Nate Thomson: Executive Director

20140228nate_thomson_small-2Nate Thomson leads the Athens Photographic Project (APP), a non-profit program based in Athens, Ohio that responds to the needs of community members living with mental illness by providing a supportive opportunity for self-discovery, creative

expression and community contribution through the arts. Nate volunteered with the APP in 2002 and rejoined the APP as Director in 2007. Since joining the APP, Nate has helped expand program capacity from 10 to 40 adults per week; created a teen program; and began the Elise Sanford Gallery – A member-run gallery located within the community mall in Athens. He is currently focused on developing an APP technical assistance program to help other communities create Arts in Mental Health programs of their own. Nate studied Fine Art Photography at Otterbein College and earned a B.S. in Photojournalism from the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University.  In addition to his work with the Project, Nate serves on the Board of Directors for VSA Arts of Ohio.

Nate teaches photography as a contemplative art by emphasizing the parallels between creativity and wellness.  He believes that both processes – the creative process and the process of maintaining a rich, and healthy life – are on-going, require care, and not only challenge individuals, but also reward them with meaningful insights that are valuable to themselves and to their communities.


Josh Birnbaum: Instructor

Josh Burnbaum

Josh Birnbaum (b. 1985, Los Angeles, Calif.) is a photographer and educator currently living on the southeastern edge of Ohio. He is a visiting professional at Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication, teaching photography, picture editing, digital imaging, and multimedia storytelling courses.









Kim Crum: InstructorKim Crum

In 2011 during her last year of graduate school at Ohio University Kimberley Crum volunteered as a teaching assistant working with the Athens Photographic project. Since then she has worked as a classroom instructor for APP’s teens program in Chillicothe Ohio.  Currently Kimberley is a classroom instructor for APP’s Introduction to Photography class.  “I believe that personal interaction between student and teacher is imperative for a healthy classroom environment; but I also understand how much personal growth can come from working in a collaborative classroom”, says Kimberley, “and I strive to help create a learning environment that is open to experimentation and collaboration.”.






Jay Maffay: Clinical Supervisor

Jay_HeadshotAs a person who has long been fascinated by different cultures and their unique, creative legacies, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend more than ten years of my adult life living and travelling in more than seventy countries. I have been able to learn to speak two foreign languages (Spanish and Chinese). My work as a psychotherapist is very much informed by these experiences. For example, for my doctoral dissertation, I used Dr. Ludwig Binswanger’s (founder of Existential Psychology) theoretical construct to analyze the public mural arts projects of the great Mexican artist Diego Rivera. I was fascinated by Rivera’s lifelong project to help the Mexican people overcome the psychological trauma of suffering conquest and colonization. His art, extolling the greatness and grandeur of pre-Columbian Mexican civilization, has played a seminal role in forming modern Mexico’s national identity. With Existential Psychology in mind, as a therapist who practices from that perspective, the focus is on the here and now. An Existentialist believes that whatever has happened in the past manifests itself in present thoughts, feelings, and actions. Four key relationships are the focus of this approach. First is one’s relationship with the natural world. The client is encouraged to become more in touch and in tune with nature. Second is one’s relationship with the social milieu. In other words one’s relationship with family, friends, and community, one’s “tribe” so to speak. Third is relationship to self or self-awareness. In this context helping client’s find their muse is important. For what else does one create with but the energy and emotions coursing through one’s deepest self? The final key relationship that an existentialist encourages is one’s relationship to a higher power, in other words, one’s spiritual beliefs. As an existential therapist I find that when these four key relationships are rich and healthy, my clients are usually emotionally well adjusted and living a life full of meaning and purpose.


Jo Caya

20141210_20141211_Pond_368-EditMost of my life, I have made things: folk art, furniture, dolls, and now, fine art photography. The need to create, plan a project, and achieve my vision is vital to me. I can’t imagine my life without making art. Earlier in my life, I was given the gift of a formal art education. I began to see things in a completely new way: the beauty of a line, the brilliance of a color, the essence of a subject as captured by a camera. Each day, I get new ideas, keeping me excited and motivated. I feel like a kid inside.

APP has changed my life in so many ways, that it’s hard to know where to begin. Each week, I have a nurturing environment where I can share my artwork. I have made great friendships with fellow artists, who are supportive and encouraging. I am inspired by my APP classmates every week, as well as by artists Tom Balys, Ken Johnson, Frida Khalo, and Salvador Dali.

I was born in Helsinki, Finland, and grew up in Columbia Park, Maryland. I moved to southeast Ohio in 1994, and have enjoyed the peace and beauty of the area ever since. I studied photography at Ohio University, where I graduated in 2012 with my B.S.S. degree in the arts. My experience at OU, combined with the suggestions of friends and my counselor, prompted me to join the Athens Photographic Project in the spring of 2014. I appreciate the friendliness of the group, as well as the opportunity to learn more about photography and techniques that give me greater artistic control. Photography and all creative processes give me the freedom to express my feelings and illustrate what is important to me. Sharing my images with others allows me to feel like I am a part of something.

