“Breakdown #1” from the “Affected By Society” project, by Kay Gibbons-Buckwell

I took this photo when I was fifteen, 1983, as part of my final-year art folio in high school. The project was to be a comment on the pressures of society – something I felt needed to be expressed as a young struggling creative teen, who was largely bullied for being, well, not particularly mainstream or conforming. I had asked my mother to model – also known to be a person who never backed down from what she saw as her truth, and who, at that time, had just gone through a mini breakdown of sorts. As the session unfolded I put Mum through everything I could throw at her, trying to coerce deep emotions from within. I made her scream at a mirror, cry into tissues, and pretend she was a ghost by painting a mask on her face and then attempting to rip it off. By the end of the session, we were both exhausted, but I knew then that she would always have my back in helping me succeed in my creative adventures.

Fast forward to present day. Last week I was unpacking a box from my school days when I happened upon a stack of negatives I’d developed myself for that Year 12 art folio. Too scared to send them to a developer, and no longer having access to a darkroom, I placed the slide-film negs on a makeshift lightbox (opaque perspex over a lamp) and began sifting through them until I found a few images which piqued my interest. Using my DSLR I took photos of the negs then edited them in Lightroom. While the aim was to remain true to the original shots, the colours and white balance were almost unsalvageable, so I converted them into black and white. Of course, the quality is not the same as if they’d been printed, but maybe that just adds to the original idea of the project – that all things are affected. Looking through the entire series again, this image spoke to me the loudest because it was a genuine unguarded moment. The teacher at the time chose an image of Mum screaming, to print off for the final project. It was not one of Mum’s prettiest moments. But this image is, because despite the mask I’d painted on her, despite everything she’d been through, her soulful, soft side shone through. And that kind of beauty is palpable.

What do you think are the TWO most impactful features that make your image a good photograph? Don’t be shy!

Perhaps one of the image’s stronger points is its storytelling because it’s voyeuristic in nature. Do we have permission to see this fleeting moment of emotion and honesty? She’s not engaging the viewer at all, is not concerned that someone is prying into her world, and is lost in someplace else. Why? I want to know what she’s feeling.

I also like the actual treatment and softness of the reproduction. The dreamlike quality mimics the “lost in thought” emotion of the subject, steering the viewer to fall gently with her, into her thoughts. The image floats, just like the thoughts floating across her mind.

If you would be able to make this photo once again, what would be the ONE thing you would like to do better or different?

As a 15 year old, I don’t think I could’ve taken this image any better or differently. As an adult with another 40 years experience, of course there are things I may have done differently like lighting, and developing it in black and white in the first place. However, a candid moment is just that. How can that be recreated? I’m just so grateful I reconnected with the image again.

Kay Gibbons-Buckwell shared this photograph in the FRAMES Facebook Group.


Kay Gibbons-Buckwell, Geelong, Australia


Equipment and settings

The original camera was borrowed from the school so I can’t remember what brand it was, only that it was an SLR. I developed the original colour Kodak slide-film negs myself using a drum in a darkroom. This reproduction was made with a lightbox type set-up and a Nikon D5600 with a 50mm prime lens. Edited in Lightroom.

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Comments (6):

  1. Cynthia Gladis

    September 30, 2022 at 17:36

    This is fabulous, Kay. I love the image, but thoroughly enjoyed the backstory and hearing about your “photographic beginnings.”

    • Kay Gibbons-Buckwell

      October 27, 2022 at 08:20

      Thank you Cynthia! I didn’t even realise this had been published until today ( a month later). I appreciate your feedback.

  2. Nazmul Bashar

    November 19, 2022 at 07:07

    It is a pity that I did not read through the experience of a devoted photographer earlier. I am quite familiar with Kay’s style of photography which is candid, soft and ‘dreamy’. Kay is masterful with subdued light and shade in photography. She knows so well how to play with the spectrum of variations between black and white. This photograph is testimony to that. I always adore her photographic talent.

    • Kay Gibbons-Buckwell

      November 21, 2022 at 23:33

      Nazmul, that is such a lovely thing to say and I appreciate your kind comments, as always.

  3. Michael

    December 6, 2022 at 16:11

    I can only imagine the flood of emotion you experienced when you unearthed these images from so long ago. This reminded me of my own mother…at least how my mother was very rarely ever vulnerable. I only remember her ONCE letting her guard down this much. This image was certainly supposed to find you again. Great work.

  4. Kay Gibbons-Buckwell

    December 7, 2022 at 21:16

    Thank you Michael, that’s really kind of you to say. Yes, these special moments are always timely when they resurface.


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