Revealing the Invisible

©Patricia Fortlage

“They read like Greek tragedies,” says fine art and portrait photographer Patricia Fortlage of the stories women share about living with chronic illnesses.

Fortlage has a chronic immune disorder called Myasthenia gravis, which makes even simple tasks such as getting dressed and brushing her teeth laborious. She wanted to share her experience via photography—“the insurmountable pain and suffering, along with oppression and gaslighting.” Not to mention grief for the loss of health as well as the friendships that dissolved as her illness sometimes forced her to isolate herself. “Many of us are becoming invisible, retreating to the safety of our rooms,” she says.

She didn’t want the series, titled "Lemonade," to limit her to one type of photography, so she delves into documentary as well as conceptual images, still lifes, portraits, and landscapes. “I love humor, so there is a bit of cheekiness thrown in for good measure.” Her biggest challenge was the physical. “I can no longer bend or squat without exacerbating my disability, so I had to find workarounds for images where I wanted to ideally shoot from a low angle.”

“What I like most about the project is that it seems to be resonating with people,” she says. “That tells me it is a story worth telling. And that gives me hope that this little seedling of information could sprout into some changes as to what people with chronic illnesses and disabilities experience going forward.” 

Amanda Arnold is a senior editor.