The Open Shutters Project celebrates mental health survivors.
Wednesday 12th September 2018 @ 12:09 by Anna Fletcher
Community Entertainment Events News Oldham Town

The Open Shutters Project opens its exhibition this Saturday (Sept 15) at Gallery Oldham and aims to show the positive side to mental illness.

Andy Greenway who runs the local Andy’s Man Club.

Created by Lisa Gee (pictured above) and Robert Cragg the project brings together 31 photographs of individuals from around the UK taken by Lisa who wanted to share their story around mental health.

Lisa said: “It’s an idea I had rattling around my head for a very long time. A lot has been said about tackling the stigma and shame attached to mental health and I wholeheartedly agree with that but I wanted to take it further.”

Lisa began by taking her own portrait and sharing her story of a breakdown that changed her life 15 years ago.

She said: “I’d suffered from depression since I was 20. My dad died the year before which sparked that first bout. Then in 2003 I was working a high-powered job in PR for a national charity; I was bullied, I was burned out and I had a breakdown.

“I came home and moved back in with my mum. She nursed me back to health and I spent all of my time with my very tight knit family. That included a lot of time with my young nephew which made me realise I wanted to be a parent. It had never occurred to me before because I’d always seen myself as a single driven career woman. I thought marriage and kids weren’t for me but that got completely flipped on its head once I was forced to stop.”

Gradually Lisa recovered and eventually met her husband and had two children. She also found the time to pick up a camera again and has since made it into a successful career opening up Studio Gee Photography in Oldham Town Centre.

She said: “It is a completely different path than the one I would have been on without that breakdown. Don’t get me wrong it was a horrendous and awful time, but it was also the best thing that ever happened to me.

“The message in the exhibit is not only can you survive it, you can come out of it better than when you went in- stronger, kinder, more empathetic, more driven.”

After putting her own portrait online about a year ago, Lisa had friends come forward and volunteer to take part too. From those being shared on social media individuals from across the country were getting in touch asking to take part in the project.

Lisa explained: “We started to think at the beginning of this year that it would be really nice to have an exhibition so we sent a speculative email to Gallery Oldham and within 24 hours they had been to see us, loved the project and booked us in.

“My partner in the project, Robert, has been so supportive and has done so much of the legwork in pulling it altogether. Tameside, Oldham and Glossop Mind have also been there for us so much, at this point I would say it is really in partnership with them.”

The portraits themselves aim to tell the truth of each person’s experience. Each individual is photographed with an object that is significant to their story. Participants were then given the choice to write a blog about their experience or record a video, all of which will be appearing within the exhibition.

Lisa said: “We have got people from all walks of life with ages between 21 and 70 plus. I hope the portraits illustrate their stories well and bring out that emotion. Taking them has been a challenge and they are quite confronting. They aren’t portraits taken to flatter, they are honest and if I get it right it’s all about the eyes. I like to think that I am managing to photograph somebody’s soul and you can see the pain there but also the strength.”

Musician Frank Turner.

Through the project Lisa got to meet one of her musical heroes, Frank Turner, who is now one of the people taking part.

She said: “I had been a fan for a long time and I knew he was touring so I sent an email and explained the project and he got back to me and invited me to come and photograph him at the Academy before his gig. That was such an amazing experience.”

Lisa and Robert are now pulling together the last parts for the exhibition and hoping it will resonate with people.

Lisa said: “Every day I get more excited and more nervous. I didn’t think twice about telling my story, but I am nervous about telling other people’s. I’ve really put my heart and soul into this and myself and Robert feel so privileged that people have trusted us with their most intimate stories. It’s really humbling and it means a lot to start it in the town I was born and bred.”

She added: “If you told me I could wave a magic wand and take what I went through away I wouldn’t. It is hard but it makes you who you are and I am proud of who I am, there is a lot to be said for that.”

The Open Shutters Project starts this Saturday September 15 at Gallery Oldham and will be open for eight weeks. There will be an event held for World Mental Health Day on October 10 in partnership with a variety of mental health organisations.

For more information follow The Open Shutters Project on Facebook or visit www.openshutters.org.uk