Sandy Frazier

sandyAs an artist, I can share the beautiful “nature” of my world with others. I live in Appalachia, where I capture images of the countryside that development has not touched yet. My images represent nostalgia, and how I wish things were like they used to be. The nature photos I take represent a world untouched by manmade progress. In creating my work, I travel through southeastern Ohio and West Virginia, where I photograph the wilderness, mountains, and country settings. My mental illness can cause me to isolate myself from others. Photography has made it possible for me to be involved with something bigger than myself, to be a part of a group, and to be proud of who I am, in spite of my symptoms. I was born in Charleston, West Virginia, and moved to Athens County in 1983 to attend college. I began participating in the Athens Photographic Project in 2007, and has explored both digital and film photography. I have participated in 11 juried photography exhibitions, and was awarded for my work in film photography by VSA Ohio in 2009. I received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Grant in 2012 and 2014. I explore subject matter representing aspects of country life that I personally identify with, and hope to share a moment in my life with you, the viewer. I use photography to alleviate symptoms of mental instability and to help with personal recovery.


Christi Hysell

Christi was born in Akron, Ohio, and grew up in southeast Ohio. Christi moved to Athens in 1995. She was brought here by pure curiosity, wanting to know what Athens was like. The beauty of the city has kept her here. Christi was first introduced to art through working with calligraphy and poetry. In fall 2007 she joined the APP and has recently completed her first year of digital classes. Christi’s work has since been part of three juried APP exhibitions and three VSAO traveling exhibitions. Recently she was selected as a Featured Artist on the APP website for the month of April. She is currently working on images that have stretched her mentally and physically. Christi hopes that by exhibiting her work the public will envision her as a person who shares this world with the rest of humanity and is not separated by mental illness. In addition, she is a mentor to the beginning classes, an adventure she began in fall of 2011.


Chris Leonard

20141210_20141211_Pond_653Christopher was born in Hocking Port, OH and spent the first months of his life in the shadow of a train trestle. He has lived in Athens County for 46 years where he deeply loves the hills and forests of his hometown. He attended Federal Hocking High School and graduated from Ohio University in 1990. He has always had an interest in photography but did not fully engage with it until the first APP classes in 2001. Chris returned to the APP in 2009 and has been an active artist and gallery members since. While he has dabbled in poetry, prose and music, he is immensely pleased that his photography helped secure him an Ohio Arts Council grant in 2012. Chris collects mechanical wonders such as manual typewriters (since 1992) and old cameras. He embraces technical challenge and favors process driven creativity that is filled with uncertainty and chance. “The digital age came too soon for the visual arts,” Chris says, “There are many analogue approaches to technique left…with Photoshop one becomes not so much an artist but one who is proficient at using the computer.” This is his fifth juried exhibition with APP.



Pete Wuesher


I was born in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1965, and moved to Manhattan, Kansas, in 1968 before coming to Athens, Ohio, in 1981. I have always been curious about photography and was among the students in APP’s first classes in 2000. I have shown work in eight juried APP exhibitions and received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Grant. It may sound selfish, but I enjoy my own results as a photographer. Although I accept and appreciate encouragement from others, it is this sort of “self-amusement” that is my primary motivation to continue shooting.








Grace Kilcommons


Grace Kilcommons is graduating from Ohio University this April with a degree in Commercial Photography and a minor in Psychology. Born in Annandale, New Jersey, she came out to Athens, Ohio in the fall of 2012. Grace started as a volunteer for Athens Photographic Project in the fall of 2014. Falling in love with the program and all its good works she began interning for them starting in the summer of 2015 and will continue to until graduation this April. After graduation, she plans to continue volunteering with Athens Photographic Project, as well as other community organizations around Athens in the hopes of accumulating enough experience to help her attain her Masters in Social Work.





Olga Molchanova

I am a freelance photographer originally from Moscow, Russia. I graduated from the Photojournalism School at the Union of Journalists of Russia. Some of my photographs were published in various Russian family, sports, and children’s magazines. A permanent exhibition of my photographs is on display at Children’s Theater in Moscow, Russia. After coming to the United States in 1993 and moving to Athens, Ohio, in 1996, I had several photography exhibitions at the Public Library, the Alden Library, and the Baker Center in Athens, and also at the Nelsonville Library. I like taking pictures of birds, animals, trees, flowers, and big or small cities in the USA and abroad. It is so pleasant to discover unexpected things in everyday life.


Rachel Wagner

Rachel WagnerRachel Wagner is the Athens Photographic Project’s current photography intern. She is a junior at Ohio University and is studying commercial photography, marketing, and gender studies and will graduate in 2017. She is an active member of The Kappa Phi Club, a Christian Sisterhood on campus. Her interest in photography began with a darkroom class in high school, and she continues to find inspiration in fine art photography today. What she loves most about the Athens Photographic Project is the relationships that she is able to form. She currently works in the intro class and loves seeing the creativity spark in APP’s newest artists. When Rachel graduates (and reluctantly leaves beautiful Athens, Ohio) she has plans to move to the West Coast and settle down upper Washington State.



Belén Marco Crespo



Belén Marco is the Graduate Assistant for APP. She’s a visual researcher and practitioner specializing in Communication for Development (C4D) with focus on education. She follows principles of Participatory Action Research and Popular Education to facilitate processes of critical reflection, consciousness rising and analysis through participatory visual methodologies. Belén combines research, storytelling and design to engage communities in development initiatives, and is particularly interested in developing communication strategies that place individuals and social groups at the core.

She is currently enrolled in the Master’s on Visual Communication at Ohio University, and she holds a Master’s in Communication and Development, and a Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Certificate at Ohio University.

Belén has several years experience working in Central and South America for United Nations and Spanish state institutions as a communications manager. While in Ohio University, Belén was part of the Healthy Living Initiative team, a community-based Chagas disease prevention effort lead by the Tropical Disease Institute, where she developed an applied research project engaging rural youth from Ecuador in research and evaluation.

Shanna Macrostie