Finding My Voice Through Art: Storytelling
Last week I explained how art helped me find my voice through self expression. Photography has given me an outlet for the thoughts and emotions that I occasionally struggle with, especially when I can't find the right words to explain what it going on in my head. That was the first step in helping me find a way to expressing myself and finding my voice. In March 2013, I had the opportunity to submit so of my work to a local gallery show. The theme of the show was "Abandoned" and I wanted to create a photo that told a story and set up my first photo shoot with the help of some local actors and makeup artist. I wanted to showcase the people society has a tendency to overlook and often are felt feeling abandoned:
I was able to submit up to two photos to the show and I was excited to when both of the the images I submitted were accepted to the show. It was then that I realized that I could use my camera to tell stories. It was a way to move beyond simple self expression and be able to share my experiences with others. Whether it was through a stand alone photo or a series of photos laid out in a specific order, I had found a way to share parts of my personal story through images instead of having to find the right words. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words but the truth is a picture can express things beyond words.
One of the greatest things about photography is that it allows you to capture a moment in time and preserve it. A few years ago while I was working on the "Self Expression" project and was able to capture the special relationship I have with Max. I had the camera set up on the tripod and was using the self-timer to capture self portraits and he came over because he could tell I was upset. It was a completely spontaneous moment and one of the best photos I've taken. It tells our story more perfectly than words ever could. The one next to it was taken on the same day and while it was a candid photo it was one that was created with a specific purpose, to show the bond we have. It was created to tell our story and compliment the one I had no idea was captured at the same time:
After I completed the Abandoned photo shoot I started to realize that there were other stories I wanted to tell through photography, because at the time I didn't feel comfortable enough with telling people. I wanted to share my experience with suicide in an attempt to bring awareness to the subject and help people understand from a different perspective. It took a couple years for me to finally put all the pieces together but in August 2015 I arranged my second formal photo shoot and created my first true photo essay with the help of some amazing local actors who were willing to work for a trade of services. We spent several hours shooting at Allatoona Pass in Acworth, Ga where I was able to create 70 amazing images, so of which tell their own story:
The hard part was going through all of the images from the shoot and choosing the right ones to tell the story I wanted to tell. Originally I didn't have a title for the project, I simply referred to it as S.P.A. (Suicide Prevention & Awareness), but once I had all of the images in place I knew what to call it and that is how "Breaking Point" came to life. It is a series of 26 images broken into two sets of 13, which was a very intention choice. There is a common superstition around the number 13 being "unlucky" or something to be afraid much the same way many people fear mental illness. I want to change how people think about suicide and help to fight the stigma associated with mental illness.
I also wanted to share part of my story and help people understand that there are times people might be reaching out for help but don't know how. And that it doesn't matter whether it's the first time or the millionth time, people should take it seriously. The night before my last attempt (and the one that came closest to completion) I did reach out for help but was turned away. I was lucky. I survived. Something I'm thankful for but I still struggle with at times, which was why I created
Someone had noticed
Reached out a helping hand
Showed you another path
What if someone had just been there?
Through art I have been able to find a voice. First through self expression and using it as a way to share the thoughts and feelings in a productive and effective manner. From there I learned how to tell stories and share part of my own recovery journey with others while I was developing the confidence to speak up. Even now that I've become more comfortable with public speaking (ironically I'm actually more comfortable speaking to a large group than attempting to make small talk with individuals) I still find that photography allows to share stories with greater impact. In the wise words of Maya Angelou, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." Thankfully art, and photography in particular, as provided me with an avenue to tell those stories. And in time I hope it will also help create more public opportunities where I can educate people about living in recovery, advocate for those who are still searching for their voices and working toward irradiating the stigma associated with mental illness and suicide.