Unpredictable Patterns is an exploration of M.E./CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome). Using images, text, quotes and personal accounts the author takes the reader on a journey of discovery through the realms of this multi-faceted and misunderstood debilitating illness.
It covers both the personal account of the author as a mother & carer to her teenage daughter (who has lived with ME for nearly 4 years), and the expanded viewpoint of working with other young people who have ME; the history of the illness; medical research; and the aura of disbelief and controversy that surrounds the illness itself.
Juliet Chenery-Robson said:
"Chronic illness makes us look at life through different eyes, sensitising our perception and heightening our awareness of the minutest detail. I became a traveler in this isolated, alien landscape when my daughter was diagnosed with M.E. three years ago and we took up duel citizenship in what Susan Sontag describes as ‘the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick.’"
Review of the exhibition that accompanied the launch of the book by Alistair Robinson, Curator of the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art:
"Juliet Chenery-Robson’s project ‘Unpredictable Patterns’ reveals a series of portraits, and of details of lives lived in the shadow of Myalgic Encephalopathy, normally known as ME. The images present a group of individuals united by a condition rather than any usual social common denominator. Each portrait is of a single young woman in their own personal space, their bedroom, with their possessions enveloping them, but little clue as to their situation. Though all shot full-length, posed facing three-quarters, there is both a social and physiognomic diversity which acts as a ‘centrifugal’ force, requiring us to view each sitter on their own individual terms rather than focus on the series as a whole. But there is, perhaps, one commonality. The majority of the sitters have clustered objects of comfort and consolation around them, or have collected artefacts that carry connotations of childhood, and therefore the period prior to the onset of their illness. Childhood is, for many, a “place of sanctuary” in Chenery-Robson’s words: a place outside of time. The photographer’s other series of images focus upon symbolic details and are still lives, reflecting that the girls’ lives have become ‘stilled’, decelerated, and removed from the public sphere and confined to the private by their illness. Accordingly, the images are predominantly shot indoors, and concentrate upon details of the girls’ homes, or from the places of their treatment, or expand the series to include symbolic objects related to illness. A solitary glass of water, seen in front of flocked wallpaper, appears like a Morandi still life in which all is timeless, calm, as if outside of history. A Victorian phrenology head, delineating the different parts of the mind, has a cruelly ironic flavour, referring to the suspicion that the illness in question is ‘merely’ psychosomatic. In another image, a collection of butterflies, encased – trapped, even – in their individual boxes, provides a correlative for the collection of individuals represented here, each involuntarily entombed in their own rooms. Chenery-Robson intends our impressions to be contradictory, to be as lodged with problems as the medical profession’s is when dealing with her subjects. The compound idea transmitted is of lives continuing whilst suspended, spent in quiet incarceration. Here, the via contemplativa is enforced rather than willed."