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Photovoice project reveals resilience amid challenges

After a seven-month delay, the photographs in “Standing in the Balance: A photovoice exhibit on coping with traumatic stress and substance use,” will be unveiled to the public next week.

The exhibition features work created by six individuals served by Places for People through a study using photovoice methods. This seeks to understand how individuals living with co-occurring traumatic stress and substance use safely cope.

The exhibit was originally scheduled for April, but was postponed when precautions for the COVID-19 pandemic paused public gatherings.

“In certain ways, it feels appropriate,” said Kyle Brandt-Lubart, Places for People’s Community Arts Program Manager and one of the principals in the Photovoice project.

Appropriate, she explained, because in the planning of the exhibit, just as in the lives of the project participants, there have been bumps in the road, with unexpected twists and turns on the way to the destination.

“It isn’t neat and tidy,” she said.

How to present the photographs without creating a gathering of people during a pandemic forced the project organizers to approach it creatively. “It challenged us to think more about accessibility,” Brandt-Lubart said.

The exhibit will be installed in the windowfront of Red Chair Studios on Cherokee Street. It will be viewable from the sidewalk between November 11-28.

To increase access to the display, there will be a Facebook Live stream from 3:30-4:30 p.m. on the opening day of the exhibit, Wednesday, November 11, on Places for People’s Facebook page.

The six photographers participated in a “Seeking Safety” group to discuss the intersection of substance use, traumatic stress, and coping skills. They were given a camera to capture the feeling of safety and their experiences.

The exhibition is part of a study to understand the experience of coping with distress, and is co-led by Brandy Maynard, PhD, Associate Professor at the School of Social Work at SLU, Nathaniel Dell, PhD Student at Saint Louis University in the School of Social Work and Director of Research & Evaluation at Places for People, and Brandt-Lubart.

The project was made possible with support from the Doerr Center for Social Justice at Saint Louis University.

As the pandemic has changed the world in the past seven months, it has also changed our collective view of safety. The installation will include a variety of media – from candles to scents – to create a homey, welcoming feeling.

Brandt-Lubart recently reconnected with the photographers to discuss how the installation should look and feel. One participant’s hopes for the exhibit mirror her own, “I hope it makes people curious and want to know more,” she said.

Additionally, Brandt-Lubart hopes it inspires people to feel comfortable starting a dialogue with those close to them about mental health and wellness, and what safety means.

She said, “There’s so much power in talking openly about mental health.”