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Resilience Collective PhotoStory 2020

The most memorable project I participated in last year was the Resilience Collective (RC) PhotoStory project. This project documents the mental health journeys of peers through photographs, and as a mentor for the project, I help the peers to plan, execute and enhance their images. The highlight of the project was an exhibition early this year at Raffles City.



In addition, RC commissioned 3 short videos (excellent story and direction by Clayton Lai), and it was an interesting experience to be in front of the camera! :)


The following are my thoughts penned for the video.


Personal goals for the project:

People my generation don't talk openly about mental health issues, but over the years - and more recently, I know of close friends and family members who struggled in their mental well being. I did not understand how and what they felt. So when Jeremy asked if I was interested to participate in the RC photostory project, it was an easy decision. Apart from seeking to understand the journey to recovery, I wanted to put my limited photography skills to good use. Photography was - an is - merely hobby, a self-serving distraction. RC Photostory is an avenue for the greater good, a higher purpose.

Challenges or difficulties encountered:

The most challenging part of my journey with the peers in RC Photostory was to understand what they were trying to depict in their images. Hitherto, I would look at an image from an aesthetic perspective - composition, colour grading, tonality, etc. But the aesthetic photo I would have taken is completely inappropriate when I read the accompanying narrative (which is why narrative is so important). Understanding what the peers felt / feel and what they are trying to express through their images took a while (a few meetings), and the discovery process varies across peers and individuals. Another challenge I was very mindful about is that my comments/suggestions for improving the peers' images were filtered through my lenses (personal experiences, perspective, ideologies, etc). I had to conscientiously remind myself to see the image through their eyes. The last challenge I encountered was that of communicating photography concepts - rule of thirds, tonality, saturation, contrast, etc to the peers to help improve their images. I can only imagine the exponential journey they had to take for this project, especially if the peers do not have much exposure to photography.

Biggest takeaway, emotion or impression:

(1) Foremost in my impressions is how ordinary peers are. They are no different from the people I know and meet. But under that composed (cheerful?) exterior could be serious past episodes, meltdowns, issues, etc. The corollary to this is that I can be equally prone to mental dysfunctionality. This point struck home during the circuit breaker period when I experienced a sense of despair, gloom and melancholy from the isolation.

(2) Most impressive of all is how peers embrace their past, acknowledge their struggle and commit to living it forward! It takes immense courage, strength of character, discipline and perseverance to stay the path. I also realize that the recovery journey is never linear, and the path is an ebb and flow. I am not sure if I have the same courage, strength, etc if I were in their shoes.

(3) I applaud the peers for openingly sharing their struggles. When peers relate what the images meant to them, they relive their past. And I feel them.

Takeaway for the rest of the world about mental health:

I am glad that our society is beginning to acknowledge and promote mental well being. It is all too convenient for us to downplay mental health, and that, to me, is a manifestation of self-servitude. For people who are viewing the exhibition or simply curious to find out more, I strongly suggest you try to tune into the mental states the peers experienced. It will be a filtered, imperfect perception, but that is better than not at all. I am really grateful I undertook this journey with Resilience Collective. It opened my eyes and mind. Thanks to all the peers and good folks at RC.




My images for PhotoStory, which were included in the exhibition (my first photo exhibition!):



I was also privileged to take headshots of RC PhotoStory peers and RC staff.






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