Struggling with anxiety and agoraphobia from a young age, Jacqui Kenny’s ability to travel was limited until she found another way to see the world.
I grew up in Auckland New Zealand and didn’t enter the creative industry until my mid-twenties when I landed a job as a Film Director Melanie Bridge’s assistant. This was my first introduction to visual media. Melanie had an incredible collection of photo books, and my role entailed researching these books, searching for references for film treatments. I fell in love with photography and without even realising it; I started to develop my own aesthetic. I worked with her for years before deciding to move to London to set up my own digital production company. The company focused on new and innovative methods of storytelling harnessing the power of technology. It was an incredible experience until the company closed after ten years of trading.
From there, I felt lost. I wasn’t sure what to do next. I was curious about returning to traditional media but in a new way. Photography and online communities fascinated me, but I was stuck, mourning the loss of the company, yet having a strong desire to start something new. Throughout my career so far, I’d always worked for other creatives, and I was keen to do my own thing. My agoraphobia also left me feeling down.
I’d struggled with mental health issues, mainly panic attacks since university, but as I got older, they became more severe and manifested into agoraphobia. At the time I dealt with it on my own, people didn’t talk about mental health back then at all. After a certain amount of panic attacks, I started being fearful of the places which could trigger an attack, high-stress situations like travelling or even a busy supermarket could be difficult. My world just kept getting smaller.
In 2015, I had started looking at Google’s Street View. I was researching Brazil and screen grabbed a couple of images to use as future references. At the time, I randomly shared them with my sister, who loved them. I forgot all about it until she reminded me a year later when I was trying to work out what my next creative project would be.
The @TheAcrophobicTraveller was born. I curated a series of images via Street View which spoke to my aesthetic as a creative. Simple, graphic and irreverent.
The project was perfect for me, I wasn’t ready to go out into the world, and I could do it from home. I fell in love with the process, spending hours searching for interesting scenes I could capture as images. It was such a beautiful and surprising experience. The more I explored, the more I uncovered, sometimes I would spend up to eighteen hours a day searching and exploring. I really went into that world. You can spend weeks trying to find one great shot.
The limitations of the endeavour led me to the most exciting places. I’d seen some great Street View projects in the past, but they were distinctly the SV aesthetic. I wanted to curate images which speak to my aesthetic, combining incredible light with clean, graphic scenes. I ended up venturing out to smaller towns, searching everywhere from Africa to Arizona.
It’s been three years since I started the project and it created so many amazing opportunities from me. From collaborations with brands, including Google, and I recently directed my first car campaign. I worked from home with a crew on the ground, it was exciting and daunting at the same time due to its experimental nature, but it went well. As the project draws to a close, I’m keen to finish it with a photo book of images from the archive I collected from my online travels.
The main reason I did the project was, to be honest about my agoraphobia. Before starting the project, I’d kept my diagnosis private, so I was very nervous about sharing this, fearing judgement or stigma. I felt if I could reach one person and they could see their story in my story, it could help them to get support.
As my account has grown, the discussion about mental health has continued to grow. I get messages from people all over the world, from Russia to Venezuela, sharing their stories. It’s been amazing and the very best part of the project.
As we all know, Instagram is a space where people often present a curated version of their lives. I actively decided to be open and honest, what motivates me is the opportunity to start a conversation about such an important issue that affects many of us.