Danielle Hark Speaks on Fighting Mental Illness with Photography

All photographs taken from The Broken Light Collective. Used with permission.

Photographers shoot for all sorts of reasons; some for money or as a hobby for others. For Danielle Hark, however, photography meant much more in her fight against her crushing depression. At one point in her life Danielle found herself curled up on the floor due to a panic attack brought on by her agoraphobic depression. The episode paralyzed her, leaving her unable to breathe in between fits of crying. It went on until she pulled out her phone and began taking photos.

“My tears stopped, my breathing slowed, and I became more regulated and present,” Danielle recalled. “That was a profound moment for me.”

At that moment Danielle says she began to realize the therapeutic power photography had to help regulate her mood. “It is a means of expressing my inner self, and my various thoughts, feelings and emotions, and it also gets me out of my head and into the present moment,” she explained.

“When I am mindfully photographing, it’s just me, the lens, and the infinite potential subjects before me,” she said. “I use photography as a tool that I can pull out during difficult times, no matter where I am.” Read on for the full story and more images.

Later in her life looking though a camera would help Danielle though a period of severe depression again. “I was pretty much stuck in my room. I couldn’t work, drive, or take care of my family or myself,” she recalled.

At the time Danielle was seeing a therapist who shared her interest in photography and encouraged her to pick up her camera when things were at their worst. Together they picked themes every few weeks to motivate Danielle with the purpose of being creative. “I would show her the results, which I believe enhanced our therapeutic process without me even needing to say a word,” she said.

Upon realizing how much photography really helped her, Danielle said she wanted to share how taking photos could help others. In March 2012 she created the Broken Light Collective, a website made for everyone to share their own stories of mental illness and photos. “It was always meant to be a community, a safe space where photographers could share work, and inspire and support one another,” Danielle expounded. “Within a few days, when the submissions started coming in, I felt less alone and knew that this site could be something really special.”

More than two years later Danielle is thrilled with the way the site has grown. Every week the site draws in submissions from multitudes of contributors such as Samantha Pugsley, Carrie Hilgert, Brandon Halley, and Kait Mauro to name a few. The Broken Light Collective is open to contributions of all photographic genres from individuals who have been affected by any sort of mental health challenges.

“It can be a story of feeling or emotion, anything personal with which someone else could connect,” Danielle said. “A powerful image, with a powerful story and message, is the ultimate Broken Light Collective contribution.”

Moving forward Danielle hopes to turn the Broken Light Collective into a a bigger non-profit organization to further help those with mental health problems. Danielle hopes to begin running more exhibits and therapeutic photography workshops to help college-aged individuals. These workshops aim to teach college students how photography can be used to reduce stress, anxiety, depression as well as prevent self-harm and suicide. In the future Danielle also hopes to add more workshops geared towards individuals with Autism as well as Veterans with PTSD.

In order to make this all happen the Broken Light Collective is running a Fund Dreamer crowdfunding campaign to make it all happen. As of this writing the campaign has raised $675 with only 23 days left to reach its $5000 goal.

New York readers interested in seeing some of the work featured on the Broken Light Collective in person can also do so at the non-profit Fountain Gallery, which is currently on show at 702 Ninth Avenue until August 13th. On next Tuesday, August 12th there will also be a fundraiser held at the same location from 6-8PM.

To see more of Danielle’s work and other photographers be sure to visit the Broken Light Collective and like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Brooklyn.