ELASTIC ARTIST – Jessica McDermott

With the launch of Cork Photo Festival 2018 nearly upon us, we thought it was about time to introduce you to the artists taking part in our collective exhibition ELASTIC, this April.

First up we have Jessica McDermott who will be showing a portrait from Fifty Decades To Visit Before You Die – an ongoing body of work which presents McDermott’s images and research as a Time Travellers’ Guide to the past.

She first became interested in the idea of history repeating itself, when she made a book about female comedians and noticed that the path to gender equality in comedy did not seem to run in a straight upward line. Delving into social history, she became particularly interested in the women and societies who made strides forward, and the triggers that knocked equality backwards. She is also interested in history’s dubious showmen, like Walter Freeman: the father of the lobotomy, who promise the earth and, against all rationality, gain masses of eager followers. When yet, much akin to the Wizard of Oz, they are only really delivering zeal and theatrics.

Here, Jess discusses this particular portrait and how it relates to our exhibition theme.

Fifty Decades To Visit Before You Die: Self-portrait as Rosemary Kennedy, 1940s

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

In my work, I look back at the past and wonder who or what I might have been. As a woman of the 1940s, would I have thought lobotomies were a wonderful solution for the mentally ill and the socially depraved or would I have seen the unethical practice for what it was and spoken up for patients’ rights? If it was the latter, as an unruly woman, perhaps I might have ended up lobotomised myself. And where would that have got me? These questions do not necessarily aid me in any way. However, they are testament to an absolute fact that I am a worrier, who overthinks almost everything. And it’s not an ideal way to live your life. If you question everything you are doing, you tend to go round in circles similar to, ironically, those who cannot remember the past. I do find though, as I get a little older, I’m getting better at letting things go. And my overthinking has begun to funnel itself into inquisitiveness. So now, when I discover something new, I go down a rabbit hole to try and unearth every last detail. And after I re-emerge from long bouts of research, I love to become the different characters from history that fascinate me. Perhaps it’s because their lives are finite, their decisions already made. And I can confidently just be them, as they were. At least for the millisecond that it takes for my camera’s shutter to release. 


This portrait will be exhibited at Cork Photo Festival as part of the collective exhibition ELASTIC, which showcases work by photographers acknowledging mental health within practice or process.



ELASTIC considers the concept that our minds are a malleable but resilient structure continually flexing to accommodate our highs and lows. Many artists (consciously or not) tend to harness and explore this flexibility to create their bodies of work.

Jessica McDermott is a photographer and writer whose work revolves around history and legacy. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Time Out, BBC, and The Huffington Post. She is also creator and host of the podcast Scenario, which tells the hidden stories behind other photographers’ work.