Before I pose any questions to photographer Fritz Liedtke, I want you to read his remarkably candid, challenging “artist’s statement” about his latest photography exhibit: Skeleton in the Closet.

Liedtke’s art was on display in Portland, Oregon last month, but the project is still growing and is sure to resurface with startling new images. In fact, you can peruse the photographs right now on his website, or on the site specifically devoted to this exhibit.

But first, Liedtke’s statement. Then, I’ll pose him some questions about his provocative work.

Skeleton in the Closet
Ordinary People, Disordered Eating
Photographs by Fritz Liedtke

“I’ve seen thinner.”

The woman looking at these photographs paused, closed the book. “It’s true,” I replied. “Some of these men and women are healthy now. Some are very sick, and yet look healthy. Some, even with anorexia and bulimia, can be quite heavy. And some people who look quite normal—people you know, even—have an eating disorder in their history.”

I’ve seen thinner. We all have: the emaciated frames, the walking skeletons, the naked bones, the withering models. We’ve all seen these shocking, grotesque images, and there are enough of them in the world. The men and women in this series have looked this way before; some still do. Beneath the layers of clothing and confusion is skin stretched over bones, which they are loathe to reveal. They have, as it were, a skeleton in the closet.

These photographs are about normal people, people like me. I attended college right out of high school. During that first winter away from home, I began to find myself depressed, lonely, and in poor physical condition. This went on for some time until, finally, at the college nurse’s suggestion, I went to talk with someone in the counseling center. The gentleman there was gracious, asked good questions, and listened well. Over the course of the next few months, we were able to unravel the tangle of my thinking, and along the way discovered that, among other things, I was anorexic.

That word hit hard. I had never really thought about anorexia, and certainly never thought of myself as someone susceptible to it. I had assumed such eating disorders as anorexia and bulimia were for women who didn’t like their appearance. With some research, however, I discovered that anorexia is more about issues of control, which did apply to me. I was a quiet, intelligent achiever, and I didn’t want anything to get in my way—least of all food and thoughts of food.

This body of work is about normal people, who sit down with me over coffee, and pour out their secrets: abuse, neglect, insecurity, cruel and thoughtless words, terrible things they’ve done to their bodies and families, the results, the healing process, the enduring ache within. They tell me—a complete stranger—things they have told no one else. I am their confessor, their confidant, their priest.

“I’ve seen thinner” isn’t just a phrase uttered by those who view this work; it is the mantra of those who suffer from eating disorders. It is their constant obsession, the drive behind their heroically intense efforts to control their lives and minds and bodies. They’ve seen thinner models, actresses, parents, friends; they’ve seen themselves thinner when they were younger; they’ve seen thinner clothes; they want to fit in. They want it so bad, some are willing to die for it. Even the briefest perusal of pro-anorexia literature reveals how driven and competitive and disciplined and anxious these sufferers are. Their walls are plastered with glossy prints of thin models, their floors littered with magazines, diet books, exercise equipment, and scales. They’ve seen thinner, and it is their promised land, just a few more pounds away.

In a society saturated with shallow, narrow definitions of beauty, anorexia is an increasingly prevalent trend. Movie stars, magazine ads, Atkins diets, internet pornography, fashion models, MTV… the pressure to look thin and attractive is an oppressive force that is increasingly difficult to resist. Everyone wants to be an American Idol. And obsession with appearance is not the only motivation for restrictive eating. Dancers, gymnasts, wrestlers, and other athletes find themselves in unhealthy eating patterns in order to stay competitive.

Conservative estimates suggest that three out of every one hundred Americans have eating disorders. Approximately 8 million women and girls and 1 million men and boys suffer with anorexia in the United States alone. While anorexia affects females from 6-76, it is primarily confined to the domain of adolescents. One percent of female adolescents in America—one in one hundred—struggle with it.

Bulimia affects another 1% of American women. Four percent of all college age women struggle with this disorder; 30% of all American women dieters practice binge eating.

These disorders are a silent epidemic; they are rarely discussed, fraught with shame, and often go undetected in those who suffer with them. Of those who do not seek treatment, twenty percent may die.

In the end, however, anorexia and bulimia are not about numbers, percentages, and statistics. They are about individual people, each one with a name and a face and a home, struggling for control over their bodies and minds and lives. Their stories include, of course, their families and friends, their counselors and classmates, their spouses and children. These are the stories I want to tell. With respect and compassion, I want to tell the truth.

