Seven recovering addicts participate in a photography project, now on display in Armory Square
Endless railroad tracks. A bottle of wine on a fashionably painted stoop. A flagman holding a “Slow” sign while the background appears in motion. A laptop computer, document on screen, and the words “Career Action Plan” at the top of the page.
All these photographs prove once again the adage that the camera doesn’t lie. While the photographer can mess with aperture and focus and light to alter an image into something nearly abstract, the image remains grounded in reality. In the case of people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, reality can often sting. Hand those people a camera, and create an art exhibit from their photographs, and their reality becomes our reality.
That’s just what counselors at Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare hoped would hap-pen when they set about asking clients to shoot photos that told their individual road to recovery. The result, My Recovery Story, premiered Aug. 4 at the Armory Square art gallery XL Projects, 307 S. Clinton St. Several of those photos are reprinted here.
“We have very creative people in our program,” says Jeremy Klemanski, president and CEO of SBH, the Syracuse-based recovery program with its most recognizable facility at 847 James St., but with sites throughout the city. “The impetus to get this done now is we had the folks that could make this happen. Our organization has grown and we had a confluence of opportunity and resources to get it done.”
Seven SBH clients, all in varying degrees of recovery, contributed the 30 photos on display in the gallery owned by Syracuse University. Each photo is quite large, more so because of a substantial, surrounding white mat on which observers are welcome to write comments using a Sharpie. Part of that rationale is that visitors will likely react differently to each photo; the other part is that recovery is all about rebuilding relationships.
the photos is of a wine bottle sitting on a stoop,” says Klemanski. “To
some people that might be a romantic image but to other people it
might be a threatening image. So the interactive nature of this
exhibit, where we invite comments, might bring some of that dif- ferent
“Further, everything about recovery that’s healthy and good is about inclusion,” he continues. “It’s about reconnecting with the community, the family, with oneself in a healthier framework. It’s about rediscovering and rebuilding someone’s life. The lives that we’re working with are recovering. We’re providing the resources, the guidance, the tools. It’s about reconnecting.”
Religious images reoccur often throughout the exhibit, while many of the photos will be familiar to anyone who has lived in Syracuse even a few years. A photo of a Dead End sign, while expected, is still sad. Surprisingly, Klemanski adds, it wasn’t at all difficult convincing clients to participate.
“The toughest part was figuring out how to communicate the opportunity and allow them to participate even if they remained anonymous,” he explains. “Interestingly, no one remained anonymous.
There are some really creative folks out there that are talented, and happen to be living a life of recovery. It was lucky we had a creative medium to so they could share their stories.”
One of the SBH clients who willingly shared his stories is Christopher Lowe, 44, who has spent nearly the last year getting straight. “I put myself in the program,” admits Lowe, who lost his wife and son, his business and almost himself to drug addiction. “I am almost to my year clean date, Aug. 15.” He eagerly picked up one of the Nikon cameras in January so he could attempt to educate others about the disease of addiction.
“I’m doing it for myself,” he says, “it helps keep me sober. You tell on yourself when you get the truth out, and that’s why I did it. It helped me because it gave me an opportunity to let people know what was on my mind and what goes through the mind of an addict.”
Lowe’s images range from a lonely and cold set of railroad tracks, shot along Caughdenoy Road, to a still-life styled bowl of fruit. “I hope people who look at the photos take away what I experienced,” he said, “to show them that abstinence is a better life. I know it’s easier said than done. I see a lot of people relapse. It’s a 24-hour program; you go through this one day at a time.”
Lowe has also reconnected with some of his estranged family. “On Thursday, my mother and sister will be there,” he said of the gallery opening that took place on Aug. 4. “I’ve become quite the celebrity because of this. My mom said to me yesterday how proud of me she is. She worried a lot of years because of me. I didn’t live a sober life and then the drug took me to a level I don’t ever want to go to again. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
While this year’s project focused on photographs, Klemanski hopes future exhibits will involve other artistic media. “My vision is that this year we focus on photography, but by next year or the year after I’d love to see this involve other media, other forms of creative expression, perhaps painting or sculpture or something else.”
My Recovery Story continues through Aug. 28. XL Projects is open Thursdays through Sundays, noon to 6 p.m. For more information, call 442-2542 or visit www.sbh.org/myrecovery.