Johanna Roehr

 

PROSOPAGNOSIA

RESEARCH AND KNOWLEDGE COMMUNICATION

NEW TALENT

After studying Traditional Animation at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, Johanna completed a Master’s Degree in Illustration (Authorial Practice) at Falmouth University.  Johanna’s work as an illustrator allows her to visually untangle complex information that she is unable to process or express in words, and has become one of her main interests to identify and probe these confines of language. 

The image Johanna entered into the competition is one of six collagraph prints that was created in order to illustrate the neurological condition Prosopagnosia (face blindness).  It is part of an on-going project, disorder  (dɪsˈɔːdə) – A Visual Dictionary of Curious Neurological Phenomena, which intends to illustrate the unique perception of individuals who are affected by neurological disorders.

Graduating from an art degree can be quite daunting and life after uni isn’t always as straightforward as we would like it to be. It’s rare to get snapped up by an agency right after a degree show and most of us have to work in non-art-related day jobs to support ourselves. Because of this, I always hesitate when people ask me my profession. Winning this award is the best motivation and validation I could have asked for and it’s great to know that there is an audience for what I do.”

johannaroehr.com

BRIEF: Create an illustration that sparks intrigue for the neurological condition prosopagnosia  and promotes a more empathetic understanding of its symptoms. 

The final image will be used in an artists` book that aims to de-stigmatize neurological

conditions and invites the viewer to challenge the idea of an objective reality.

MATERIALS: Collagraph print, gouache and coloured pencils on Fabriano Paper.

RESEARCH: I spent countless hours researching neurological conditions and trying to find suitable case studies in scientific articles and books. In the future, I am hoping to be able to get neuroscientists and people affected by neurological disorders on board with my project.

PROCESS:

Sketching the most characteristic facial features of renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks, who is affected by congenital prosopagnosia himself, while watching videos of him talking about the condition (no pausing the clips)

Painting all the face fragments from these sketches on little bits of acetate cel

Assembling the pieces in a DIY kaleidoscope in order to recreate Oliver Sacks’ described perception of a face

Generating the imagery in the kaleidoscope by reshuffling the pieces

Sketching the image onto mount board and creating a collagraph by working into the surface with PVA glue and a scalpel, then varnishing the plate with shellac

Inking up the plate with etching inks, then printing the image onto Fabriano paper

Working into the collagraph print with gouache paint andcoloured pencils

Digital enhancement in Adobe Photoshop (for screen display & reproduction)

RESISTANCES: Trying to illustrate something I have never seen a literal representation of - the inner visions of somebody else - proved to be the main challenge of this project. However, this limitation also fuelled my creativity and encouraged me to come up with a more engaging and interactive approach to illustrating. 

INSIGHT: Before I embarked on this project, I always thought that people affected by ‘face blindness’ could not see the face at all. Yet, it seems that the opposite is the case. While doing my research, I often found that individuals who are affected by the condition described their experience as receiving an overwhelming amount of information when looking at a face. People with prosopagnosia seem to perceive the face in all its complexity - an eye, another eye, a beard, nose, change of expression, ageing...etc. - which is why they cannot memorise the simplified concept of a person’s face and are therefore unable to recognise them again.

DISTRACTIONS: TED-talks, life and the occasional marching band in front of my window

NUMBERS: Face fact: It takes 17 muscles to smile/ 43 to frown.

AFTERWORDS: This project has changed the way I approach my work. It made me explore and push the boundaries of illustration and I am excited to continue working on it.

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