Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Luna Hao – “Moon Phase” Photography Series

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, photography, and more! This is art that explores mental health. Today, Lingxue (Luna) Hao (she/her) will be sharing several images from her project “Moon Phase: The Moments Between Wax and Wane.”

Before we delve into the art, a little more about Luna:

Photo of the artist, Luna Hao. Her art is inspired by her experiences with mental health. Exploring mental health through the arts. Lingxue (Luna) Hao

After working as a food photographer for two years, Luna turned her focus to telling stories through the camera. She prefers photographic books to display her work; she is very experienced in making handmade books. She is particularly interested in finding beauty from the ordinary and mundane and creating a virtual diary based on everyday love, loss, and reflection.

Luna’s work Moon Phase is split into chapters consisting of photographs.

Photography. A photo of the side of a house with vibrant primary colors - blue, red, yellow. 

Art for mental health/ art and mental health. Mental health through the arts.
Luna Hao, It Seems Flat. Photograph.

She describes it as:

Moon Phase: The Moments Between Wax and Wane is an interpretation of depression through the art of photography. My photographs explore my own experiences with this invisible disease. They represent the torment and pain that I navigate with major depression. They also record my constant struggle with mental health. This body of work is a visual diary about a depressive patient I created as a photographer. The process of photographing and editing this project is also the process by which I find a productive way to communicate with the outside world. My work aims to help those who may be indirectly impacted by depression to understand mental illness more comprehensively and establish an accurate portrayal of this very real concern. We live in a society where people still hold prejudices against those with mental health issues and misunderstand them. My photos invite viewers to raise awareness and support for the people around them who struggle with this widespread issue.”

Luna participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on the project:

What first drew you to art?

My answer may be disappointing…I never had a moment like: oh, I really want to be an artist. In college, my major was commercial photography, and I worked as a food photographer for almost two years. The two years’ experience made me HATE the commercial industry because I was just a copy machine…As a result, I decided to get an MFA degree to see if there is another possibility to take photos in a less painful way. So, I would describe my engagement with art as gradual. At the same time, to be honest, I never thought I would get to where I am today.

How would you describe your artistic style?

I think I would be thinking more about my artistic style as “old-fashioned,” but all my friends and classmates said that my work is contemporary. As a photographer, I almost only use film and other darkroom materials as my creative base. I’m pretty much adamant about just “taking pictures” without heavy-handed postproduction if there are no special needs so that our creative space itself is more narrow than other art media (In theory).

Photography. A photo strip roll of film of driving. Inspired by action to address mental health challenges and feelings.

Art for mental health/ art and mental health. Mental health through the arts.
Luna Hao, Run Away. Photograph.

This strip photo is actually part of one image. You may see a four-part on my website under the series “Run Away,” I use one roll of film as one image. One roll of film documents one driving experience. It’s 5 am in this one. When I feel really insecure and upset, I have a (dangerous) habit where I go out and drive randomly.

What is your favorite part about working with photography? What’s the most challenging part?

I guess it’s the part of freezing a moment and making it permanent, pausing. I always really like the idea of “When you take the next photo, you are recording the moment of death, but this action of yours makes that moment eternity.” As for the most challenging part, I think it’s the limitations inherent in the format of photography. Most photographers’ creations rely on cameras or other devices or materials that can respond to light. 

Can you tell us more about the Moon Phase project? What do the different chapters signify?

Moon Phase is documenting my struggle with major depression. It originated when I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2017. My parents refused to accept that, even though they were well educated. They refused to believe that mental illness has a real need for medical treatment to help. I’ve always been tongue-tied, so I wanted to build a channel of communication using the methods and mediums I’m good at, to try and make them understand my pain. Later, through my own experience, I felt that I must not be in this predicament, so I began to think about developing it into a series to tell the public a complete story of a depressed patient from my perspective.

Later, it became a visual diary. During the shooting process, I found that my mental state had obvious staged changes, which is why I divided them into three chapters. The first chapter was created without any doctor or medication and was more simply showing my chaotic and disordered state of mind and life. The second chapter was shot while I was just officially receiving regular medical help, and its content shows my unstable and confused mental state that has been up and down during this time. The third chapter was shot in a relatively stable state of mind, more about a state in which I coexisted with depression and was relatively balanced.

When did you create this series?

It started in the fall of 2018, and I ended it in the spring of 2021.

Photography. A photo of tree branches with beautiful vivid red and white. Edited.

Art for mental health/ art and mental health. Mental health through the arts.
Luna Hao, Red Leaves. Photograph.

Your use of color is spectacular. How do you get the colors to stand out so boldly?

In fact, I really did not deliberately do systematic research and arrangement on color and color theory. However, I did deliberately look for some objects in my mind that better reflect my mental and psychological state during the shooting process. And one of the main things I use to judge whether it’s the subject I want is by its color. In my creations, I always feel that color is the main element, an element that I need to be very careful of and pay extra attention to. In addition, I think it has something to do with my former identity as a food photographer, which may have been tempered in my previous work.

The above photo is a special one. I used photoshop to change all the green leaves to red to recreate the view I saw when I was heavily sick. I found out that sometimes the color and view change for some depression patients. For me, it sometimes looks like this, so I created it to let others know about this symptom. 

Photography. An image of Luna's installation.

Art for mental health/ art and mental health. Mental health through the arts.

There was also an installation – what was it like to set that up? Was it interesting to see how people interacted with the work?

Honestly, when I set up my solo exhibition, it was a painful and tangled process, but I liked how it turned out. I didn’t want it to be presented in a traditional, framed, row-by-row format from the start, which I felt would kill the intimacy that this project has always had. I always want to leave some room for reflection and doubt for the audience, so rather than telling a story with a clear image, I wanted to create an atmosphere. While viewers understand the basic logic and premise, they can fill in their own experiences and thinking. 

As for whether it’s fun to watch people interact with the work, I’d say it’s more of a feeling of movement and satisfaction. Because this set of works was created during my entire MFA study, I went through countless critiques and questioning processes, including a lot about what this set of works really means and why people should care about someone getting sick unpleasant experience. So this project ended up in an exhibition format. When people tell me they find the set meaningful or they find it resonant; I feel like it’s not a waste of time and effort. 

Anything I missed asking that you would like to share?

I’m not sure if I’ve managed to do that, but in my creative process, I’ve been hoping and trying not to make the series feel like a pain to “stay away” from the audience. I understand that depression itself is painful and messy. Still, I was actually afraid that images like this would scare the audience away, so on balance, I chose to use another, milder style to show the disease. At the same time, I feel that this work itself has a self-healing effect for me that I did not expect. I felt that throughout the process of creating it, it seemed to separate out the pain in my head and give me an opportunity to look at my own situation objectively.

For those that read this blog regularly, you know I’m a fan of color. Luna’s colors stand out and draw me in. Thank you for sharing this series, Luna! You can see more of Luna’s work on her website.