Touching images have a story behind them

Posted by Mel Ryan on 01 Aug 2017

Tags photography, exhibition, portraiture, portraits, daniel sponiar

These incredible images shot by Daniel Sponiar, are from a series in collaboration with Suicide Prevention Australia and will be on display at the National Suicide Prevention Conference in Brisbane. 

John Bradley

John Bradley migrated to Australia from Scotland in the early 1950’s. His passion for trains followed him.

Qualifying as a young apprentice back home, John was able to bring his in-demand skill set to his new country where he would go on to forge a 43 year career as a locomotive engineer. He has also experienced just about every train journey on Earth.

The jacket he is wearing was custom made for him and is his pride and joy. He suffered a major workplace accident in 1979 and had to be rushed to hospital. Whilst in the ambulance, paramedics had to cut the jacket off him. It was the first thing he asked for when he regained consciousness. He’s since had it repaired.

While meeting to discuss the concept for the portrait, we got onto the crux of John’s lived experience of suicide, the loss of his 22 year-old daughter who took her own life in 2005.

John now volunteers in the mental health industry and is a motivational speaker, providing most of his time to Suicide Prevention Australia where he is part of their Lived Experience Committee.

Darren Higgins

From the ranks of Rugby League’s elite level to spending his retirement looking out for his daughters and working in the mental health sector, Darren Higgins isn’t afraid to speak his mind on anything.

He’s currently involved in working with school students, helping them combat things like cyber bullying and mental health concerns.

Darren also works with current and former Rugby League players as a counsellor and educator. According to Darren, very little support is given to the players by the game’s governing body for mental health. He’s taken it upon himself to fill the gap. 

Social justice means a lot to Darren and when he is passionate about something, his booming personality makes sure everyone within earshot knows about it. It would have made him a formidable force on the footy field and that’s something that has certainly made the jump out of the stadium.

Hayley Purdon

High school is rarely an easy time for anyone. But for Hayley Purdon the experience was compounded by a severe eating disorder. Along with the pressure to excel it was hardly a combination conducive to enjoying this rite of passage.

After getting herself through her studies Hayley started to pursue her lifelong goal of becoming a commercial pilot. But only a year later she had no choice but to withdraw when the expensive nature of her endeavor became unsustainable.

This was the main catalyst for a downward spiral, which ended in Hayley attempting suicide. She felt that without flying she had no purpose.

The road to recovery was never going to be straightforward. Countless sessions with doctors and psychologists over the next few years did little to correct her mind set. It was only after developing a friendship with a girl of a similar age who was navigating a similar path and finding a psychologist she felt she could connect with that brought her back. Getting in touch with her mind and learning control was the next step.

Hayley began practicing a meditation technique known as hakomi, which concentrates on mindfulness of body sensations, emotions and memories. It resonated with Hayley perfectly and was by far the most successful approach to getting her life back together.

Now with all that behind her, Hayley is in the best shape ever. She qualified for her pilot licence, bought a house, got into a job she loves and is planning a future with her long time partner.

In a recent interview she said, “I think that by being open and showing people that recovery is possible and that your struggles don’t define your future, more people will feel comfortable to seek help and move past feeling like they have no options. I am so much stronger, more resilient and more understanding because of what I have experienced.”