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runs in the family

Updated: May 26, 2021

Amelia | New York City, NY | Photography Student

My name is Amelia Thomas. I live in New York City, I study photography- and I will most likely develop schizophrenia in the near future. I am going to jump right in because that is why I'm writing this - I want to help break the stigma and fear when it comes to honesty about mental health in our lives. So here we go.

Before I understood the complex relationships within my household, the miscommunication between family members, or the tight grip of mental illness on my family, I understood that my father liked to draw. He liked to draw whenever he could. Dysfunction wrapped my childhood tightly in its fist. Instead of two parents guiding me through childhood with steadiness, I experienced a youth of imbalance and unsettled disputes. Mental illness became a selfish and intrusive fifth family member that clung to us in different ways. I could not understand why my father did not have the ability to be a parental figure in my life. I didn’t understand that he was trapped in a battle against his own mind.

My father has what's called Acute Paranoia Schizophrenia. What this basically means is extreme amounts of hallucinations (of all kinds), and assuming the worst in everyone. Having a parental figure with this mental illness is of course complex to navigate - but my particular situation was harder because of my father's choice to refuse help. A form of expression my father found was through pen and paper. Watching him draw was when he channeled energy to create art. His raw talent mesmerized me and I clung to art from then on.

Over time, my interest in art expanded to what art means to other people- which is where photography came in. Telling stories through images let me capture optimism and authenticity and would eventually become a tool I use today to make sure I am doing alright myself. I suppose the most accurate description of myself is a 19-year-old, recently-heartbroken, queer photographer. I am right in this beautifully chaotic moment of my life where nothing is certain except my devotion to making art I care about. The way I connect with people most is through art, yes, but also through conversation like this. One of the most powerful tools for establishing priorities of my own mental health is through conversation. If I don’t talk about the anxiety swirling in my head, it will never be dealt with. If I don't hold myself accountable, I will spiral, like my father. If I don’t help start or carry on these conversations, how can I expect others to?

I recently applied for an artist residency focused around this very topic. My idea is a photography docu-series that focuses on young artists that both make art and live with mental illness in some capacity. I want to photograph the artist, the work, and the journey of developing both of these things over the time period of the residency. I want to focus on capturing honesty from each artist: how they have dealt and struggled with their mental health, and how that plays a role in their lives. I want to get to know the artist, what they’re passionate about, the work they've chosen to focus on- and the way mental health has a presence in all of these things.

At the end of the day, I want to make work that truly matters and could be a positive tool for someone else. I want to use photos to start dialogue about topics that could always use more voices to normalize it in society, like mental health and the importance of authenticity. I want to be an artist that creates something useful, authentic, and thoughtful. I want to help others feel seen and understood through my work. I want to make this work for myself, to connect with like-minded artists that refuse to let anything define them or their creations.

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