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AUB graduate challenges the stigma of mental health through photography

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With more than 80 people taking their own lives in the region each year, AUB BA and MA Commercial Photography graduate Jon Mackenzie has been commissioned to work on a joint project between Cornwall Council, Wavelength and the male suicide prevention charity CALM, to photograph a range of subjects who’ve all been affected by mental health.

Developed by Jon after the success of his masculine post-graduate work, Man Up, which looks at the depiction of men epitomising masculine stereotypes, the St Agnes-based exhibition Local Hero forms a series of interactive installations, photography and audio stories, which aim to trigger discussions around mental health.

Jon, who studied both his undergraduate and post-graduate degrees at AUB, has been a visiting tutor in photography and worked as an assistant producer and in-house photographer prior to starting his own business as a freelance professional.

Jon said: “Studying my BA really helped me break into the industry and take on some quite varied roles within photography. Returning to AUB, my MA developed my work and it began to represent me more as a person. I was shooting briefs that resonated with me, rather than those of clients or other people, and I developed my own aesthetic, honing in on my own practice as a creator.”

“I hope that when people see the exhibition and interact with the stories, people will feel more comfortable talking about mental health. As a person who’s struggled with mental health, I’m working to reverse the stigma around the subject.”

He added: “I see mental health as a challenge, rather a problem, and that needs to be acknowledged more widely. People can and should seek help as they would for any other injury or illness.”

Jon will also be setting up a number of Camera Clubs supported by CALM, which will enable men to discuss photography, shoot images together, and form new friendships.

He added: The legacy of my work, and the exhibition will be the camera club and its function; to get men together and use photography as a vehicle for better expressing their feelings.”

Interim Director of Wellbeing and Public Health for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Steve Brown, said: “In Cornwall we have higher suicide rates than the national average. This could be due to a number of factors, including prevalence among people in certain trades such as agricultural workers that can have high rates of stress. This could be avoided if they were able to talk to someone.

“In reality, almost every family or community will have been affected in some way at some time by suicide. It is often wrongly believed that nothing can be done but by bringing organisations and communities together, each person can potentially contribute to prevention or intervening to save a life.

He added: “Learning how to talk about emotional health issues, making helplines and support easy to find, and ensuring that families and carers know how to recognise the signs could all make a difference.”

The free exhibition, for which tickets can be booked online, will open on Friday 16 August at Open Surf at Wheal Kitty in St. Agnes, and will play host to a variety of external structures and projections.

Read more about BA (Hons) Commercial Photography at AUB

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