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Mental Health Recovery: Through Our Lens & Pen

About PhotoVoice

PhotoVoice is a global photo essay project used to promote social change. In keeping with its mission, COVA has empowered nine participants by giving them a camera, a little bit of guidance, and a great deal of freedom. These new photographers share their journey through mental health recovery and their return to work with photography and writing. In doing so, they invite us to take a peek into their lives, to learn about their struggles and triumphs, and to take another step toward breaking down the stigma of mental illness.

Participants attended nine weeks of hands-on classes at COVA, during which they learned how to use their digital cameras, were introduced to various photography techniques, and discussed what they wanted their art to convey. With the guidance of the instructors, they selected their final images and wrote their narratives, hoping to give others a snapshot of their mental health battles – and of their paths to recovery.

The founders of PhotoVoice urged individuals who had, in the past, been the subjects of documentary photography to switch roles and instead become the photographers. This role reversal helped the new photographers learn a new skill, but more importantly, it gave them control over their own situations and how the world viewed them as individuals.


About the Instructors

Barb Schmitzer

“With a background in social work, I have worked at COVA for more than 14 years, eight of which I’ve spent facilitating support groups for people with mental illness who are returning to or starting work for the first time. It’s been my privilege to lead this PhotoVoice project and share in the experiences of these courageous individuals who struggle with mental illness every day. I admire their willingness to put themselves out there to help educate and inform others to fight the stigma of mental illness.”


Alysse Gafkjen
“As a photographer and artist, I strive to influence and promote a life where we are all equal and deserve to live and create. Recently graduating from CCAD, I was given the opportunity to teach this class to individuals living with mental illness, each of whom was in a different place along the road to recovery. While they learned from me, I learned from these individuals who have lived a very different life than my own. I will take this experience with me throughout my life and art for many years to come. For this, I am forever grateful.”