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Sealed off from the world
Saturday 9 February 2013
Sealed off from the world: Inside the lives of people who believe they are so allergic to modern society they must wear gas masks and cover their homes in foil and plastic
A new photography collection documents the fascinating world of the hyper-allergic, those who wear gas masks, gloves, chemical suits and even seal their homes in foil because they suffer violent reactions to common chemicals such as perfume and car exhausts.
Photographer Thilde Jensen was inspired to document the lives of these hyper-sensitive individuals from across America after suffering the condition known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) or Environmental Illness (EI) herself, Slate reports.
The condition is controversial and not recognized as a purely allergic reaction by the American Medical Association. They believe the symptoms may be psychologically caused by the sufferer.
The dispute makes many who are taking such drastic steps to deal with their affliction feel even more isolated and cut off as a result.
The moving and eerie photographs that capture that exclusion are posted on Jensen's website and she hopes to write a book on the subject later this year.
Particularly moving are the young sufferers such as Anna, who wears gloves and a mask to fill her car in Syracuse, and Jessica, who wears a patterned mask to high school, as her bemused classmates look on.
It documents those who have taken even more drastic action such as Randy, who says he is forced to live in his car, and Marie who sits in her 'safe bedroom' plastered with foil.
It also includes those with specific afflictions such as a man in Dolan Springs, who says he can't use a phone directly because of radiation, or Jen, who says she suffers violent reactions when exposed to perfume.
Sufferers say they have to take these extreme measures or they face physical pain when encountering chemicals so common in everyday life.
Jensen herself wears a respirator in public and says she was forced to leave New York City because of her condition.
'You do feel like an outcast,' she told Slate. 'But then you realize you are not alone, and there is a wide network of people like you, stuck in what seems like a futuristic nightmare: a parallel dimension of pain and isolation, hard to truly comprehend unless you have been there.'
For her collection entitled The Canaries, named because of the chemical exposure of canaries in coal mines, she met various people with different levels and types of intolerance.
She says they are 'a warning of what is to come' as she believes more people will suffer chemical intolerance in the future.
She rebuts any suggestion the reaction is purely psychologically created.
'It is not mental but very physical, painful, and at times life-threatening,' she says.
'I am getting an overwhelmingly positive response from people suffering from EI who feel empowered that our story finally is getting attention and from people on the outside who get a glimpse into a world strangely surreal, scary, and beautiful. I think people can relate to the story and the pictures because it is personal and yet reflects on our common future.'
On her website she adds: 'It is a story that carries an alarming message about the human cost of progress.
'Since World War II the production and use of synthetic petroleum derived chemicals has exploded. We live in a world today where man-made chemicals are part of every breath we take and where electromagnetic emissions are beaming at us from every corner.'
The above, with comments and more photos, originally appeared here.
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