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  • Writer's pictureNox Yang

Dan: Many people say artists have tortured souls

Updated: Apr 19

Dan is a photographer I met in an art community in Los Angeles.

He shared with me his story of being both an artist and a person suffering from mental illness, and his experience of fighting suicidal thoughts with his art.


"My name is Dan and I'm from Portland Oregon, US. I've been a photographer for ten years. I've also lived in San Francisco, Ketchikan Alaska, and New York City.

In New York, I was doing an intern for Michael Thompson, one of the top photographers in this industry. He had shot for major celebrities like Britney Spears, worked with top brands like Chanel and Elizabeth Arden, and influential magazines like Vogue and New York Times.

The first photoshoot I was on set for was a campaign photoshoot for Tiffany. It took two full days to get 16 photographs. I was right there, watching how the work was done, and then emulate in my work.

Michael is the standard I set for myself."

"Michael was the first assistant for Irving Penn for a number of years. Penn is considered one of the legends in photography, and he's been doing photoshoot for Vogue since the thirties. Watching Michael was essentially like watching Irving Penn work, because Irving Penn taught Michael Thompson and I was able to lean from Michael. This experience was almost equivalent to a Harvard degree in photography.

So it is no coincidence why my photos look the way they do. It's from my experience of closely observing and learning from the masters and years of practice."

Later on, I ran out of money, so I left NY and went back to home in Oregon.

At that point of my life, I was experiencing a lot of depression. It was about six years ago that I stopped being able to shake off the suicidal thoughts, so I knew something was wrong. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed to have Bipolar II Disorder."

"I want to point out that there are two forms of bipolar disorder.

You have Bipolar I which has extremely severe mania. Someone experiencing mania can feel so on top of the world that they think they can rob a bank, or ruin their lives by spending their entire life savings.

When they are going through mania, they are not thinking. They are so in that mania that they can convince themselves to act on impulse. And then they crash."

"Bipolar II Disorder, people who are diagnosed with that would experience hypomania, which is a much less severe form of mania. So for me, I feel very normal and even selfless experiencing hypomania. I feel happy, optimistic, and energized. But the tradeoff is I might not sleep for three days, and then I crash. Then depression comes for weeks to months.

Back in 2015, I was just diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder and the doctor put me on an antipsychotic medication. But unfortunately, it did not work for me and the effect of it was that I wanted to kill myself. I wanted to jump into the ocean."

"This all depends on the highs and lows of my mood. When my mood is low, I will go through this phase where I feel like my parents hate me, my friends hate me, I hate me, and thinking I might just kill myself.

But because I've had years of experience of dealing with this, I know how to handle it. I have to remind myself, 'No, these people don't hate me.'

I'll tell myself, 'This is normal for me. It will pass. And I'm not going to allow it to take hold.' Because it's easy to become obsessive with those thoughts.

Suicidal thoughts are different from suicidal attempts. Suicidal thoughts are actually very common. A lot of people think they're alone in having that thought but they are not. But still, ideation is different from actually acting on it."

"The entire time I was going through these mental problems, I had been working on my photography and kept a goal in my mind. You know, that was really all I had to hang on to. It's the only thing that could really give me a future.

You hear a lot of people say artists have tortured souls. I feel that oftentimes people who experience mental illness find peace in their art, so they are able to spend so much time and dedicate themselves to their art.

I view my art as a therapy sometimes."

"When I'm going through the mental illness, my creation is definitely influenced, like the way I choose to do it, and the subject are different from what I do for my clients.

I usually have a priority list that I would process the photos for those who booked me first. But there are days when I can't even look at my clients' work because it can exacerbate my negative mood. Working on my own artistic stuff is like a therapy for me, but it's the clients' work that keeps me going.

It is the paradox of being an artist."

"A lot of people look at my work and think I'm doing well in life. But there's a lot of struggles behind the scenes.

I don't mind sharing the story about my mental illness because there's no point in hiding it. Hiding it perpetuates the stigmatization.

Because of the stigmatization, society doesn't want to take time to understand it. So people who suffer from it are left to figure it out.

If I'm open about it, it'd be good for other people. It's good for them to know me and see the good in me. And it also helps others who are suffering from the same, and then we can get rid of the stigma together.

Besides, my moods are very apparent to other people. So it's better for them to know how to be around it."

"Now I feel much balanced.

I have experienced depression on and off since moving to LA. But I've experienced long in my life that I have found ways to counteract it.

There's nothing I can do to change it. So accepting it is the next best thing, and that allows me to live with it in peace."


October 10th is the World Mental Health Day,

and the theme for this year is suicide prevention. Statistics shows that there's a suicide every 40 seconds

So The World Health Organization started "40 seconds Action Day"

encouraging people to engage in the most appropriate way and show your care

like sharing your feelings with people you trust, talking to people you worry about, helping those in need, and spreading hope

Everyone can start from this day, do whatever you can, start with people around you,

let those who are suffering know

There's love and hope in life




Editor & Photographer:Nox

Transcriber: Sherry

Check out Dan's work at

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