Ashley | Home of the Brave

“Don’t you find that interesting? Ashley said. “You are asking the participants of this project to be open about their mental illness, yet you still keep your experience with mental illness largely a secret? I find that so interesting! Don’t you?”

Ashley always did ask the best questions while she was a journalism student at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Eight years later, it’s obvious she hasn’t lost her touch.

Ashley’s journalistic instincts have grown so sharp that both of us grinned when I realized she had painlessly revealed the irony of me asking the Home of the Brave participants to have previously disclosed their experiences with mental illness yet I had not. Ashley’s discovery (a direct result of her continuous “search for truth”) inspired me to talk publicly about my experience with mental illness much sooner than I had planned.

I asked Ashley what “the truth” means to her. “When it comes to people, truth is seeing beneath stereotypes and assumptions. Truth is talking about things that are ignored, forgotten, misunderstood. It’s standing against injustice and standing up for human rights.”

Not surprisingly Ashley is forthright about her own experience with mental illness. “I remember waking up one morning and realizing that I hadn’t laughed for over a year… I didn’t know what it felt like to be happy. I am sure I had smiled or laughed in that time, but I couldn’t remember the authentic feeling that came with it. I had been sad for so long.”

Ashley has since learned how to manage her symptoms and genuinely believes her mental health journey – although difficult – has made her a better person. “I just want to help people!” Ashley said during one of our conversations.

I didn’t thank Ashley then, but I am thanking her now for how she helped me talk about something I’ve kept a secret for a very long time. Ashley’s story about my mental health journey was cathartic beyond words. The heartfelt responses I received from my friends, family, colleagues and students was overwhelming and deeply, deeply healing.

So thank you Ashley and I hope you never stop searching for the truth.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

Posted in Home of the Brave Tagged , |

Elizabeth | Home of the Brave

It is a difficult thing to articulate just how critical a support system is for people living with a mental illness. More often than not, our rescue begins with a single person. Just one soul whose unconditional love and support is so pervasive that to call them a support system is NOT a misnomer.

When Elizabeth Andersen was first diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1995, her husband Wade’s initial reaction was “I don’t know if I can stay in this relationship.”

In Schizophrenia: A Love Story Wade recalls how Elizabeth’s diagnosis challenged his commitment to their marriage with the unsettling realization that he wasn’t sure if he was “ready for this.” So, Wade returned to his marriage vows where he found the affirmation he was looking for.

Wade Andersen, will you have this women then to be your wife?
I do.

Through sickness and in health, through anguish and affection, through tears and laughter?
I do.

Elizabeth would be the first person to acknowledge the critical role her husband Wade played in her diagnosis, acceptance and eventual recovery from the symptoms of her mental illness. In her book Being Mentally Healthy (in spite of a mental illness) Elizabeth writes of her husband, “He has been my sounding board, my pill monitor, my reason to be well and the love of my life. He is the strongest and most compassionate person I will ever know. He has been there for me every step of the way and continues to be.”

Elizabeth has dedicated her adult life to educating the public on issues related to mental illness and eliminating the stigma associated with depression and schizophrenia in particular. An international public speaker, published author and a Lt. Governor’s Circle on Mental Health and Addiction, True Grit Award recipient, Elizabeth passionately shares her story, offering hope and support to those who believe they have precious little of both.

When I look at this photograph of Elizabeth and Wade, I can’t help but notice the diagonal boards behind and above them. It suggests to me the outline of a roof, a sanctuary created whenever they are in each others company.

This is what a support system feels like!

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400
Lightrein 400ws strobe with translucent umbrella

Posted in Home of the Brave Tagged , , |

Todd | Home of the Brave

todd-h2

In their book Art and Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland write, “To require perfection is to invite paralysis.”

And invite it I did – this past fall – when I became disorientated after a photography submission was rejected, leaving a sting lasting far longer than I had expected. The result was a brief, albeit bracing, dose of writer’s block that suddenly prevented me from writing a single word that would do the participants of Home of the Brave justice.

When I met Todd to discuss his participation in this project we were complete strangers. Our introduction (via email) was graciously facilitated by our mutual friend Angela Kokott.

Todd smiled when I told him Angela and I grew up together. “Any friend of Angela’s is a friend of mine.” he said as I began my introduction to the project and what had motivated me to take it on in the first place.

What has struck me the most about meeting and photographing Todd was his sense of commitment. When talking with Todd he listens to you, he really hears and sees you. His genuine authenticity draws out the authenticity in others.

That was obvious the night I attended the launch for his new book Halfway Home. You could feel the genuine warmth and festive hospitality in the church that evening. I was made to feel exceedingly welcome yet I knew not a soul, save Todd. Basking in the warm, glowing acceptance within the church I briefly imagined a large sign posted on the front door which might have read: Please check your armour at the door. You won’t be needing it this evening.

Looking now at this portrait of Todd and his beloved Boston Terriers (Piper and Puma), it occurs to me that we often experience rejection because of who we aren’t.

But we always experience acceptance as a result of who we are.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

 

Posted in Darkroom sessions, Home of the Brave Tagged |

Lauren | Home of the Brave

Lauren-culvert

I met Lauren through my cousin Lorene. Their friendship was forged from the shared experience of a profound, tragic loss.

Kalei, Lorene’s only daughter, was killed instantly in a head-on highway collision. Jarrett, Lauren’s older brother, died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm when he was 13 years of age and Lauren was 11.

I have met Lauren only twice. The first time at a dinner party hosted by Lorene and once again to take her portrait for Home of the Brave. Lauren and I have never talked about the death of her brother. There are some things you simply can’t explain to those of us who haven’t experienced that kind of trauma.

When I saw this negative on the contact sheet I was lamenting the fact that Lauren’s head was turned away from my camera. I had broken a cardinal rule of portrait photography – ensure you capture the subject’s eyes!

Still, I felt this photograph had something to tell me. Something too complex for words, too sad to be related in a conversation.

And then I saw it.

With a single gesture Lauren had shown me the sacredness of her brother’s story.

And that was all I needed to know.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

Posted in Home of the Brave

David | Home of the Brave

David-M-Edit

If you were asked to describe a courageous person what would you say? Many of us would start with our heroes and heroines from movies, TV shows, graphic novels and sporting events.

But what does someone with courage look like in the real world? Without a cape (or a sword) they can be hard to identify. Especially when they are a student sitting quietly in the front row of your Media Software for Journalists class.

Last month David attended an on-campus seminar with the rest of our journalism students. The topic was the ethical reporting of mental illness in the news. David’s participation in this event was unique because he was also a guest speaker who took the podium in front of his classmates and told them his story.

When I met David for our portrait session it was several weeks after the seminar. On that particular Friday afternoon I was fighting a massive headache. Searching my pockets for a Tylenol I asked how he liked speaking in public and if he had felt nervous.

“It was a challenge,” he said. “Speaking directly to my classmates was the hardest public speaking engagement I’ve done so far.”

“So far?” I asked, not hiding my surprise. “You mean that wasn’t your first time speaking in public?”

David looked at me for a second and smiled.

“No it wasn’t. I do this all the time. But speaking to my classmates was a challenge. You just don’t know how they are going to react.”

David continued. “I just want to help people out. I don’t want them to experience what I went through. If I can help just one person then it’s worth it for me.”

Feeling deeply inspired can do any number of wonderful things to a person. I never imagined that an instant remedy for a splitting headache would be one of them.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

Posted in Home of the Brave

Lorene | Home of the Brave

Lorene-diff-2

“We really had no idea what that poor girl went through, did we Dan?”

“No Mom, we didn’t.”

And so began a conversation between my mother and I about my cousin Lorene Holizki’s memoir Forever Kalei’s Mom: A Story about Life, My Child’s Death and What Forever Really Means.

Lorene’s book tells the story of the tragic loss of her beautiful 16-year-old daughter Kalei in a horrific car crash. With heart wrenching honesty Lorene tells her story of profound loss and unfathomable grief. Lorene’s memoir will serve as a survival guide for the bereaved. A literary “jaws of life” for those left behind, crushed under the relentless burden of their grief.

Mom was right. We didn’t know what Lorene went through when Kalei died. Even after reading Forever Kalei’s Mom we still don’t really know. Until I experience the tragic, sudden death of one of my boys – I will never know.

I am convinced, however, that reading my cousin’s book has made me a better person.

I know this to be true because I did not judge Lorene when she laid herself down in front of Kalei’s marker and silently folded her hands on her chest. Surrounded by the comforting silence of the cemetery I witnessed a beautiful, spontaneous expression of a mother’s undying love for her daughter.

I finally got a chance to see what Forever looks like.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

Posted in Home of the Brave

Heather | Home of the Brave

Heather

When Heather agreed to participate in Home of the Brave I asked if she would choose a location she considers a sanctuary. A place she can go to find inspiration, to recharge.

We agreed to meet Halloween morning in one of the numerous urban parks located in the city in which we live. Our visit began on a wooden bench overlooking a ravine of leafless trees. We talked about our work, the future of journalism, book publishing – and we talked about this project of mine.

“Do you want to go for a walk?” she asked.

We walked a short distance and eventually entered a thicket of trees. My first clue that Heather had taken me somewhere special was her change in tone. She was speaking softly now, with a reverence that reminded me of the muted conversations one hears in a place of worship.

She had led me into her sanctuary. A natural chamber protected by a dense barrier of dormant trees. I could feel the deep connection Heather had with this place.

I don’t remember “seeing” the sweeping branch in the foreground of my frame. But something told me to press the shutter at the exact moment Heather’s sanctuary chose to embrace her.

I am just so thankful I was there to witness it!

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

 

Posted in Home of the Brave

Lyndon | Home of the Brave

Lyndon

I’ve started a new long-term project.

The inspiration for this series of portraits was a photograph of Robin Williams published the day after his death. The photograph portrayed him as a man on the verge of losing his mind instead of a comedian in the middle of a stand up routine.

The photograph was presented intentionally out of context. Playing directly into the stereotype of what our society thinks mental illness “looks like.” It took less than 24 hours for that media organization to present Robin Williams as a tortured soul rather than the comedic genius and brilliant dramatic actor he actually was.

I visualize this project as a testament to those who have chosen to step out of the shadows to tell their story. A portrait series of advocates doing their part to dispel the myths, stereotypes and stigma associated with some of life’s most difficult personal challenges.

Thank you Lyndon Penner for being the first. Without your participation this project would not have seen the light of day.

If you have a story to tell, live in the Calgary area and would like to participate in this project, please don’t hesitate to post a comment. I will get back to you within 48 hours.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

Posted in Home of the Brave Tagged |

Cattails | June 2015

catails-wp

I have been looking at a lot of pinhole photography lately. In particular the work of Canadian photographer Dianne Bos.

The first time I saw one of Dianne’s photographs I was stunned by how big it was. At 40 in. x 40 in. this silver gelatin print had a commanding presence. The second thing that struck me was how beautifully imperfect it was. Most of the image was soft and the subject (a distant horse) was blurred perfectly.

I couldn’t stop looking. Here was a photograph that was speaking to me on an entirely new level. It had touched my soul through my eyes and it wasn’t letting go. The experience was at once exhilarating and unsettling.

My Leica M6 is a marvel of German engineering. It is a thing of beauty to hold and a delight to use. With the right lens it can produce razor sharp photographs with a visual bite I can almost hear. I love my Hasselblad for it’s minimalistic design and the creamy sharpness of the images it produces. I could never let either of these cameras go.

And yet I can’t stop thinking about that stunning pinhole photograph and its exquisite imperfections.

Which brings me to my Holga 120N and how it just might be the most valuable camera I own.

Silver gelatin print
Holga 120N
Ilford FP4, ISO 125
Natural sunlight

Posted in Darkroom sessions

Out of the clear blue sky | May 2015

UofC-long-X1

“Shoot what you love!” Click, click, click.

“Photograph what you hate.” Click.

“Shoot everywhere and everything.” Click, click, click. click, click, click.

Taking pictures is easy. Making a photograph requires more skill and effort. Embarking on a new project can be downright challenging.

The challenge isn’t what to photograph but rather what to say within the context of 15 – 20 related images.

The difficulty lies in deciding on a theme that speaks to your heart and the viewing public at the same time. Choosing a project that has the depth to express exactly what you want to say can be a major investment of your time and effort. That is why you want to get it right!

This search leaves in it’s wake a collection of lists, library books, false starts, lucid dreams and candid conversations.

Walking and shooting. Learning, watching, waiting. Frustration and elation. Repeat.

And then it suddenly appears out of the clear blue sky – unannounced and without warning.

Ground zero for your next project.

Coming on so quick and with such clarity that you can’t help but ask…

“Where have you been?”

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford FP4, ISO 125

Posted in Darkroom sessions