An upcoming photography exhibit aims to remove the mystery and stigma around severe mental illness by showing sufferers as the humans they are.
Peter Szto, a professor of social work at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is the photographer behind an array of photos that will be showcased at the Kaneko-UNO Library Gallery at 1111 Jones St.
A free, public opening will be held there Tuesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., and guests can meet Szto, some of the photographs’ subjects and some of their community caregivers. The exhibit is supposed to run through the end of the year and into part of the next.
The photos will show people who live in Council Bluffs and people who live in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, formerly called Canton. People in both places have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness, but the Bluffs residents live in their communities, and the Chinese residents were living in a psychiatric hospital when Szto photographed them in the 1990s.
Szto said the pairing creates “a visual dialogue” between two completely different places. The ultimate goal is to change a still-existing stigma when it comes to the disease.
“When you say ‘mental illness’ or ‘mental health,’ most people have images that come to mind. Negative,” Szto said.
Citing the work of New Deal photographers who captured how people were experiencing the Great Depression, he said photography long has played an important role in humanizing people, especially those in tough situations.