Being Human

Being Human

To hell and back... more than once


This is the story behind the story – the tale of how “Being Human” came to be.


“Being Human” is an ongoing series exploring my life as a high-maintenance human. I started it in 2012. So far, it consists of over 200 images and approximately 14,000 words. I am drawn to exploring the frailty and fragility of our finite human lives and to finding ways to talk about those things which we are afraid to talk about.

When I had to leave my career because of illness in 2009, I attended a pain management course with the goal of making a sufficient recovery to return to some form of work. In the period leading up to this, I’d had five surgeries in 25 months. I remember the psychologist on the programme saying to me: “You’ve been through hell…more than once”. What I didn’t know was that this was just beginning – life was going to get even tougher…

After charting my psychological landscape in “Mind Games”, I found myself needing more surgery in 2012, and I turned my attention to documenting the physical side of my existence with “Being Human”. It was a way of coping but also a fantastic opportunity. Documenting someone else’s suffering comes with a huge ethical dilemma, but with my own life I don’t need to worry about a model release – this is my story, so I get to choose how to tell it.

LIP Annual Exhibition 2014

LIP Annual Exhibition 2014

It's now quite a few years since I embarked on telling this story. It has been a way of processing the trauma – an attempt to describe the indescribable. At times, it has literally been a way to survive. I always knew it would be risky telling my story to an online audience on social media (via Flickr) because of the vulnerability of sharing something so personal but also because of telling the story almost in real-time, without knowing how it would develop or end, or even if it would ever end. It’s a story that I am the subject of but have very little control over. A few years ago I decided that I have wanted to end the series and draw a line under it, but I couldn’t because the story itself hadn’t finished. When I began “Being Human” I had an inkling that my identity was complicated and I had just discovered the word “genderqueer”, but I had no idea of the practical implications for my life. The story of figuring out my gender identity and the story of my medical treatments and surgeries in “Being Human” would become closely intertwined.

I have always liked the idea that a series should have a nice consistent style but as I look back I notice the inconsistencies.  Initially, I used colour and digital layering to express the intensity of my experience but at times I switched to a stark, black and white documentary feel because there were some things I just couldn’t face seeing in colour - they were just too overwhelming. But it feels more honest this way – it reflects the inconsistencies and lack of control in my life. "It is what it is", as they say.

Ultimately, this is the “story” that my life has given me and I want to tell it.


CJ Crosland, 2018