Rosemary Warren

Rosemary Warren is a photographer and writer, light enthusiast and documentarian of the personal from the small town of Rough and Ready, California. She received her B.A. in photography and literature from Bard College in 2014. Her images seek to ask questions of the communities that she is a part of – her family, California, the mental health system in the U.S., the feminine self. Her current project, Belladonna, is an ongoing investigation, documentation and devotion to her brother and mother, following their relationship in the years after her brother’s first psychotic episode. She is a founding member of the Dial books, a small press collective. Rosemary Warren lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.


May 2013, I remember in two phone calls. The first, walking down the gravel path from my college’s photography building: “I believe in god now,” my younger brother Tim says, ecstatic, when he is finally put on the phone. (Tim, who once yelled from the back seat “Stop saying bless you when I sneeze! I don’t believe in god!”) He dropped to his knees on the sidewalk to pray, my Dad tells me. They are at the hospital, or on their way to the hospital. Tim took a large dose of a designer drug, Methoxetamine, MXE, and is now raw, open, cannot find his way home.

The second phone call, a few days later I am pacing in the sun outside my friend’s house in Red Hook, New York. Tim calls from the psychiatric hospital in Fremont, California. He asks me to sing with him, for him, a Coldplay song we have mocked for years: “Light will guide you home / and ignite your bones / and I will try to fix you.”

Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Gabapentin, Saphris, Zyprexa, Risperdal, Seroquel, Abilify, Lithium, Lamictal, Zoloft, Lexapro, Cogentin, Wellbutrin.

LSD, meth, mushrooms, ecstasy, 25i, ketamine, heroin, cocaine, marijuana.

I was in the emergency room a year later when a doctor told Tim that he believed all of his psychosis to be drug-induced. If he stopped taking drugs, he might not have a mental health diagnosis at all. This conversation was four years ago. Tim has been through four hospitalizations – two of the four have been clearly drug-induced. What to make of all of this?

I make photographs of my mom and Tim together and separately, navigating their way through the present and into the future. What will become of the child for whom our expectations of progress and success do not fit? And what will become of the Mother who must continue to hold her child, actively, indefinitely? I make photographs in an attempt to make sense of these uncertain meanderings through time, to investigate the narrative here in cycles of building and collapse. I make photographs to honor the love and care between my mom and brother. I also make photographs so that I will have a job to do too. As Tim reminds me while I’m filming him “you weren’t even really there.” I want to be there, I want to be needed, but really I need them: to remind me why I want to tell stories, to tell stories with me.

When Tim and I were kids, Mom would give us Belladonna for fevers – the kind of high fevers that we don’t seem to get now that we are mostly grown. We were instructed to hold the sugary homeopathic orbs under our tongues until they dissolved, poured into our mouths from the cap of the pale blue tube.

While researching this memory, I find that belladonna, this beautiful word floating around the periphery of these recollections of comfort, is a poison in its plant form. Also called deadly nightshade, “symptoms of belladonna poisoning include dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, tachycardia,” etc. “Confusion, hallucinations, delirium, convulsions.”

“Come in out of the darkness” Stevie Nicks sings, “my Bella Donna / come in out of the darkness.”

To view more of Rosemary Warren’s work please visit her website.