email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
1000 Families2 ¼32 Stories365 Days51 Months5x7A Child's Life and Other StoriesA Couple of Ways of Doing SomethingA Lifetime of SecretsA Storybook LifeA Treasury of Victorian MurderActing OutAddiction and ArtAEIOUAfter PhotographyAliveAlive with Alzheimer'sAlone Together POCAltered StatesAmazing WomenAmelia's WorldAmerica at HomeAmerican AlphabetsAmnesiaAn American LensAn Exact MindAngel's WorldAngry Youth Comix #2Anjos ProibidosAnthony GoicoleaArchitecture of AuthorityArt After Conceptual ArtArt and HomosexualityArt and PhotographyArt in Three DimensionsArt Photography NowArt, Self and KnowledgeArt/PornAs We AreAsylumAttitudeAutoportraitBecoming Edvard MunchBeg the QuestionBelugaBerkoBig Rabbit's Bad MoodBill HensonBlab!Blab! 13BLAB! Vol. 14BLAB! Vol. 15BlanketsBoneyardBoneyardBoy StoriesBreakdownsBright EarthBrüselBurn, Bitchy, BurnBus OdysseyBut Is It Art?CanvasCaricatureChildrenChris VereneChristy ReportCinema PanopticumClass PicturesClick DoubleclickCloserClumsyClyde Fans CoincidencesComing of AgeComing of Age in Ancient GreeceConceptual Art and PaintingConfessions of a Cereal EaterConsider LoveCouch FictionCrumpleCzech EdenCzech Photographic Avant-Garde, 1918-1948Dan & LarryDargerDays With My FatherDead EndDear MomDeus Ex MachinaDigital DiariesDirty StoriesDisasters of WarDixie RoadDomestic VacationsDon't Go Where I Can't FollowDon't You Feel BetterDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDrawingsDriftlessEarly ExposuresEcstasyEdouard VuillardEnduring CreationEngland, My EnglandEntering GermanyEpilepticErwin OlafEscape from "Special"EVAEverything Will DisappearEvidenceExploring the Self through PhotographyExposureExpressionism Exquisite CorpseFamilyFamilyFamily LifeFandomaniaFaster than a Speeding BulletFictionsFigure and GroundFragile DVDFred the ClownFreud at WorkFridaFrom Girls to GrrlzFun HomeGeneration DadaGirl CultureGirls, Some Boys and Other CookiesGoing Into TownGood-ByeGraphic WomenGrave MattersGreat Hiking Trails of the WorldH R GigerHans BellmerHappy Halloween, Li'L SantaHauntedHere Is New YorkHey, Wait...High Art LiteHollywood CowboyHouse of JavaHow Art WorksI Am Not This BodyI Love You But I've Chosen RockI Thought I Could FlyI'll Be Your MirrorI'm CrazyIllumineIn My Darkest HourIn Search Of DignityIn the Floyd ArchivesIn the Line of DutyInformation ArtsIntenseInvisible No MoreIt Was A Dark And Silly NightJack Cole and Plastic ManJimmy CorriganJock SturgesJock SturgesJust Between UsKafkaKatharina SieverdingLacan at the SceneLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLife's a BitchLight in the Dark RoomLine of Beauty and GraceListening to CementLittle LitLi’l SantaLoadsLooking For MayaLost GirlLouis FaurerLouise BourgeoisLove and DesireLove Lust DesireLuckyManufactured LandscapesMass ObservationMaster BreastsMetacreationMisty DawnMnemosyneMomeMona KuhnMy Brain is Hanging Upside DownMy DepressionMy Family AlbumNatural BeautiesNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew and Used BLAB!New York September 11Night FisherNightswimmingNo More ShavesNot My ShameNotes from a DefeatistNothing ObviousNothing to HideNudes and PortraitsOliviaOlivia Saves the CircusOn City StreetsOne EyeOnly a Promise of HappinessOptic NerveOptic Nerve #11Optic Nerve #9Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & PiratesOutsider ArtOutsider Art and Art TherapyPanic at Toad HallPatrolPaul M. SmithPeculiaPeekPeople Love PhotosPerfect ExamplePersepolisPhilosophersPhonesexPhoto ArtPhoto Icons I (1827-1926)Photographers, Writers, and the American ScenePhotography and LiteraturePhotography and PhilosophyPhotography and SciencePhotography and the USA Photography RebornPicturing DisabilityPlaytimePOPismPortraits of ResiliencePostmodernismprettycitynewyorkPsychedelicQuestions without answersRaptors Raw YouthRay's a LaughRazmatazReclining NudeRed SnowRemembering GeorgyRequisite DistanceRineke DijkstraRippleRobert Doisneau 1912-1994Robert MaxwellRoom to PlayRXSame Difference & Other StoriesSanctumSatan's Sex BookSatellitesSchizophreniaSee Me Feel MeSelf-Taught and Outsider ArtSexSexual ArtSexyBookShadow ChamberSidewalk StoriesSkin DeepSleepwalkSmall FavorsSmile of the BuddhaSpectral EvidenceSpentSshhhh!Stranded in CantonStrange Stories for Strange Kids Stranger PassingStripped BareSummer BlondeSurrealismSymbols in ArtTestimonyThe Aesthetics of DisengagementThe AlcoholicThe Art InstinctThe Art of Adolf WolfliThe Art of MedicineThe BabiesThe Birthday RiotsThe Blue Day BookThe Blue NotebookThe BodyThe Body as ProtestThe Boulevard of Broken DreamsThe Breast BookThe Breathing FieldThe Bristol Board JungleThe Clouds AboveThe Devil and Daniel JohnstonThe Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Education of SophieThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Face in the LensThe Illustrated Story of OThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Madonna of the FutureThe Mirror of LoveThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New LifeThe Other PlaceThe PervertThe Philosophy of Andy WarholThe Places We LiveThe Psychology of Art and the Evolution of the Conscious BrainThe Push Man and Other StoriesThe Scar of VisibilityThe September 11 Photo ProjectThe Shiniest JewelThe Speed AbaterThe Steerage and Alfred StieglitzThe Story of Frog Belly Rat BoneThe Story of SexThe Stuff of LifeThe Three ParadoxesThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Transparent CityThe TravelersThe ValleyThe Van Gogh BluesThe Wolves in the WallsThe Yellow HouseThinThings as They AreThinking of YouTierney GearonTime and SilenceTina's MouthTits, Ass, and Real EstateTransitionTrauma and Documentary Photography of the FSATravelersTropical BlendTwentieth Century EightballTwilightUnlikelyVagina WarriorsVernacular VisionariesVietnam At PeaceVisual CultureVitamin PhWar Is Only Half the StoryWhat Are You Looking At?What Art IsWhat Good Are the Arts?What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally MannWho Am I, What Am I, Where Am I?Why Comics?William KentridgeWillie DohertyWithWriters on ArtistsYoung PhotographerZip Zip My Brain Harts
