This week we chatted to Jude Wacks, a professional photographer who completed the Graduate Diploma Photography at London College of Communication this summer. Her final project documents the theme of youth self-harm in a powerful series of photographs, titled Best Days of your Life. Jude spoke to us about why she chose to document this often invisible illness. 

Jude Wacks; image by Vatsal Shah

Why did you choose LCC to study Photography?
As someone with a passion for photography and creative arts, I had been looking for somewhere to formally learn and enhance my existing skills in a well-structured environment that would also challenge me to achieve more.

LCC ticked all the right boxes for me.  I wanted to go on a course that would allow me to immerse myself in the world of photography, to give myself the technical skills that I felt needed to be enhanced and to challenge myself.

Another reason for me choosing this Graduate Diploma in Photography is the vocational structure of the course which has allowed me to go out into the professional world with understanding and confidence.

Abbey and Harry; image: Jude Wacks

What is your fondest memory of LCC?
Being able to take the Best Days Of Your Life concept and turn it into a fully-fledged photographic project and have it displayed at the annual Graduation Show.
This culminated in successfully being able to bring together everything I learnt during my times on the course.

Being able to do the show allowed friends and family to see what I had been working on and more importantly to use my skills to use photography as a means of communication to deliver awareness of the subject matter and share it with a wider audience.

Many viewers were emotionally moved, some just shocked, some started to talk! What became evident during the show, is that many people have a link to self-harm, either through their personal story or someone close by.

School-age visitors to the exhibition, described self-harm as part of the ‘norm’ in underground school culture, a dark trend spreading. After viewing Best Days Of Your Life, they used words such as ‘prevention’ and ‘deterrent’.

The project has provided a way in which dialogue and open conversation can be shared by those affected by self-harm and mental health issues and those affected due to proximity.
This is my fondest and proudest photographic moment during my tie on the course when I fully realised the impact my project could have on people.

Best Days Of Your Life also achieved media attention with London Live coming down to the show and interviewing me.  Being able to tell the press and media about the topic of my project – that of adolescent self-harm – also helps raise awareness of the issue.

Can you tell us about your project, Best Days Of Your Life?
Best Days Of Your Life explores the theme of youth self-harm in a powerful set of photographs, which helps to expose the issue, the children who try to cover up their actions and what the consequences are for both society and the individuals concerned of ignoring this invisible illness. My aim was to educate people about the reality of what is happening and to provide a platform for dialogue to enable an open discussion on the issue.

Carla and Tom; image: Jude Wacks

Why was it important for you to do your project on self-harm?
As a parent of a teenage daughter, who has grappled with mental health issues for a number of years, I have experienced first-hand the pain and trauma that self-harm causes to both the sufferer and their families.  Throughout my personal experience and exposure to adolescent mental health issues during secondary school years, I began to realise how widespread self-harm has become, but yet still very much a taboo.

For those that took part and are featured in Best Days Of Your Life, they have described the experience as empowering. Since having taken their pictures in May 2018, most have kept in touch and have taken the next steps in their lives with more confidence.

Alan; image: Jude Wacks

What do you hope for the future of the project?
Through this project, I hope to raise awareness of this issue and give the silent pain a personal voice.

I am hoping that Best Days Of Your Life can be rolled out across the UK and reach as many young people and families as possible.

I would like Best Days Of Your Life to be used as an educational project that schools, youth organisations and families can have access to and get support from.

What is next for you?
To further progress with my photography career.  To expand my portfolio and continue to be challenged and excited by photographic opportunities that present themselves.  To take every opportunity with enthusiasm and see where it leads to.

A year ago, if you had asked me where I would be today and where I am going, I don’t think I could really have answered that question.  With what I have learnt, seen and experienced over the last year and my time at LCC, I’m really excited by the possibilities of what may come next.

Ellie W and Hannah; image: Jude Wacks

What advice would you give to someone wanting to study photography?
Don’t just talk about it, do it!  Returning to University as a postgraduate student is a decision that you won’t regret as the course offers everything to set you up to be a photographer. I benefitted enormously and you will too.

Since we spoke to Jude one of the images Ellie G has been shortlisted for the British Photography Awards 2019, in the Documentary category

Follow Jude on Instagram and Twitter and check out her website