Laia Abril – A Bad Day

Laia Abril

A Bad Day

A Bad Day‘ is a multimedia piece that approaches the struggle of bulimia and that is the first chapter of an ongoing long-term project about Eating Disorders. Jo is 21 and suffers from bulimia, a kind of eating disorder. Her obsession is not about being thin; it’s about not gaining weight, in spite of the huge amount of food that she ingests every day. Bulimia has taken all her time and money, and also her passion: dance. ‘If I was not bulimic I would be dancing like before’ Jo says. ‘But ballet is about elegance and perfection, and I’m a crap person in the middle of chaos’. She doesn’t look overweight and she hates her body and can’t see herself in leggings in front of a mirror anymore. She also thinks that her addiction is ‘disgusting’. That’s why she never told anyone ‘ not even her boyfriend ‘ about it. For some reason, she decided to open herself to me.

The project started, after a deep research, shooting for few weeks in November 2010, when I spent my days with Jo in her house in Edinburgh. I woke up with her and listened to her saying: ‘I hope this is going to be a good day’. With her I went to the supermarket and watched movies in her computer. I also saw her going through daily crisis, eating and vomiting immediately after. She confessed to me that she self-injures herself, specifically small cuts in her legs and feet. I saw her good days turning into very bad ones and I saw Jo acting in public as if everything was absolutely fine. And this is actually what this illness is all about, pretending that everything is all right while it’s not. An apparent normality that makes bulimia one of the hardest disorders to diagnose and a devastating killer of female teenagers and young adults worldwide.

The lies and misunderstandings that surround bulimia are what convinced me to further develop this project. I would like my images to catch the contradictory feelings and behaviors that these girls have to go through day after day. My approach is going to be intimate and psychological and will leave in the back the more physical manifestations of the of the disease.




Laia Abril, 25, is a documentary photographer raised in Barcelona. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and studied photography at ICP in New York City. She began working on documentary projects in the Balkans, covering the 13th Funeral of Srebrenica and the Independence of Kosova, first for a Spanish NGO and then for Spanish newspapers. In 2009 and 2010 she was a finalist on the Ian Parry Award participating at the Getty Gallery in London first with her photo project about the young lesbian community in Brooklyn and then with the project ‘The Last Cabaret’ about a porno sex-life club in Barcelona. Her work has been featured in magazines including OjodePez, The Sunday Times magazine, DRepubblica, and COLORS magazine amongst others, and has been recognized with various scholarships. After spending two years at FABRICA (the Benetton research and communication center in Italy) she is currently working as a staff photographer, blogger and Associate Picture Editor for COLORS Magazine combining her freelance career and keeping developing her personal project.

Related links

Laia Abril

A Bad Day multimedia

34 Responses to “Laia Abril – A Bad Day”

  • Without the artist’s statement, I would have had no idea what this essay was about. The photographer for some reason failed to tell the story.

  • I think the multimedia is worth having a look at:

    I think the photographer´s skills in telling stories are more accurately evident that way.

  • Then show the multimedia piece here, not a bunch of stills that don’t tell a story.

  • Jim, the decision of having here pictures and not the multimedia has been mine.. having just images and the link to the multimedia is closer to we usually do on Burn

  • I don’t see the problem with needing the text (in this case). I’m in a rush with no time to read (but time to comment?!), but I find this engaging and compelling. I feel connected enough to the story, by how much is revealed, and not revealed, that I want to know more. I can relate to it, it’s very human, no wall of “you need a degree in philosophy to decipher this.” I’ll come back to read the text later.

  • I like what Andy G. said above…
    Very very delicate subject, super hard to photograph ( I mean it needs time and devotion, can’t do this story in short time ) so yes I’m impressed and I think the photog here worked hard and pulled it!
    Remember : most subjects ( like bulimia here ) sounds “easy” to photograph ..
    Well it’s easy for a newspaper , all u need is one photo and 4 pages of text!
    But we had enough of this traditional way: one photo and then READ A WHOLE BOOK to explain it..
    Here the photog worked hard to make it look “easy”..
    GOOD JOB! Congrats! Here we are in need to see more and read less..
    Therefore the Photog here succeeded!
    Thank you! Well done! Keep it up! Stay on top of it..

  • I took the piece to mean exactly what the title said and thought it worked well enough that way with the 13th image being the only one that I felt a bit less good about than the others.

    Ballet and bread.

  • Jim is right – without the text, I would have had no idea what this was about, either – BUT – the text was there. It was part of the package. I read it and subsequently understood and was moved by the photos. Words and text together can be a good combination. If Laia could come up with one image that made this statement by itself, that could be a good thing, but the lack of such an image does not bother me. In fact, I just sat down to look at this right after I ate dinner. I am batching it, didn’t choose my food very well and now my tummy feels a little queasy. A truly effective bulimia shot might have made it hard for me not to lose my own food. I wouldn’t have wanted that.

    In words she stated the fundamental problem, in images she stated the degree of misery this problem has brought to her subject’s life. It works for me.

