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From darkness to light

In a first-of-its-kind exhibition in Singapore, participants step up to share personal stories of their lived experience with mental illness and ongoing recovery journey, through the lens of their camera.

For Ms Fong MinHui, life has been a continuous journey from darkness to light and back again. Given that photography is in essence a study of light, she found that it best expressed what she was going through.

Depicting not only her struggles with the traumatic memories of growing up in a toxic and abusive environment, but also her journey of self-discovery and healing, circular motifs, shadows and light feature strongly in a series of eight photographs taken by the principal auditor.

Suppressed memories had preyed on her insecurities, leading to several suicide attempts. The 32-year-old was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in November 2018 and her journey of recovery has been fraught with relapses.

"I no longer yearn to belong, as I used to. I speak openly about my struggles, because I hope that my story will illuminate the path out of the darkness and towards recovery for others struggling in silence," says Ms Fong.

She is one of 24 people with the lived experience of a mental health condition who participated in PhotoStory: From Darkness to Light - a local initiative that celebrates the journey of mental health recovery through visual imagery.

It is organised by Resilience Collective, a charity focused on empowering peers, or people who have experienced a mental health condition. Resilience Collective is supported by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) and the Agency for Integrated Care, and is a partner of Beyond the Label, a mental health anti-stigma campaign under NCSS.

Resilience Collective executive director Goh Shuet-Li said: "The pandemic and its related challenges have brought to the fore the relevance of mental health to all of us and the fact that we all experience mental health challenges, but to varying degrees. You can have poor mental health but not necessarily be diagnosed with a mental illness. Hence, mental health is still relevant to you."

Under the guidance of five photographers who volunteered as mentors over 35 weeks, participants began with workshops last January before the Covid-19 pandemic shifted the sessions online.

Their personal experiences with mental illness and ongoing recovery as told through the lens of their camera will be featured in an exhibition open to the public from Friday to Jan 27 at the third-floor atrium of Raffles City Shopping Centre. Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin will officiate it this Thursday evening.

Curated by Temasek Polytechnic photography lecturer Chow Chee Yong, 51, one of the photographer mentors, more than 140 works will be displayed in the showcase of stories about darkness and pain, of silent struggles, and of how holding on to hope brought recovery, and newfound strength and resilience.

"The photographs in this exhibition are translations of the mental state during a certain period, be it positive or negative. These images may not exude the finesse of a fine art exhibition, but they are genuine expressions from the heart and mean greatly to those who captured them," says Mr Chow.

Members of the public will be able to adopt limited photographic prints of various sizes by the participants for a donation of $200 to $499 (A4-size print), $500 to $999 (A3-size print), and $1,000 and above (A2-size print). They may also adopt a set of 16 postcards for a donation of $100 to $199.

The proceeds will support recovery programmes for people with mental health conditions and initiatives that reach out to those at risk.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the number of visitors in the exhibition space is limited. Visitor entry will be staggered to meet safe distancing requirements. To ensure a smooth experience at the exhibition, members of the public are advised to book visiting slots online.

For more details, please visit www.resilience.org.sg/photostory

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2021, with the headline 'From darkness to light'. Print Edition | Subscribe