Visible: the Annual Athens Photo Project Opens Friday< < Back to
“I guess I’m one of those cheesy people who really believes that art has the power to change the direction of someone’s life, like it changed mine.”
These are the words of Kimberly Crum, an instructor with the Athens Photo Project (APP), an organization that has been integrating art into the mental health recovery process in the Athens County region since it was started by Elise Sanford in 2001.
“Many times, folks dealing with mental illness may feel isolated; and between grappling with a diagnosis and the symptoms of their illness, they can lose a part of their identity,” said Nate Thompson, executive director of APP. “Learning photography can really serve as a way to rebuild a sense of identity and a sense of self worth.”
Friday, May 20 marks the opening reception for APP’s most recent exhibition, entitled Visible. The exhibition features work by the artists who took part in the organization’s 2015-2016 session classes. The juror for the show is Dennis Savage, a Hocking Hills-based photographer. The opening reception, which will also serve as an open house for the organization’s relatively newly-acquired location at 434 W. Union Street in Athens, kicks off at 5 p.m.
Over the course of 30 weeks, those referred to the program by local mental health treatment professionals engage in classes that teach them how to create. Oftentimes after completing one round of classes, the artists find themselves so engaged in the process that they wish to develop their skills further, like Jo Caya, who has been attending APP sessions for three years.
“APP in general has been the most helpful in helping me deal with my mental illness,” said Caya. “It’s allowed me to become more social, to use my creativity in a positive way. And these people (other artists in the program), they are my friends, my buds. And I intend to stay involved in the program until the day I die!”
Tom Foster, another student within the program, echoed Caya’s sentiments.
“(APP) has helped me change my depression,” said Foster. “It’s given me the opportunity to meet other people, to make friends. I enjoy meeting new people, and it helps me get out of my head. (Photography) really helps me feel at peace.”
Thompson explained that APP hasn’t had to advertise their classes in years, maintaining a lengthy waiting list for their services.
“Local mental health organizations refer people to us, like at Hopewell Health Centers, the counselors and case managers there know first hand the benefits that art can provide in someone’s recovery,” said Thompson. “Really, when you think about it, attending that first class is huge for the people who are dealing with a mental illness and with the stigma that comes along with that diagnosis. They’re coming into this situation where they are going to be learning about making art — and sometimes they have no prior experience. But they keep coming back.”
Josh Birnbaum, another instructor for APP, led a group of students in crafting what will become a public art work later this year at the Athens City Parking Garage. Images that will be used in the installation will be on display during the Visible exhibition.
“The Athens City Parking Garage was the perfect location because it is used by everyone, it’s the symbolic location where everyone comes together to enjoy Athens,” said Birnbaum. The project will be about 150 feet wide and 13 feet high at it’s highest point, and consist of 26 large photographic prints. “We’ve had great support from the City of Athens, and especially from Mayor Steve Patterson. He’s been very enthusiastic and supportive the entire time. The project kind of represents Athens as what it is: a place that supports non-traditional ventures, like APP. That’s what makes Athens such a wholesome place to live.”
The project kind of represents Athens as what it is: a place that supports non-traditional artistic ventures, like APP. That’s what makes Athens such a wholesome place to live. – APP instructor Josh Birnbaum
Birmbaum said that the artwork on the parking garage should be up and completed by this winter.
“Taking pictures has really helped me change my view of myself. The pictures are like a reflection, and I can kind of take what I see in that reflection and learn from it,” said Gary Cartwright, another APP artist. “I take a lot of self portraits, and in one of them I saw myself just looking out the window. And I thought to myself, ‘well, that’s about the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.’ Taking pictures helps me see why I do the things that I do.”