  • It is not my habit to view essays without first reading the statement, however I did this time as I was immediately drawn in. I still have not read the statement but eating dis-order screamed up at me. Good grief, how could you miss it. Amazing stuff.
    Great image making, great story telling.
    Congratulations Laia.

  • “That’s why she never told anyone ‘ not even her boyfriend ‘ about it. For some reason, she decided to open herself to me.”

    …………..”The project started, after a deep research, shooting for few weeks in November 2010, when I spent my days with Jo in her house in Edinburgh.”

    …….guess she’s told someone now then.( I really hope that you have changed names/dates..or have a release)

    A set of dull boring pictures about a very real very tragic, and all too common, problem does nothing to address that problems origins, or enlighten anyone about the suffering of those afflicted. And this is a set of dull pictures.
    At what point does this ‘catching of contradictory feelings and behaviours’ kick in?

    girl stands on bed
    girl and cat look in fridge
    girl looks at overexposed out of focus hand
    girl gets caught in a sudden downpour of lens-flare with her laundry bag
    girls seat is taken by badly exposed carrots
    girls room looks like….any other teenagers room
    girl sleeps, unaware she is surrounded by a vignette
    ..and so on and so on.

    Because not only can I not see it; but i dont think its there to see…I think people just want to.

  • Maybe there would have been a problem understanding the pictures without the text, but moaybe not.
    To me the many of photos the seem to have this subtle statement that something is terrible wrong. Like for instance the 14th picture; a ballet dance is not supposed to keep her feet like that. Ever.

    Dull? Perhaps, but not boring. A quiet piece of picture poetry. And that way its very nature is the opposite of what you imagine when reading the word bulimia. Well done, Laia!

  • “I don’t see the problem with needing the text (in this case).”

    The photographer appears intent (her artist’s statement) on telling a complex story with photos (as what is presented here) and video (as in the clip on her website). I don’t see that story, though. I see a set piece for her photos. It isn’t enough. In what context does she intend for the photos to be used?

    I certainly have no problem surrounding them with words. Eating disorders are a serious problem and an important story. Words are essential to tell the story. Including the words of experts in the field. But the photographer doesn’t appear to want to actually tell the story as much as to attempt a “psychology of an eating disorder” with photos.

    “My approach is going to be intimate and psychological and will leave in the back the more physical manifestations of the of the disease.”

    Photography is lousy at psychology because we all read our own psychology into photos. Psychology is invisible. We can only photograph what is visible. And without the “physical manifestations of the disease,” there is no visible story. The girl depicted is not extremely thin. The photos look more like snaps from most people’s normal days. Whatever the photographer is experiencing at the time she took the photos is not, to me, coming through in the photos.

    In fact, my first impression was that Laia was for some reason reluctant to shoot (or at least show us) the hard photos. Or perhaps that the subject refused to let her. Whatever this is, it is not now a story about bulimia. Yes, I understand it is the beginning of a project. Perhaps it was just too early in the project to release it into the wild.

  • I usually read the intro first and then look at the photographs but this time did the opposite and I picked up on the eating disorder theme almost immediately. Some of the comments remind me of how the film industry produces a new “Star” – the hot property – but you later find that the actor / actress has been learning their craft since childhood and it’s actually taken them about 20 years to become an overnight success.

    That’s what Laia is doing here: learning her craft, practicing her scales. Give her a break here!

    Congratulations Laia, keep going with this project; it is a subject of immense importance to many young people.


  • I read burn mostly via my RSS reader, so I got the comments before looking at the essay.
    After reading Jim’s first comment, I wanted to look first, before I read. Looking at the 4th picture, something told me “eating disorder” but I did not really get it. Then, after the first pass, I read the text, looked again at the pictures. For me, the use of light and how the light passes in the pictures brings it to the point.

    This essay also shows to us, that bulimia not necessary means “very thin”, if people are able to hide it from their envionment. They understand to balance the disorder somehow.

    Laia, I think this is a good essay, as it shows some areas, which I did know yet, which are not so obvious and shout “disorder” in every picture. It shows, the problem is much more subtle, scary. Now I also understand, why people say – wow, I did not know – even when they cared.

    Congratulations for being published here.

  • dis-function, chaos, depression, food obsession, feet on a scale,……the only way it could be more obvious is if she were holding a sign saying “I have an eating dis-order”

  • “dis-function, chaos, depression, food obsession, feet on a scale,…” just about describes every teenage girl in the western world more or less.

  • “just about describes every teenage girl in the western world more or less.”


  • eduardo sepulveda

    i’d do like to see how the essay goes further…also know what happens later, after being published on Burn. …i’m thinking right now maybe about images when everything seems to go fine, part of the good days… perhaps relationships, thats what i think phone calling pic 6 is telling about, or 13 on the web site…

    felicitaciones Laia! veo las otras historias en tu sitio!

  • John I totally get your point but honestly I’m with Gordon on this one..
    Just because bulimia became an epidemic does NOT mean we should put it aside ignore it and make it normal!

