The Washington Post
A photographer’s own journey with painful scoliosis.
The pain in Rikke Mathiasen’s back was severe and sudden. And, as she would find out, it was permanent.
At age 14, Mathiasen was diagnosed with scoliosis. The condition, characterized by a sideways curve in the spine, is often discovered in adolescence. Some cases are mild, painless and require only regular monitoring, while Mathiasen’s has caused chronic pain and resulted in surgical intervention. It has had a large and everlasting impact on Mathiasen’s everyday life.
“In the bad periods I can feel very down, angry and sad because I feel like it is holding me back,” Mathiasen said.
It has also left scars, both physical and emotional. Ten years after her diagnosis, Mathiasen still puts off telling people she has scoliosis. Her back and the back pain, she said, always become a topic of conversation once someone knows. The health-care system that treated her left her feeling alienated.
In photographing her scoliosis, Mathiasen had to explore her pain and how to express it while retaining a sense of her inner strength. In that way, Mathiasen said, “the photo series is also a way for me to work with this psychological pain.”
The resulting images create a visual retrospective, made a decade after the inciting event, that reads as an autobiographical diary of Mathiasen’s journey. The photos reveal her pain, her vulnerability and her resilience. In them we see the story of Mathiasen’s pain as a 14-year-old but it is annotated by the pain she feels as a 24-yearold Danish photographer. “Because that is the thing with a chronical condition,” Mathiasen said. “It is always there.”