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There's No Negative in Photographs That Help Students Cope With Illness

December 05, 1987|ROBERT LACHMAN | Times Staff Writer

Photography is not only a way of remembering life but in some cases a way of sustaining it. A support group in Laguna Beach has found a way to use photography to help those with life-threatening diseases.

Three months ago, the Laguna Shanti Project, a support service for the terminally ill, established Open Portraits, a weekly photo class that stresses the emotional value of picture-taking rather than the technical or artistic.

On Dec. 12, Open Portraits will hold its first public showing at the Laguna Shanti office, at 343 Third St., Laguna Beach. The exhibition, which consists of 12 black and white portraits, will be open from 4 to 8 p.m.

The class, founded by Mary-Linn Hughes, encourages students to explore their attitudes toward themselves and their illness through photography and the interaction that is part of the creative process. Hughes has two students, both of whom have acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

"Photography lends itself well toward self-exploration," Hughes says.

"We work in a different way. Most of the time we shoot photos of each other. Sometimes we are directing the person behind the camera. This is why all the photos are collaborative in nature. Something happens when we are all here. We all participate in every picture that is made. I think it is unique."

Both teacher and students stress the value of working with such a small group.

"In the larger support groups," says student Elric Hans, "you don't get to know too many of the people. It's hard to express your emotional highs and lows. However, in this group we use photographs to lighten up the atmosphere so it's not so intense. We get to know each other as we talk over our work."

Student Wade Wenthur says the class is "magic."

"There is a real power and joy participating in this creative process," he says.

"Most people dislike pictures of themselves--no matter who took them," he says. "I am one of those people. I had thought in taking the photography class, I would have to like myself.

"With the diagnosis of the illness everything seemed to me to take on a negative connotation.

"I am going through an illness where I will probably die. There is a possibility I may live, but the probability far outweighs the possibility. I thought that by going through the class I could learn to accept the finality of my illness and learn to like myself and get through the illness better.

"I am able to express myself much, much better than before. And I'm taking good pictures. It has given me a positive outlook rather than negative."

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