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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Looking at life through a new lens

CAMH clients prepare for exclusive PhotoVoice showcase

Toronto, August 3, 2016 - Excitement fills the room as clients in the Addiction Medicine Service file in, eager to participate in their final PhotoVoice session. This session is an important one, as they will be mounting their photos on display boards in preparation for a three-day photography showcase at Artscape Youngplace on Shaw Street.

Participant reviewing photoParticipants review their printed photos for the first time

This final session is the culmination of a 10-week therapeutic program led by Addiction Medicine Service Occupational Therapist Nicole Bartlett and Patient Experience Officer Sean Patenaude, who works in the Quality, Patient Safety & Risk department at CAMH.

The PhotoVoice program, designed to empower clients and instill hope through recovery and collaboration, allows participants to explore their identity, and find meaning and purpose through photography. It is one of several PhotoVoice projects being used as a way to facilitate recovery at CAMH, and so far, it’s proven to be an effective way to engage clients.

“Some triggers for relapse that we often hear in treatment include boredom, loneliness and isolation,” said Nicole. “The impact of substance use can also lead to occupational deprivation – a lack of a sense of purpose or meaningful activities. We believe that the PhotoVoice program addresses all of these areas and more.”

Nicole and Margaret producing captions for exhibitNicole (right) works with Margaret (left) to produce captions for her exhibit

There’s an unmistakable feeling of anticipation and even a slight giddiness as each client receives the envelope containing their photos. This is the first time they actually get to see their printed works, and for many members in the group, this is the first time their photographs will be displayed to the public.

Landscape Photography

“Photography gives me a great opportunity to explore the world around me,” said Teo Owang, one of the nine participants in this cycle of the program. “But more importantly, it keeps me away from that,” she adds, pointing to a photograph of a half-empty/half-full wine glass silhouette – an image that features prominently as part of her exhibition. “It’s an amazing program, and I’m proud to be part of it. CAMH is a wonderful organization.”

Best of all, clients are not required to purchase or bring in any equipment of their own. Thanks to a grant from the CAMH Foundation Gifts of Light Comfort Fund, Nikon Coolpix point-and-shoot cameras were purchased specifically for use in this program.

Sean helps David and Peter arrange displaysSean (left) helps David and Peter arrange their displays in preparation for the show

Sean, an experienced photographer, has had nothing but praise for the results. “I’m always impressed with the quality of the photos… and it’s all taken with these relatively inexpensive cameras! It speaks a lot to the creativity of our clients, and the work they put into capturing these images. Using simple cameras means we don’t have to concentrate as much on technique and can focus on telling our stories with clarity and impact.”

While many participants have had little-to-no formal training in photography, this program has awakened learned skills that lay dormant for many years.

“I actually studied film at Ryerson many years ago, so I took some courses in photography and composition, but it’s literally been years since I picked up a camera,” said Kim Weaver, as she put the final touches on her display. “I would never have thought I could get back into photography, but thanks to CAMH, I’m able to express myself visually.”

Peter Corr had extensive experience with photography, but that all fell by the wayside until he recently picked up the camera for this program. “I don’t go out very much so I decided to stick close to home,” he said as he showed his photos. “But I’m glad this program got me out of the house and taking photos again.”

Photography in the wild

“One favourite assignment we give out to the group is to go out and shoot at a time when you just don’t feel like going out,” said Nicole. “Going out and taking photos is itself therapeutic, because it takes them out of isolation, gets them exploring new areas of the city, and being more mindful of their surroundings.”

Kim adds that the camera has opened up a different way to look at things. “Looking at things through a camera allowed me to see things I ignored. The simple thing of going to the corner store… it’s given it a new meaning.”

Teo agrees wholeheartedly. “I actually just found this park behind my place… and I’ve lived there for nine years! Literally, it was within spitting distance, but I never checked it out until now. Taking photos gives me something to look forward to, keeps me out of my head and gives me something to do.”

Theo draws inspiration from her surroundingsTeo draws inspiration from her surroundings

Different perspectives

Although many clients were focused on landscapes, scenery and everyday objects, some participants decided to get up close and personal. Lorne (David) Donnely captured candid moments of people with their dogs, but some of his work also featured a bustling crowd shot from waist level. “This is my view of the world when I’m on this,” he said, motioning to his motorized wheelchair. “I wanted to show people the view from down here.”

Deciding which image to useDecisions, decisions…

“Seeing everyone’s exuberance come through in their work has helped me become more confident in sharing my own stories,” said Margaret Ballance. In fact, she’s looking into purchasing a camera of her own now. “I used to be the family photographer for everything… and I hope I can do that again.”

On with the show

This year’s client photography showcase theme is The Unseen Journey, and select works will be on display from Thursday, August 4 until Saturday, August 6 at Artscape Youngplace, on Shaw Street just north of Queen, a short walk away from the CAMH Queen Street site. If you’re interested in meeting the artists, the opening will be held on Thursday, August 4th from 5-6 pm.

Staff, community members and clients are encouraged to check out the wonderful work on display, and support the hard work of participants in recovery.

Sean and Nicole would like to thank the Gifts of Light Comfort Fund for helping fund the project, the Quality and Patient Safety department and the Addiction Medicine Clinic for their continued support of the program, and to Downtown Camera, who offered significant discounts on printing and provided amazing service and support


 Photovoice poster


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