Anouk photographs lonely students

‘It’s okay if you’re not okay’

Isolation Z is the title of psychology student Anouk Brekhof’s (21) latest photo project. She captures how the corona measures affect the students’ mental health.
Tekst en video door Lidian Boelens
20 January om 11:39 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 20 January 2021
om 12:00 uur.
January 20 at 11:39 AM.
Last modified on January 20, 2021
at 12:00 PM.

The idea came to her when the second lockdown was announced. ‘I’ve always been very concerned with how others are doing.’ Her father gave her the Sony A7II she’s using for the project. She peers down the viewfinder, noticeably holding her breath.

Beep. Click. Exhale. 

Anouk drops her camera and looks up. ‘I noticed that the people around me weren’t doing well because of the pandemic. I wanted to do something with it, be productive.’ 

She christened her project Isolation Z, named after Generation Z. She put out a call on her Instagram account @anoukphotography for Groningen students struggling with feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety brought on by the corona restrictions. Anyone who was interested could send her a DM. ‘I got so many responses that I knew I had something special.’ 

Natural habitat

Loes (23) is one of the students who responded. The medical student is being photographed in her room by Anouk. She’s sitting in a chair at the table where she often reads or studies. She’s in her natural habitat. Sometimes she’s serious, sometimes she smiles. Occasionally, she gets the giggles. 

I wanted to do something productive

She decided to participate in the project because she knows like no other how important it is to get help when your mental health declines. ‘I have an eating disorder, and I’ve been focused on it much more during the pandemic. Obviously, I shouldn’t be doing that.’ She immediately sought help, which is something she wants other people to do, too. ‘You can start out with something easy, like this project. You can always move on to other forms of help. I want to show people how.’ 

Anouk has photographed several students so far. Just like Loes, some of them have a history of mental illness, like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. The pandemic only serves to exacerbate their issues. ‘But I’ve also photographed people who were fine before the pandemic.’ They’re all perfect for her project. ‘I want people to know that it’s okay to not be okay.’ 

Studying people

‘Can you look out the window for me?’ Anouk has picked up her camera again. ‘Yeah, like that. That’s great.’ She’s been doing photography for a few years now. It’s mainly a hobby. She likes to shoot people because she enjoys studying them.

‘Shall we move to the window?’ She gracefully gets up from her chair. ‘After that, I’d like to photograph an object.’

She takes two pictures of everyone who participates: one is a portrait, and the other one is of an object. ‘It’s a way to capture the mood, something that shows who the person I’m photographing is’, she explains. Loes picks a necklace with a four-leaf clover pendant that used to belong to her grandparents.

Positive message

Anouk posts the two photos to her Instagram account, penning a caption that summarises her conversation with her subjects. ‘I start out by asking them how they’re doing. I always try to end on a positive note. I’ll ask them about something that they’re passionate about. I don’t want it to be too heavy-handed.’ 

In the end, it’s all about letting people know they can talk about things. Anouk hopes that she’ll get more students signing up for the project. She also thinks it’s important for people to take care of each other. 

‘Talk to each other if you’re feeling down. Ask other people how they’re doing, too. Even if you don’t know them all that well. The students I’ve visited tell me they’ve felt better just from our short conversations. It creates a bond.’