  • eduardo sepulveda

    Just back from laia´s site, i’d be stingy on words if i just say it worth to take the time to find out…

    Laia, I enjoyed the whole multimedia piece for sure, thanks a lot. As well as i did with the whole site, specially multimedia pieces… ‘ciao’, ‘never seen’, ‘last cabaret’, ‘colors’. Thanks! I almost fell into the temptation of wishing you the best for the continuation of ‘bad day’, but i just think only judging by the work i’ve seen that you’ll do it, that simple. Asi es que mantennos informados!

  • John’s not the one making it look normal the photographs do that. My niece and nephews (uni students) live in various mixed shared houses and I could take a series of images that mirror the above in any one of those residences. The photographer needs to create layers of meaning that correspond with the her conceptual understanding of bulimia and engage her audience. Focusing on an individual with bulimia and photographing the obvious was never going to be sufficient as a photographic essay. It is a work needs a rethink, my take is that stills are the wrong media of engagement.

  • PANOS. Re-read what I wrote, because I did not say that at all or anything remotely like it.

  • ok Imants, John ;)
    stop beating me over the head …i’ll re-read…

  • I’ll also have to fall into the camp that finds the still images do not, really, convey the issue in a very
    clear fashion.
    I will say that I like the series,visually, for the most part but without adequate background information
    the story is lost on me.

    As Imants says, perhaps, the still image is not the proper medium for illustrating the issue given the
    photographic style employed.
    The images are subtle, which can be good, but at the same time lack the big ‘hook’ that might be more
    useful in drawing viewers in.

    I found the multimedia teaser, on Laia’s site much more compelling even though it was only an excerpt
    of the full piece.

  • ok , im in the room 420 btw with a bottle of cheap napa valley wine..anyone?

  • Panos I didn’t direct the blow at your head just your groin ……..opuch. Off to David’s workshop,presenting my d’junk today

  • Jamie Maxtone-Graham

    Image number 7 starts getting somewhere with me.

    Hopefully Liai has or will immerse herself in some of the fine work of Lauren Greenfield and her observations on girl culture and in particular “Thin” which explores some of these self same issues.

    It would be good to be taken further into the subject, more deeply and more uniquely but as she indicates this is a beginning of something more long term. I’ll take it as that then.

  • Ok, new to this site but a long time lurker.

    I don’t know but I am getting tired of pictures that look like they were taken with a camera phone but which were more than likely taken with a Leica M9..

    I have to say I am not seeing the depth here that others do. I have to say they feel like they were shot in one day, not over a month. What’s with the black plastic bag? Girl in messy room. That was my student days completely. Without the context of the words, that’s all these are. Standard M9 lo-fi stuff.

    This isn’t to belittle the horrors of eating disorders – my wife nearly died from anorexia when she was in her 20s – but I do not think this is the piece to say anything interesting about eating disorders

  • “A quiet piece of picture poetry.”

    Yes, it is. I finally read the text. Honestly, the first time through, I didn’t pick up on the eating disorder, but it’s very obvious the second time through.

    That’s the nature of the disorder, and the cutting, too. It’s hidden in plain sight.

    What if the photographer showed cuts in her legs, or her body hunched over a toilet? It would change her essay into someone else’s “realistic” story.

    I knew a girl in college who was beautiful, physically fit, bright eyed and attentive…there were just hints of a problem that you could easily miss: the way she seemed to negate herself, her staying with a boyfriend who treated her badly, being just a little too thin at the wrists. When she smiled you would think it would all go away, she would cast it aside, but it was a part of her she couldn’t shake. This reminds me of her.

    I’d like to know what someone struggling with bulimia thinks of this.

  • “I’d like to know what someone struggling with bulimia thinks of this”

    Doesn’t matter. The essay is so three days ago. Next.

  • I’d like to know what someone with bulimia thinks of this too.

    We have 15 photographs here so obviously we aren’t going to have, or should expect, the last word on the subject. As photographers we should know just how difficult documentary work is: we have to get ourselves access, gain the trust of our subjects, allow them tim and even more time so that they eventually just forget about us and the camera and then hope to get that one killer shot: the one that transcends all of our previous attempts the one that says it all in one frame. It is so hard and requires patience and perseverance and so reading people here dismissing Laia’s work when they should be supporting her and encouraging her is just so ….

    25 years old and documenting an important subject such as bulimia is no mean feat. The subject is almost abstract in that the problem lies in the mind of the sufferer: how do you photograph that? The illness sits under a facade of normality: how do you get past the facade. Not easy, takes time, lots of commitment, deserves support. Congratulations on being published Laia.


  • “We have 15 photographs here so obviously we aren’t going to have, or should expect, the last word on the subject.”

    Exactly. Better late than never to say it.

  • I think it’s pretty clear, the food is almost ever present. If one really takes the time to look closely at the images it will appear loud as an explosion, especially with the image of her standing on a balance. She lives a life of secret, her eating disorder is not as clear as anorexia or other more evident disorder. This sickness as a lot of variety, and not all of them are easy to see. I think Laia really did well of telling a story of a girl suffering from bulimia. There’s a lot of mystery and secret in the pictures, you don’t really know what going on and then after only a few it hits you.

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