Photographer Charlee Brodsky's Work a Study in Dedication

By Shaw, Kurt | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 10, 2010 | Go to article overview

Photographer Charlee Brodsky's Work a Study in Dedication


Shaw, Kurt, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Two exhibits by Pittsburgh photographer Charlee Brodsky currently on display at the American Jewish Museum at the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh command attention. Not only because they showcase the work of one of the city's most accomplished and prolific photographers, but also because they exemplify the kind of dedication it takes to become a success in that field.

Brodsky, a Shadyside resident, is a documentary photographer, curator, author and professor of photography at Carnegie Mellon University. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Tillie Olsen Award by the Working Class Studies Association. Her book, "Knowing Stephanie," was recognized as one of the American Association of University Presses' outstanding illustrated books of 2004. Her work is exhibited both regionally and nationally.

The first exhibit features photographs from another book project, "I Thought I Could Fly." Brodsky employs photography to lessen the stigma surrounding mental illness by pairing black-and-white photographs with first-hand narratives written by individuals who convey their personal experiences with mental illness.

Inspired by her daughter's diagnosis of bipolar disorder and her desire to connect with people and their everyday experiences, Brodsky uses photographic imagery to bring audiences into the routines of people affected by mental illness.

The narratives address a wide spectrum of psychiatric disorders and are authored by diverse contributors. For example, in "Kathy's Morning Walk in the Park," an interviewee tries to understand why her friend jumped to her death from the bridge depicted. In "Grace's Housebound Daughter," a mother struggles to understand the reasons her agoraphobic daughter won't leave her house. And in "Rebecca's Daughter Comes of Age," the photographer herself (using a pseudonym) grapples with her own daughter's struggle with bi-polar disorder in text that accompanies a photo of the girls' bellybutton piercing.

"She was just shy of 11 years old when she spent a week in Western Psych," Brodsky says. "She's 21 now. Her 'breakdown' was terribly hard for all of us. We couldn't understand her behavior.

"My daughter is doing OK now, not great but OK. We no longer think that she is bipolar. Diagnoses are hard in mental illness. Diagnoses are made on the basis of observation. We no longer give her meds for bipolar disorder and she hasn't had any symptoms of that disorder. …

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