time to read and their attention span decline every single day. With the influx of memes and visually striking materials online, I think photography is a great tool to implant something in your audience by letting them look simply at the images.

But I don’t just let them simply look. I notice that once they look at my photos, they look further and even farther and deeper. Some people tell me that my images are haunting and they are scared of what they are seeing. They don’t understand what they see and sometimes they look away when they catch themselves immersing. Others tell me that my works calm their minds and organize the clutter in their heads. Either way, my goal is to heal myself through my art and at the same time supply my audience a different visual experience on a daily basis.

My motivation to shoot is myself. This is understandable because as I said earlier, this how I heal. I do this for myself and the fact that my art is getting people’s interest is just a bonus. My number one goal is to fix myself and if I fix myself that is how I can share my method to others who struggle with disturbances and imbalance. And I must admit I am not fully healed. But I thrive and there is till the drive to continue.

My art is different because it does not only tell specific stories, it is a subjective and individual visual experience. I think I shouldn’t explain my works to people because I believe they can explain it and their explanations may vary. Every single image I have, people have different interpretations about them.

I don’t really have specific influences other than my late photography mentor. I enjoy looking at photos during exhibitions and even on Instagram and other photography platforms but I disregard getting absorbed in the lives of the photographers. I involve myself in the images and not in the people who took them. That is how I see this field of art now. That is why sometimes I don’t recall the photographers who took iconic images, these photos just stuck with me.

I use different cameras, from mobile phones, digital camera to analog. I don’t really have a specific gear because I only use what is available and what is with me during times that I see trees that I like. But I really love my Nikon FG and the 35mm and 50mm lenses.

For more from January Turla, you can check out more on her Facebook page and Instagram.