Fritz Liedtke
This series is still in process.
If you would like more information, or would be willing to participate, please contact Fritz at, or (503) 267-5078.
Funded in part by a grant from RACC.

(Click on these images to enlarge.)



What drew you to this subject?


When I was a senior in high school and a freshman in college, I dealt a little bit with anorexia myself. I didn’t know it at the time; I didn’t really know anything about eating disorders at the time, and didn’t think I had one. But with some counseling in college, I discovered that I did, and was able to resolve some things in my life that helped me let go of the need to control my food intake. As is often the case, it had nothing to do with appearance, but more to do with control over my thinking and eating.

So, fifteen years later, I was between art projects, in need of some direction. This idea kept nagging at me. So I decided to give it a go. To pursue a project for a few years, you know you have to be passionate about it to do so, and this struck me as something I could sink my teeth into.


There must have been some discomforting moments and challenging conversations along the way during this project. What was the most difficult part of this work? And what surprised you along the way?


One of the surprising things about people struggling with eating disorders is that, often times, they believe so thoroughly in what they are telling themselves (that I’m fat, ugly, unworthy of love, need drugs to keep going), that nothing you can say will help them. They won’t hear you. I’ve sat face to face with these beautiful people who were headed for death, and could do little more than listen. Of course, my role as an artist and photojournalist was to listen and tell their story, not be their counselor. But the depth to which we are able, as humans, to deceive ourselves, is quite surprising sometimes.

Another thing I found interesting in the interview process was how much people would share with me. I would sit there and ask questions and listen, and people would start telling me things that they hadn’t told anyone else, not even their spouses. I felt like a priest in a confessional. Obviously, they wanted to get things off their chest (with some encouragement from me), and I was honored to be able to listen.


Did the process have any particular effect on any of the models involved? Did they learn anything from the process?


I went into this project to tell stories, not to help people. It wasn’t a social service project or outreach in any way. It was just a project I wanted to pursue, photographs I wanted to make. But good things have happened along the way as a result. A number of people have sought treatment as a result of our work together. To others I’ve been able to give an encouraging word. Recently I’ve begun keeping a list of quotes from people who have written me regarding their involvement in the project.

Here are a few:

“I appreciate how you helped me face the reality of my assault and how I was handling it. Working with you was a real turning point for me and I will never forget you because of that.”

“I got your wonderful photo and story today! Thank you so much for putting my story, my experience, into a photo and words so eloquently. I cannot thank you enough!”

“Thank you so much for including me in this. I really was surprised at how much I connected with you even at our first meeting. You provided a release for me that I may not have otherwise found. I truly feel like working with you allowed me to let go of my eating disorder in a way that I can celebrate forever. Thank you.”


These pictures are bound to unsettle people who look at them. Have you had any memorable responses to the work?


Tears are usually the best response to my work, and I am honored by them.


Is this project part of a larger, personal “mission”?


I do enjoy telling other people’s stories, and creating memorable images. But is this series part of a mission of some sort? Not really. I’m not going to be the Eating Disorder Poster Boy (although I’d be happy to photograph the person that does want to be…). I like creating work that surprises and pleases me, and hopefully does the same for others; that’s what I pursue as an artist. The other stuff — helping people — is gravy. And grace.


Are you finished with this particular inquiry? Or is this the beginning of something larger?


At the moment, I am still photographing for this particular series. There are still some gaps I’d like to fill in the work before I will consider it finished. It’s also a series that’s perfectly suited for a book.


For those who can’t make it to Portland, are there other ways they can look at your work?


I have the series on my fine art website:


Is there anything you’d ask of your audience before they approach these images? Anything you’d want to give them by way of caution or information?


I hope they’ll look at this work as a story. When interviewing and reading for this project, I began to see similar patterns in everyone’s stories; there are 6 or 8 things that tend to crop up regularly. And everyone has an interesting story, of which I could only illustrate a small part. So this series is really a bunch of small chapters that tell a larger story of what it is to battle with (or give in to, or have victory over) an all-consuming foe, an eating disorder. With that description, it sounds like an epic novel. And in truth, if you consider these people’s lives, they often are dealing with an epic, life-and-death, often life-long struggle.


Was this work inspired by, or influenced by, other artists?


There are many photographers that have combined photographs with text to tell people’s stories, so that’s nothing new. But no, I would have to say that there were not any particular influences that I am drawing from directly for this work. I spent a lot of time coming up with a look and feel appropriate for this series, something I hadn’t seen before.