In I Thought I Could Fly... Charlee Brodksy portrays through words and images "anguish, compulsion and despair" as idiosyncrasies of mental illness. The book is a collection of 36 short 1st person confessions, gathered over three years from people who have either dealt themselves, or have significant others who have dealt with psychiatric problems. Each report is accompanied by one black and white photograph. The book's editor and photographer is a professor of photography at Carnegie Mellon University. As she is also the mother of a child with bipolar disorder, she has personal insight into the complex problems with which the mentally ill and the ones near them are confronted in their everyday lives.
The introductory essay by Jane McCafferty and George Loewenstein brings forward the keynote of the book, that mental illness, conceptualized as a homogenous whole, is a stigma in the American contemporary society. The mentally ill are held responsible for their condition, which is perceived as dangerous for society. Hence, they should be set aside from the mentally sane majority. In response, the authors raise attention to the negative consequences and the injustice of such social perception. It is a construct deeply rooted in a fear ubiquitous throughout modern history, the fear of the different.
The 36 narratives reveal various facets of being mentally different. They are accounts of ordinary human beings about what it is like to live with, or in the proximity of, mental illness. They depict a wide range of psychiatric conditions, from eating disorders and depression, through substance addiction and psychosis, to Alzheimer and schizophrenia. As an epilogue, the book closes with an update on the characters' situation after their reports were collected.
Despite an intrinsic desire to communicate and to be understood, most of the mentally ill feel the need to conceal their problems for fear of peer exclusion, social rejection, or financial consequences. The resulting isolation intensifies the psychological pains. Unfulfilled desires of emotional exchange trigger frustration, sadness, or anger; in extreme cases, they lead to suicide. Patrice, a borderline patient with numerous suicide attempts, used to sing repeatedly to herself a song from a Sesame Street record: "different is sad, different is lonely, different is hard for you only" (68). Being oblivious as to how to address a dear family member or a close friend who is mentally ill also induces sadness, frustration and guilt in the ones who are around. Aaron, the close friend of a depressed college student who committed suicide, expresses this when he confesses "I felt I should have been closer to Brian, but I didn't know how" (114).
It appears that mental illness, an invisible malady of the soul, is such a delicate issue primarily because of communicational barriers. In Brodsky's book, text and pictures complement each other in a salutary attempt to communicate. The further goal of communication is twofold. On the one hand, it is meant to help people with similar problems feel less isolated, and to motivate them to "speak up" and seek specialized assistance. On the other hand, it should render this terrible experience more intelligible to the majority culture, thus triggering tolerance and compassion. A depressed patient, ironically named Joy, states this goal quite straightforwardly: "I think we just need to face the fact that our minds and our behaviors are just as vulnerable as our bodies" (127).
Although not necessarily a pleasant read per se, the book is likely to succeed in attaining both its communicational purposes. The first person vivid accounts of the experience of psychological distress, together with the simple black and white snapshots of reality, are so evocative that they may well create empathy even in the least distressed readers. The authenticity of the reports and down-to-earth simplicity of the pictures do make a significant contribution to taking mental illness seriously. Overall, the book offers an original and realistic view onto mental illness reified. The perspective is neither scientific nor romanticized, but merely human. Consequently, it is accessible and may be of interest to a broad readership.
© 2009 Alexandra Varga
Alexandra Varga writes about herself:
I have a MSc in Cognitive Science and I'm currently a Philosophy PhD student at the CEU, Budapest, Hungary. My focus is on logical models for teleological reasoning under the assumption of rationality throughout conceptual development. I am also interested in the atypical reasoning patterns encountered in mental disorders such as personality disorders, or ASD.