In Weeks 9 and 10 of the semester, APP Introduction to Photography students continued to work on their self-portrait assignments, and began to discuss mental illness in relation to their work. Many students opened up about their personal experiences, recognizing that mental illness is unique to each individual. A quote from artist Don Gregorio Anton became the mantra of the week: “You are a unique event that will never happen again.” Some students shared their stories through poetry and music.
The class will now focus on translating personal experience with and feelings about mental illness into photography. In preparation, students made a list of some of the words that can be used to describe both the dark side of mental illness (“isolation,” “rejection,” “instability,” “danger,” “unpredictable,” and “stigma,” among others) and mental health recovery (“determination,” “stability,” “compassion,” “creativity,” “acceptance,” and “understanding,” among others).
Several student self-portraits:
“Living with Mental Illness” Assignment
“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.” – Vincent van Gogh
For the assignment this week, I ask that you explore your feelings and experiences surrounding mental illness from a new perspective: that of an artist.
Explore imagery in the world that can express and represent your feelings surrounding mental illness. When you identify subjects that can stand as symbols for your feelings, work to compose your photographs carefully so they show exactly what you want them to show. Can you frame your photo to amplify certain characteristics of the subject?
For this assignment, you can explore many different subjects, including yourself via self-portraits. You are welcome to photograph found scenes/objects that are not manipulated, or you can stage a scene or create a still-life. If specific subjects don’t come to mind as symbols for how you feel, consider photographing textures and light/shadow as a starting point.
This assignment will give you time to look at mental illness from the perspective of an artist. It will also allow you to share this perspective with your peers, and vice versa.
We each experience the world in a unique way. And this unique way has value. A value equal to that of anyone else’s perspective.
It can sometimes be hard to understand and put into words exactly what you are experiencing. In fact, I think it’s not that important to name and package your unique perception of the world, since we have the freedom for our perspective always to evolve and change.
This week we are going to explore self-portraiture as a form of creative expression. By this, I mean that we are not taking photos of ourselves just for the sake of having a document of our lives at this moment. Rather, we are using the camera to celebrate our valuable lives and unique experiences.
Our goal for this assignment is to be honest with ourselves, find ways of showing our life experiences to someone else, and honor their lives and self-portraits.
Include yourself in each photograph. Somehow, somewhere, include yourself.
Experiment and play. Some possibilities include: handheld self-portraits, portraits in a mirror, reflections in water or glass, your shadow, using the camera timer to show yourself in a meaningful place that reveals something about your life, using the camera timer to show yourself up close, using the camera timer to show yourself in action, using the camera timer to show yourself immersed in a scene – or in the distance.
The Advanced classes have assembled their working portfolios and they look great!! After finishing the portfolios the class looked at everyones and discussed the order of the prints and the themes. The artists are now free to add and edit as they please. The class finished their portfolio-building with a field trip to Minute Man Press in uptown Athens. There were demos on how the artists can get full-page portfolio prints, contact sheets, greeting cards/postcards and even stickers of their work. The class is one step closer to accomplishing and establishing themselves as independent artists in the community.
Their portfolios will be on display during the holiday Open House on December 6 in the Elise Sanford Gallery.