Visual Arts student explores photography as therapy during pandemic

Knowing the impact photography can have on the person behind the lens, Kendra Bosse used the art form to help people with mental health and substance use disorder in Niagara this summer.

The fourth-year Visual Arts and Psychology major ran a workshop for community members after receiving a Brock Research Training Award funded by the University’s Office of the Vice President, Research.

The award was launched this year to support students facing a collapsed summer job market, providing an opportunity to enhance their research skills and work closely with faculty to reach their goals.

Kendra Bosse, fourth-year Visual Arts and Psychology major at Brock University.

Guiding the research project was Amy Friend, Associate Professor and artist in Brock’s Department of Visual Arts (Studio Arts) at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts.

At the time, Friend was evaluating how artists were responding to the pandemic and encouraged Bosse to explore ways of looking at imagery that promote sharing and learning.

Based on Bosse’s interest in therapeutic photography and mental health, a collaboration with Willow Arts Community was formed to deliver the workshop, “Here and Now: Using photographs as a creative response to lived experience.”

Willow Arts Community is a peer support organization based in St. Catharines that aims to reduce barriers and provide opportunities for adult artists living with mental illness and substance use disorder in the Niagara region.

Believing photography has the ability to reduce feelings of isolation and foster human connection in a meaningful way, Bosse led a two-hour session in July with six Willow member artists. Participants were asked to take photos that “captured emotion without people.”

The photos were presented and discussed during the virtual workshop hosted on Zoom, resulting in laughter, tears, peer support, compassion and healthy dialogue surrounding loss and isolation during the pandemic.

It was a learning moment Bosse will never forget.

“This has been a hands-on experience that has prepared me for a future career in mental health,” she says. “Taking part in this research has had an impact on my studies and opened my eyes to how art can bring people together.”

Seeking Faces in Reflection by Heba Younes was one of the photographs captured as part of “Here and Now: Using photographs as a creative response to lived experience,” a workshop conceptualized and executed by Brock University student Kendra Bosse in partnership with the Willow Arts Community.

Shauna MacLeod, Founder and Director of Willow Arts Community, saw great value in the project and was grateful for the benefits to community members.

MacLeod hopes to use this framework for future collaborations with Brock University and the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts.

“Kendra created an excellent workshop that provided a meaningful opportunity for artists living with mental illness and substance use to come together and share their experiences in an authentic and creative way,” she says. “In a time of heightened anxiety and isolation due to COVID-19, these moments are more important than ever.”

Friend agrees this forum for shared discussion and engagement at a time of increased isolation has been very impactful. She also notes a less formalized approach focusing on community integration is a valuable path for learning beyond the walls of academia.

“I am thankful and excited to see the collaborative impact of this work, and I look forward to building a closer relationship with Willow Arts Community,” she says.

Bosse will graduate in April and plans to attend graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in Art Therapy. She is motivated to continue her research and creative community outreach.

“The ability to tie together theory and technique that I have learned during my undergraduate career at Brock and while working alongside Willow Arts Community, has provided me with insight on how therapeutic photography can be used to foster self-expression and communication in individuals living with mental illness,” says Bosse.

“Everyone has a story; you just have to listen.”

To learn more about Willow Arts Community and how to get involved, please visit their website.

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