Joanna's Story

Raised by an art professor father and seamstress mother, creativity flows through Joanna Wharton’s veins. Although the family didn’t have much money, they certainly had taste. Their stylish house was colour-coordinated, with beautiful art on the walls and an unparalleled flair for design. Joanna credits her surroundings with shaping her lifelong interest in composition and encouraging her to pursue photography.

“I’ve been captivated by vintage cameras since I was young; I thought they were the most beautiful things, and my heart was drawn to them. I started my collection with an 1898 Kodak Red Bellows; a beauty which I still have today. When I was 14, my dad gave me his Pentax SLR and that’s when I discovered that the camera and I had a certain synergy.”

“Every time I looked through the viewfinder, this sense of quiet would envelope me; I could edit out the noisy world around me. Photography is a mindful, calming exercise in patience for me. I observe the light and composition, waiting for the right moment to capture the photo. You can’t rush it.”

Photography is much more than a pastime for Joanna – it’s been an integral tool in managing her lifelong neurological, physical and mental health challenges.

“From a young age, I was very aware that I was different to everyone else. I did my best to manage chronic fatigue, chronic pain, ADHD and synesthesia, but it was tiring to live day-to-day with these struggles and a brain that was in chaos. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be different, in fact I take a lot of joy in it, but it’s fair to say the mainstream world is not sympathetic to those experiences.”

Raising two toddlers with additional needs on her own brought its own difficulties, yet Joanna tackled every day head on – armed with her double-stroller, notebook, SLR camera and a sense of humour.

“It was a lot of fun raising my sons but there was also a lot of complexity to contend with. To find the peace to hold it all together was quite something. I am proud that my sons grew up appreciating that I was a creative and I was able to use that creativity as a conduit for our lives, encouraging creativity to flourish within them too.” 

"Hope" by Joanna Wharton on display at the 2023 Recovered Futures Art Exhibition.

Sadly, despite her ability to maintain faith and strength in trying circumstances, Joanna’s body and mind eventually said, ‘no more’.

“I had a neurological breakdown. To say life turned tragically onerous and unjust is an understatement, and what followed was an unbelievably horrific five-year period. My entire system shut down - I couldn’t read, I barely spoke, I couldn’t scramble an egg, my vocabulary was completely gone. It was very traumatic as the ability to express myself creatively is such a key part of my identity.”

Plagued by sleep paralysis at night and panic attacks by day, Joanna existed in a deep pit of despair.

“For someone who can generally find the light in everything, there was only darkness. I took healing into my own hands, demanding a season of ‘time out’ which involved opening an immersive arts space for people of all ages. It brought together my gifts of networking, compassion, community, and passion for the arts. For me, it helped pierce through trauma to find my heartbeat and breath again.”

It was around this time, a determined matchmaker friend introduced Joanna to the man who would become her future husband- and fellow Recovered Futures exhibitor! These days, the pair love pursuing their shared passion for photography together, regularly heading into the great outdoors and their local community to capture pops of everyday beauty.

“I am obsessed with finding the whimsy: cracks in pavement, coffee froth, shadows, clouds, dappled light as it encroaches into our surroundings. Photography is my voice, it’s my eye, it’s my heart, it’s my way of making sense of the world around me and translating that experience.”

“Recovering from trauma is a patient process, much like waiting for a roll of film to be developed. It’s one day at a time; it’s small wins becoming enormous milestones. Life is richer for what I’ve been though.”