• Ashton Rail


Hello <3

As a photography student at JBU, I had the opportunity to have my own gallery. When I first began the process, years ago, of trying to figure out what I wanted my gallery to be about, I thought I wanted it to be about grief as portrayed through other people. However, as the time drew closer to having to decide, I struggled with how to portray what I wanted through other people, but, at the same time, I did want to use myself. Self-portraiture was unknown territory that scared me. I didn’t know what to think about it or what others would think. But I felt as if the whole world was screaming (thank you, Kym) that exploring how to do self-portraits dealing with all the pain I’ve felt was the best idea. So, I began my journey of trying to figure out how to portray the pain I have felt in my life. This wasn’t easy. There were times when I had to dig so far into parts of my memory that I had locked up, in order to remember painful events, that I would spend days dealing with hurt that I thought I was over but apparently wasn’t.

I’ve had people ask me what my biggest takeaway from doing this project was. My answer is that I have discovered how much pain I’ve hidden from myself. There were times when I felt like, in order to survive, I had to bury the pain. This project has caused most of those pains to resurface, which is the best thing that could have happened. It has allowed me to heal in ways I needed healing and to realize what needed healed.


Artist Statement:

After years of one hurt after another, I’ve discovered that it’s important to remember where we come from. It’s important to remember the struggles we’ve overcome and the pain that still plagues us in order to figure out who we are. The pain, for me, began after my dad lost a battle to cancer when I was ten years old. Then came the endless doctor appointments and diagnosis of mental disorders. And, for a few weeks, a stay at a psychiatric hospital. Was it an anxiety disorder? Was it depression? Was it bipolar? No one could really diagnose my misery. So I buried myself so deep in pain that I believed there was no way out of the hole in which I was living.

I was hurt. I was hurt from an emotionally abusive relationship. I was hurt from the death of my grandparents. I was hurt from the lies I fed myself. I was hurt.

When I look back at who I was six years ago, I’m in awe. I was a shell of a human who was only trying to survive. I was on the verge of taking my life, and I cut to feel something. I had placed my identity in pain. I was had become the girl who was depressed. I am no longer that girl. Yes, I still struggle; I still suffer some from depression, and my anxiety still paralyzes me sometimes, but for the most part, I’m healed. I was able to let go and let God work in my life. This series of images is my reminder of who I was and of how far I’ve grown. It’s my reminder that my struggles can lead to works of art, and that I am healing.

Hurt is a series of photographs that ventures into my darkest and most guarded thoughts. These are the thoughts that I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to lock up. These are the thoughts that used to invade my mind on a daily basis. These are the thoughts behind my pain. Each image relates back to a specific time in my life.

You’ll notice that a lot of the pictures are about identity. After going through a hard time, such as depression, anxiety, or grief, it’s hard to remember who you are. This is where I’m at. I used to be this happy-go-lucky girl who thought that the world could never harm her. I lived in a castle, and the world was my kingdom. But when those walls came tumbling down, I was forced to see my life through a different window. Ever since then, I have struggled to discover the full potential of who I am. I drifted so far away from fairy tales and happy endings that I forgot how to see light. This is why I am doing this. For all those times when I would cry myself to sleep. For when my depression became my identity, and my anxiety became my whole being. This is me breaking loose. This is me learning what it’s like to live in the midst of pain, while finding a way to encourage myself and others. This is me learning how to become me. This is me learning To remember where I’ve come from and how I’ve grown. This is me learning that my past does not define who I am now. My desire is that all of this will help all of you remember that your past struggles do not define you nor do they own you. You are you: a work of art.

Job 11:16-18 “For you will forget your suffering, recalling it only as waters that have flowed by. Your life will be brighter than noonday; its darkness will be like the morning. You will be confident, because there is hope. You will look carefully about and lie down in safety.”

As unique as this project is, the process behind printing the pictures is also unique. Each self portrait was taken digitally. After editing the pictures in photoshop and printing them onto film, I printed each image in the darkroom. The words were written with sharpie on each image before exposure.

(These images are scans)

There are three images that have butterflies. They all deal with the idea of freedom and becoming more of who I’m meant to be.

When I was 10, my dad died. 17, My grandma and Grandpa. 18, a close relationship ended. 22, my uncle died. (Just to name a few). For the longest time I thought that whenever someone died or left me, this meant that they took a piece of myself with me that I would never get back. Sometimes it truly feels that way.

Anxiety and depression has this funny way of making you feel like you don’t belong in your own skin. There’s been moments when I pinched myself and didn’t feel a thing.

In March of this year my uncle took his own life. I know we are not supposed to play favorites but he was my favorite uncle. He understood my hurts and I partially understood his. The bird is a Cardinal for his favorite team, the St Louis Cardinals.

I learned years ago that this Earth is not my home, that Heaven is. But that doesn’t always help with the pain that I feel here. I went through a time, years ago, where I was so jealous of everyone I knew in heaven that I wanted to go join them.

When I was in 11th grade one of my best friends wrote a speech about me for class. In it she mentioned that I was a great actor but only because I knew how to hide how I truly felt. Back then I was proud for being such a great actor but not longer after that I found that I no longer wanted to be able to hide how I felt because I began to hide everything from myself.

The heart shown is a trace from a time when I cut a heart into that exact location on my wrist. This was the last time I hurt myself. Most of my scars from when I used to cut myself can only be seen when I’m really hot or cold.

Because of all the struggles I have experienced, I found myself becoming comfortable with pain. Sometimes I feel like all I ever know is disappointment.

This past year I found myself becoming someone that I never wanted to be. I drank more, dressed differently, cussed more, and stopped going to church. I still loved God but I did not love myself.

The past couple of months have all been about discovering who I am and learning how to piece myself back together after suffering so much. I never could of imagined that it would be harder to break down all the walls I’ve built around myself than to build them. There are times when I hear a part of my mind screaming to retreat back into the safe territory, where no one truly knows just how bad I feel. But God is a God who loves and guides. He has shown me glimpses of what it feels like to be fully open and vulnerable. And because I have felt that, I know I can’t go back and hide.


Hello me.

Hello to who I’m becoming, to who you’re becoming.

It’s time to let go of your fears and let those walls crumble. I promise it’s worth it.

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