There are many ways to take a portrait. There are many ways to tell a story in a picture.
Pererga is a term that describes the belongings of a person, the environment, and other objects surrounding a person in a portrait. These objects and belongings help to tell a story of the person.
Many other things can help tell a story and express who a person is. There is human emotion.
PORTRAITURE OF RECOVERY
In the following images, I would like to introduce a project I recently completed for a recovery home for men. This residential home houses men who are seeking recovery from drugs and alcohol. The project took many levels, but what was most important was that recovery was a part of the celebratory self-expression.
Title: Where are you in your recovery?
I decided to complete a series of portraits taken of volunteers, residents, an employee, and the director of Pine Recovery, a residential home for men going through a recovery program from drugs and alcohol. These images are a document in time of the recovery process, but more importantly, a method that works. I asked my husband, a CADC I Drug and Alcohol Counselor there to help me with the project. Many were ready and willing with much to say, some seemed standoffish but were excited in the end to sit for a portrait and then write a little about their own experience in recovery.
Much like Robert Weingarten, I pose a question to the clients. I ask them, "Where are you in your recovery?" And of course, they may be nervous, so I remind them that this moment right now is especially important. This is a moment that they can choose to look back on when they leave the house and continue their journey.
Where are they? People in recovery are celebrating their recovery. This step, in life, is one of the most important ones you can make and each part of that is beautiful, they are beautiful right now. The client tends to ponder this for a moment and respond. "Well, because I have a warm heart," Jose responded. The questions and discussions make them feel more comfortable and it helps to talk about recovery.
Some of the residents want to get it over with. Craig K was ready to talk about his recovery in deep gratefulness, but when it came to capturing the moment, he grabbed a “big book” to help him as a prop he could hide behind. This hiding that many have in recovery should not be confused with embarrassment. It is much closer to vulnerability and openness to let new feelings about life in. That’s one of the reasons I ask them where they are in recovery. Where they are, exactly who they are.
When I asked the question to Craig K.: "Where are you in your recovery, and how do you feel about that?"
He wrote, "I feel like I'm getting my life back...able to function in society again..."
Some of the residents want to get it over with, their time right now is important, and they are aware of all their insecurities and self-doubt. Volunteering is the last stage when a resident is finished with the central part of the program. The person lives off the property but comes to dedicate their time as part of setting an example for the newcomer. The program is built so that they work through it, even to the stage of lending a helping hand through service.
Some residents offer lots of words to explain how they feel. Some seem like they want me to understand with just a few words. A few sentences tell it all, no matter what writing I am reading I see the writing as a ticket to freedom, a chance to live again, and a path to a better life. The slogan at Pine Recovery is “Rebuilding Broken Lives”, a courageous statement to those that are seeking just that.
Caleb wrote about freedom: “I am in a whole new world the freedom that sobriety has brought to me is nothing less than a miracle.”
Sarn giggled and smiled as my husband, and I talked about strobes and reflectors. The most important part of Sarn’s experience is that he smiled for the first time. He usually walks with his head down and does not smile in terms of who he is, how he was raised, and his culture. This sort of breakthrough should happen across cultural beliefs. The ability and blessing it is to smile should be shared.
In recovery, we should not be confused with embarrassment. It is much better to say that we are vulnerable and open to letting new feelings about life and living enter our minds. That’s one of the reasons I ask them where they are in recovery. Where they are in their recovery is exactly who they are right now. It is important to remember this moment in recovery because when you are finished with the program when all is said and done, you need something to look back on, especially yourself. If you can reflect on this moment, I told them, then that is strength.
Along with sharing some of my thoughts, feelings, and even strengths in my recovery, the process of taking the images with each participant was not time-consuming, but rather a blessing. They shared with me some personal feelings and for that, a picture became priceless, but overall, I began to see that I was special in the process, too. The gift of seeing yourself comes from within, and a photograph can guide us in our recovery, a selfless journey.
(Pine Recovery; "Rebuilding Broken Lives"; A Drug and Alcohol Recovery home for men in Visalia, CA; 2023; Staff: Nelson Kay and Dave Andersen)
Titles: Writings to Accompany Images
Sarn: Sarn smiled as my husband and I worked, which was a breakthrough moment for his recovery process. He was known before that to never smile and to walk with his head down, because of who he is and his cultural beliefs. He was unable to submit a response.
(Date Taken: 3/2/2023)
Eric: (Please see the entire writing.) “I don’t know how to live, but I’m steadfast in my resolve to find out.”
(Date Taken: 4/27/2023)
Robbie: (Please see entire writing.) “As I give my god the reigns, I’ll be ok. In the process of recovery, I am free of bondage. An inner peace.”
(Date Taken: 5/3/2023)
Nelson: “Recovery to me is so much more than just stopping the drugs and alcohol. It’s a journey of the soul into enlightenment.”
(Date Taken: 4/19/2023)
Jose: "I have a warm heart." (Jose was unable to submit a written response.)
(Date Taken: 3/30/2023)
Craig K: “I feel like I’m getting my life back, able to function in society again.”
(Date Taken: 4/19/2023)
Logan: “Step one means I don’t know and accept the unknown with open arms and an open mind.”
(Date Taken: 4/11/2023)
Caleb: “I am in a while new world the freedom that sobriety has brought to me is nothing less than a miracle.”
(Date Taken: 5/3/2023)
Dave A.: “Recovery is a process which serves as an intro to life.”
(Date Taken: 5/17/2023)
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