Strength in Disorder by Olivia Johnston

My name is Olivia Johnston, I am a photography student here in Ottawa, and I go to a school called the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa. The second year of the program is a portfolio development year; we are encouraged to pursue a photographic project that interests us, and in the process, create a portfolio of images.

When I was quite young, a woman very close to me suffered from an eating disorder. My understanding was limited at the time, and as a result, I grew up wondering about these diseases. In September of 2010, I decided I wanted to use my portfolio development year to go deeper into this issue and create a project that addressed the incredibly harmful effects of eating disorders, without glamorizing or romanticizing the issue, as it often is in the media.

I came to Hopewell with my idea, and they supported me immediately and along every step of its creation. Hopewell is an extraordinary organization; in so many stories I heard, these women would not have recovered had they not had an incredible support system, and Hopewell has provided and continues to provide that to those who need it most. Without Hopewell, my project would not be what it is; truly, the project belongs to Hopewell and those who participated.

This project explores the juxtaposition between true beauty – that is, inner strength, intelligence, vitality and confidence – and indescribable suffering. A huge component of the project is an audio track, comprised of interviews conducted with each woman; this audio track is not meant to reflect the individual, but instead, the experience of suffering from an eating disorder. These images, accompanied by the audio, are a complete portrait of the strength of the human in the face of incredible mental and emotional distress.

Olivia’s photography can be viewed at, and her project Strength in Disorder can be seen and listened to specifically here: