It has been a privilege to have the opportunity to see these photographs. As I viewed them I had the sense that I was seeing into the lives of the 27 photographers in the show, which is one of the strengths of the work in the this exhibition and of the photography in general. Photography can be a window into the lives of others, and it can produce documents of great personal meaning. Spending time with these photographers also reminded me of the times I have lived in the Appalachian region, both when I spent a year working for a mission project in Bell County, Kentucky near the Cumberland Gap and when I taught for three years at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky.
In making my selections, I tried to choose two images from the six I saw by each photographer that were related in some fashion, perhaps by style, subject matter, tone, or technique. I hope by seeing two similar images from the same photographer the viewer will have a stronger sense of what that photographer is doing with photography.
I tried also to choose images that could communicate to others and not have a private meaning alone. The best photographs in this show, I think, work both as personal documents and also speak metaphorically to a larger audience. Many of the photographs in this show have strong emotional content. When that content is presented in a way that allows the viewer to feel a connection to his or her own life, that’s when the photograph becomes art. This is also when we feel – both the photographer and the viewer – that we are not alone. The photograph has created a bridge between us. We sense we share a common bond.
Finally, I would like to thank the folks at the Athens Photographic Project for the inspiring work they do.
May 13, 2011
Gregory Spaid, Professor of Art at Kenyon College, is represented by the Rose Gallery in Santa Monica, CA. His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, NY, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington D.C., and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. He has exhibited his work nationally at the J. Paul Getty Museum, The Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Soho Photo Gallery and Lee Witkin Gallery in New York City, and Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati. Spaid’s work has been supported by a Fulbright Research Fellowship to Italy and seven grants from the Ohio Arts Council. He is the author of two books of his photographs: Grace: Photography of Rural America in 2000 and On Nantucket in 2002.
I am honored to introduce this collection of images created within the Athens Photographic Project’s 2010-2011 advanced digital photography classes.
These photographs inform our understanding of mental illness and mental health recovery. They do so without relying on definitions, or even without focusing solely on the topics of illness and health. The images presented here challenge us to move beyond expectations of what mental illness of even mental health recovery should look like, and in doing so they move us beyond assumptions of what these experiences might include or what individuals diagnosed with such conditions might value.
The twenty-seven photographers who created these works all began their relationship to the arts at the same place where any artist starts – confronted with issues of identity, confidence, emotional disclosure, and technical craft. Unique to this group, however, was the charge that they were to use photography as a tool for self-expression within their journey of mental health system or a young person recently diagnosed with schizophrenia to be handed a camera with such expectations and no prior experience in the arts.
This year’s photographers have surpassed these first steps in art and recovery and continue to create images. Most of these artists have consistently participated in APP classes for two years, many for more than four years. As they continue to develop in craft and intention, they are creating works not only infused with personal meaning, but works that fuel an ever expansive and ever changing image of mental illness and recovery.
My sincere thanks to the APP artists for giving us these gifts, and so many more. And special thanks to this year’s teaching team for leading an exciting, supportive environment for art making. Congratulations to all of you!