The Bowen Center Unveils Café Photovoice

The Emma L. Bowen Community Service Center, one of Harlem’s largest community-based organizations that provides quality, accessible mental health and addiction treatment services, collaborated with Adelphi University’s School of Social Work and Photovoice Worldwide in a Participatory Action Research Study, that allowed clients to reflect and share their experience with mental health issues and addiction treatment through discussion and photographs.

The result is Café Photovoice—a beautiful exhibition of matted and framed digital images that capture aspects of the Photovoice participants’ lived experiences.

Photovoice put cameras in the hands of Bowen Center participants as a meaningful way to activate change while gaining knowledge through discussion, storytelling, and creativity. Each participant speaks through their images and shares stories about their access to mental health and addiction treatment services as they move through moments that make up their daily lives. The environmental nature of each photograph locates the viewer inside real-life participant interactions with family, work, nature, and community. Storytelling and poetry facilitate an open dialogue where participants express their insights; thereby physical and mental health providers, policymakers, and stakeholders can better learn what psychological and physical health care means to members of the community and their families to improve care access and the experiences of programs and services.

“Appreciation and gratitude is a big part of my recovery,” says a Photovoice participant. “You have to appreciate those things that describe your pain. Your good and bad. Your joy and pain. It’s like that record sunshine and rain. You got your pictures of the rain with the feathers and the wings. Then you got the sunny skies with the trees. Those are all the emptions that go through me, through anybody.”

Seven Bowen Center clients participated in the study. Data from the study is currently being analyzed, and once completed, Bowen intends to use the results as a guide to implement the intervention to a wider range of clients. The research team will also write a paper that will be submitted to academic journals so others can learn about Photovoice and hopefully adapt the intervention to different settings.

The unveiling of the permanent exhibition coincides with the start of Mental Health Awareness Month and can be viewed by visiting the second floor of the Bowen Center, 1727 Amsterdam Avenue at 145th Street. Masks must be worn while viewing the exhibition.

Click here to see photos from the exhibition as well as photos from the unveiling event. (Photo credit: Photos by Lauren Weissler)