In-depth conversations about mental health in America are still relatively new. In popular culture, certain movies and TV shows have helped break down the stigma associated with mental health issues. “We Live Among You” is a new photography exhibit featuring several Atlanta residents struggling with mental health issues. Alongside the photos, personal stories in the subject’s own words. The exhibition, supported by Mayor Andre Dickens and his Office of Cultural Affairs, will be on view until October 29 at Gallery 72. Two of the five photographers participating in the exhibition, Daniel Troppy and Royce Soblejoined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about their contributions to the showcase.
Compassionate representations that do not define a subject by their disorder:
“I shot all of mine from behind. It’s all shot in black and white. And [one photo] talks about a woman who had OCD for 40 or 50 years, and she told me what it was like – raising a family, having children and having a husband, and having to deal with OCD every day of her life,” Troppy said. He later added, “I put it in front of a beautiful flowering tree, because I wanted quiet. I wanted to calm him down. I wanted to give her something that was so outside of her normal life.
“I actually made a call for artists on Facebook. I posted a message and said, “I would like to see if anyone would like to be part of a mental health project,” Soble said. “For me, it was important to photograph people in their homes, because I wanted to give them a safe space to photograph. And we started our conversations when I first sat down and talked about my own personal struggles with mental health, to set the tone and allow them to feel comfortable, to be open , a little more vulnerable with me. And the concept would evolve organically through those conversations.
Find creative ways to capture the essence of an anonymous subject:
“The curator, Susan Todd-Raque, wanted these images to be anonymous, so it was a challenge to create a portrait and a story without showing anyone who the person was, so the only person who really knows who is on these photographs is the shooter and the custodian,” Soble said. “The curator doesn’t even know who these photos are.
“I sent in an image…about a woman who had struggled with eating disorders all her life and had a lot of generalized anxiety disorder and depression,” Soble shared. “During the pandemic, she started hula-hooping, not only to do something to strengthen her core, but it was also something she could really focus on and control. So it was something useful to calm her from her anxiety and also to help her feel good about her body issues. So I shot her from behind, but the unique part I did was to do a slow shutter speed of the hula hoop movement, so that creates part of the composition.
To release people suffering from the stigma of mental illness:
“When we think back to how wonderful it was for Rosalyn Carter to first come out in the 70s and really talk about mental health in this country, [it] was really groundbreaking, given the time,” Troppy said. “You turn the page and it’s 50 years later. I don’t know how far we’ve really come down this road, and I think we have a long way to go to really open the doors to both mental health and mental health issues… Recently, I wrote these little short stories about my family and my childhood, and I realize that every family has… an alcoholic or a drug addict or someone who suffers from a mental health problem.
“My experiences have been very helpful when I’ve been transparent about my mental struggles. And I was very ashamed when I was younger about that; and I’d been on some sort of medication on and off since I was 17 or 18. And there were times when I pulled back, because I was like, ‘Oh, I’m fine. I get it, and then you quickly realize that it’s not the case,” Soble said. “Our brains are very mystical and magical and extremely interesting, and we don’t really understand the chemistry of why some things work for others and some don’t.”
“We Live Among You” is on view through October 29 at Gallery 72, as part of the Elevate public art project in Atlanta. More information is available at https://www.elevateatlart.com/schedule
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