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Visualizing the Road to Recovery

Healing Vision: Commissioned Photographs for Appalachian Behavioral Halthcare

By The Athens Photographic Project


By Kathleen Vogtle, NAMI Communications Coordinator

The path towards healing and recovery is unique for each person living with mental illness. Listen to their stories and you will discover that many have found a physical or creative outlet. Activities, such as walking, writing or music are not only enjoyable but also can help a person center themself.

Appalachian Behavioral Healthcare (ABH), a psychiatric hospital in Athens, Ohio, saw photography as a powerful tool in the process of recovery, and commissioned the Athens Photographic Project (APP) to create a collection of images as a resource for their residents. APP began as a program under NAMI Athens, Ohio in 2000, and is currently an independent non-profit organization serving as part of Network of Care for The Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Athens, Hocking and Vinton Counties (317 Board) in Ohio. The APP has “supported mental health recovery in southeast Ohio by providing opportunities for community members living with mental illness to express themselves creatively through photography.”

As part of their commission, the 38 artists participating in APP’s 2012-2013, 30-week photography class sought “to provide patients with a large-format photographic print of their choice to display in their bedroom during their stay at (ABH).” The resulting images are now available in a new collection, Healing Vision.

As part of the introduction, Nate Thomson, Executive Director of AAP, describes the project:

APP Class of 2012-2013

“Artists had the unique opportunity to learn about the arts in the healthcare field and to then define for themselves how the arts heal. APP artists considered the symbolic quality of their subjects, use of color and light, as well as personal meaning.

“The result is a diverse body of work representing a full spectrum of emotion and complexity.”

Thomson’s description is wholly accurate. The sheer diversity of the subjects and themes portrayed by these images is inspiring. Photographs range from the realistic to the abstract. Many include people; an equal number do not. Landscape shots are displayed alongside detailed close-ups.
Elana Caple, "Releasing the Shame"
Animals and flowers, trees and rivers, architecture and mesmerizing collections of bric--brac are all depicted. Whatever the focus of the photo may be, the love, care and consideration put into each piece is universally visible throughout the book.

The students’ descriptions of their photographs are equally as intriguing. Each is an intimate glimpse into the mind of the individual and their motivation for capturing the image. In many ways, these observations engage the viewer at an even deeper level, allowing them to feel as if they are capturing the image themselves.

Healing Vision provides a rare visualization of the road to recovery. The collection is a refreshing and empowering resource on an often long and difficult journey and serves as a reminder that we are not on this journey alone.