A photographer's love letter to the chronic illness community

"The Breath" is part of Patricia Fortlage’s photo series "Lemonade"
"The Breath" is part of Patricia Fortlage’s photo series "Lemonade" (Image credit: Patricia Fortlage)

There is a strange duality that comes with being chronically ill or disabled, especially for women. Our culture has strong ideas on how we should look, how we should behave, what we should do about our health… even whether we should exist at all. Our agency has been taken from us. We mustn’t look too sick so that it makes people feel uncomfortable in our presence, yet we also cannot look too ‘together’, as though we are faking our illnesses so we can benefit from some sort of perceived societal advantage. This photo is an example of this fine balancing act, one that leaves individuals feeling marginalised and powerless. 

As someone with a life-threatening illness myself, muscular dystrophy (Myasthenia Gravis), I have experienced first-hand how it throws you into the deep end of this duality. For the most part, I feel discarded. It feels as though my accomplishments no longer matter. It is as though I never existed and that any education or knowledge and lived experience has disappeared… but my achievements do matter. 

Patricia Fortlage headshot
Patricia Fortlage

California-based Patricia Fortlage is an award-winning photographic storyteller. Her goal is to create work that inspires change, especially for women and girls. For the past 17 years, she has partnered with programs in the USA and the developing world to improve the lives of women.


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Kim Bunermann
Technique Editor

Kim is the Technique Editor of Digital Photographer Magazine. She specializes in architecture, still life and product photography and has a Master's degree in Photography and Media with a distinction from the FH Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences in Germany. While studying, Kim came to the UK for an exchange term at the London College of Communication. She settled in the UK and began her career path by joining Future. Kim focuses on tutorials and creative techniques, and particularly enjoys interviewing inspiring photographers who concentrate on a range of fascinating subjects including women in photography, the climate crisis; the planet, its precious creatures and the environment.