Michael Koerner Photography

Cutter Project

Featured Work: "Project Cutter"

How do we learn to deal with overwhelming emotional distress? Are our responses taught to us by our parents, teachers, or other authority figure(s) or are our coping mechanisms inherent in the deep programming of our psyche? Unfortunately, some haven't learned ways or entered life equipped to deal with overwhelming pain/fear/anxiety and turn to self-injury to cope. This photographic project explores this destructive coping behavior.

There are many names for this self-injurious behavior, including: self-inflicted violence, self-injury, self-mutilation, and the street-term, "cutting." Cutters attempt to alter their mood, obtain a "grounded" state of mind, regain a sense of reality, or end a condition of dissociation. Cutters believe that hurting themselves is the best way to bring relief from distress and turn to self-injury as a primary coping mechanism. Cutting becomes a way to express feelings when they cannot be communicated verbally. Unfortunately, this behavior also often results in serious, long-term, tissue damage that matches the deep, underlying, emotional scars.

Jan Sutton, an expert on this topic, writes, "Self-injury is an expression of acute psychological distress. It is an act done to oneself, by oneself, with the intention of helping oneself. Paradoxically, damage is done to the body in an attempt to preserve the integrity of the mind."

As an artist, I had to make photographic choices that explored but did not glorify or endorse this coping behavior. My photographic choices for this project included the use of a wide-angle, tilt/shift lens to provide very selective focus, which was meant to impart a sense of isolation. I shot these scenes with the lens wide open and with sometimes severe camera tilt to further create the sense of disorientation and disassociation that the subject feels from her environment. Overall, I wanted to increase the discomfort level for the viewer in an already tense, difficult, and disturbing subject situation.

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