One artist is asking a simple, compelling question to those living with chronic illnesses: What does your nightstand say about you?
Through the online photo series The Nightstand Collective, Washington-based artist, writer and producer Emma Jones uncovers what it’s like to live with a chronic illness by curating anonymously submitted photos of nightstands.
The series serves as a way for the chronic illness community to connect with each other and a way to empower them to share their experiences.
For many people living with chronic illnesses, severe symptoms require spending a lot of time in bed. Nightstands become intimate spaces where they keep essential items for easy access.
“Only a few people see your nightstand,” Jones says. “It becomes a really intimate portrait that reflects our vulnerabilities, hopes and dreams. It can reveal what keeps us up at night and what we do to comfort ourselves.”
The site runs entirely off submissions from the chronic illness community. Jones’ only rule is that participants can’t alter their nightstands at all before snapping a photo. She wants to get to the heart of the unedited, raw experience of chronic illness.
“It becomes a really intimate portrait that reflects our vulnerabilities, hopes and dreams.”
Each image’s caption shares the photographer’s illness, along with a list of every item on the nightstand. The result is a collection of individualized stories, offering a glimpse into how each person’s experience with chronic illness converges with their life.
Jones’ own experience living with multiple chronic illnesses including endometriosis, asthma, autoimmune thyroiditis, depression and anxiety inspired The Nightstand Collective. She needed to spend a lot of time in bed, which quickly isolated her from what she says used to be a “vibrant life.”
“My nightstand was a reflection of all the things that I was trying to use to navigate my new reality,” she says. “In many ways my life had contracted, but if I looked at my nightstand I could see all the ways that I had grown and expanded.”
Jones’ own nightstand is usually overflowing with tissues, books, notebooks, health aids and other healing objects. She fills the simple piece of furniture with these necessities and comforts, transforming it into what she calls the most intimate part of her home.
“I spent my time wondering what other people had on their nightstands, what their coping methods were, what they were reading and what were they reaching for to provide some connection to a wider world,” Jones says. “Just thinking about that made me feel a sense of community throughout a very isolating experience.”
By documenting the nightstands that often hold items people “need for survival,” Jones says she hopes to grant a more comprehensive view of chronic illness.
“Stories heal us,” she says. “Both processing our own and hearing other people’s.”
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