John Darwell: A Black Dog Came Calling


John Darwell (1955) is a British photographer specialising in long term projects on social and industrial change, the environment and the depiction of mental health issues. His PhD dissertation was titled ‘A Black Dog Came Calling: A Visualisation of Depression through Contemporary Photography’.

Commonly associated with Winston Churchill (hence the above logo), the term ‘black dog’ is a common metaphor for depression.


I share Darwell’s interest in the visual depiction of mental health and psychological issues. In order to better understand the Black Dog series, I have undertaken a brief deconstruction of the images. The 29 images downloaded from Dowell’s website represent ‘An allegorical, first hand, journey through the experience of depression.’ (Dowell, 2003). I am fortunate enough not to have not suffered from depression so these are just my inexperienced thoughts.

The window is a metaphor for separation. Feelings of isolation.

Raindrops are a metaphor for increasing isolation. This view from the other side of the house signifies being trapped.

Direct comparison with the first image. Isolation increasing.

Feelings of being on a journey to a dark place. Hopelessness. I can’t seem to stop myself.

Losing personal control. Facing a dark place. Can’t see the future.

The bed is a metaphor for safety, warmth and security. But it’s empty…


Is this a loss of control? An emptiness inside.

I’m going mad. Feeling suicidal.

Mentally broken.

Perhaps this is the beginning of treatment. A glimpse at what the future holds

Treatment has begun. But life is in tatters. There’s no future.

So many medics to deal with. So many new people. Very confusing.

I’ve lost myself in amongst the strange confusing things happening to me.

Everything that used to be has gone. There’s no normality.

Everything that used to be has gone. There’s no normality.

Everything is happening around me.

I’m broken. Worthless. It’s been a long. My lowest point.

The drugs have made me feel empty.

I’m struggling forward. I’m scared.

I feel like I’m getting better but the bouts keep reoccurring.

The path forward is slightly brighter. I can see the future now but it’s frightening.

The naked body signifies rebirth. The chair signifies I don’t need support. The body leaving the frame right signifies leaving (the depression)

The bed is empty. I’m leaving this place (depression)

Red is danger, fear. The scratches signify clawing out of this place.

The is a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m getting better.

Light signifies hope

Gone are the medics. I’m free of this.

The clouds are clearing. I’m getting better

Blue sky. Hooray.


While I’m sure my naive analysis of Darwell’s images is inadequate, it is a highly effective allegorical journey through the experience of depression. They do create the opportunity to consider and discuss unspoken subjects visually. To my thinking, they do so more effectively than words.

My attempt to allegorically describe the emotion of anxiety is set out below. These were completed as part of my work for Assignment 2.


Dowell, J. (2003). A Black Dog Came Calling. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Dec. 2019].

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