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    Invisible Illness on full display through Picture of Health

    For someone who began capturing photos at seven years old, seeing life through a lens is second nature. And, using photography for the purpose of storytelling is a skill Baton Rouge photographer and journalist Leslie D. Rose has mastered with The Picture of Health photo project that displays the full scope of people living with invisible illnesses. From capturing bottles of medicines and supplements, medical equipment, vials of blood of another, bundles of hair loss, and hidden scars, Rose takes great care to present photographic stories of people living with invisible, chronic, and often debilitating diseases.

    For many people living with invisible illnesses, very rarely do they “look sick.” And quite often, there is no celebration in looking like they are disease-free when beneath the surface their bodies are fighting debilitating conditions or chronic pain.

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    In fact, a moment of conversation with someone living with diseases like multiple sclerosis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, or lupus, will reveal little known truths about the appearance of illness and the journey to get to an accurate diagnosis. These truths are some of the reasons Rose unveiled The Picture of Health photo exhibit this summer at the Healthcare Gallery and followed with a three-month show at Southern Cofe in Scotlandville.

    Inspired by her own fibromyalgia journey and her husband’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis, Rose created this exhibit to help non-ill people better understand what “sick” really looks like while giving the power of transparency to people who are chronically ill. Shining light on invisible illnesses of all kinds has become a passion project for her after a simple Facebook post that asked people to comment with a selfie if they had invisible illnesses. More than a hundred posts and responses followed and she realized something should be done. “And this (exhibit) is that something,” Rose said. “The biggest thing is to elicit compassion.”

    Leslie D Rose

    Leslie D Rose

    For those viewing the exhibit at the gallery and coffee shop, The Picture of Health accomplishes more.
    “This exhibit is moving. I see myself in every picture,” said Vanessa Pitts who has lived with systemic lupus erythematosus for more than 20 years.

    Tinicia Turner said this is “such an awesomely fresh and thought-provoking exhibit.”

    “Thanks, Leslie D Rose for bringing light to those suffering in the shadows,” said Tamiko Francis Garrison whose photo presents polycystic kidney disease and migraines in the exhibit.

    The exhibit features more than one dozen Louisianians living with invisible illnesses like kidney disease, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, autism, psoriatic arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, high blood pressure, and more. They volunteer to share their stories. In five months since the reveal, Rose has photographed people with ten different conditions.

    The photos show people in the manner in which they present themselves daily. Using a mixture of headshots, full-body shots, and shots of the individual’s hands holding a sign listing their diagnosis, the exhibit focuses on the perceived normalcy of people housed in ill bodies. Photographs are also shared on @PicofHealthBR social media pages along with hashtags of illnesses to expand awareness and garner more participation. The mission is to highlight invisible illness, elicit compassion, and promote education on a variety of health issues.

    For those who are photographed, the project is liberating. “This was one of the most rewarding and freeing experience of my life! To be able to see so many people who, suffer with invisible illnesses, share their journeys was truly inspiring. It was also quite amazing to see what they battle everyday. These warriors inspired me and filled the room with love and hope!” said Sylvia Chapman.

    One of the exhibit’s collections features Chapman who shared how psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis sent her life spiraling through debilitating health crisis and depression. “I often asked God why this was happening to me and then I started to see purpose in it,” Chapman said. For her, the yearlong Picture of Health exhibit helps her release her purpose of showing others that they can survive and live their lives completely with illness.

    “To have our silent suffering validated and brought to light is healing, and Leslie’s work is beautiful,” said Meghan Matt. In September, Rose gathered participants and the public for a Coffee Chat at Southern Cofe to dialogue on invisible illnesses. They answered candid questions on diagnosis, fears, frustrations, and relationships.

    “My heart is full because so many people are interested in promoting invisible illness awareness,” said Rose who plans to host more events.

    “I have been somewhat shocked by the demographics of people who have signed up to be featured in The Picture of Health. I think I’ve inadvertently given encouragement to women who look like me and inspired them to share their stories. I have worked to create a safe space for those with illnesses to share their stories, but it appears that my own identity has given way for other women of color to feel even more comfortable sharing,” she said.

    “It is truly amazing the response and amount of support this project has received. Leslie has definitely created something educational, relatable, eye-opening, and beautiful,” said exhibit curator April Baham.
    Pieces are still being added to the exhibit and a full showing is being scheduled for May 2020.
    Rose’s activism-based arts organization, CreActiv, LLC seeks a temporary home for the preview pieces on display and a location to host the full exhibit next year.

    On Sunday, Oct.13, the group hosted a panel discussion, “Invisible Illness Awareness through the Arts,” to explore art as a tool for building awareness around the taboo subject of health issues. Panelists will discuss the creation of the project, stigmas surrounding disclosing illnesses, what it is like to have an invisible illness, ways to elicit compassion for those who suffer every day, and more. The program also featured a musical performance by Chris “The Madd Katt” Lee that will depict the pain of sciatica through drum beats. Lee is an “invisible illness warrior” featured in the exhibit.

    “The mission of pushing invisible illness to the forefront of the conversation is very hard…People who wake up in pain but generally look well fight everyday to act how they look instead of allowing their bodies to feel. This is a super trying process. I appreciate everyone’s support, but I fear that our voices are not yet loud enough. …Feel how you feel, support yourself, talk about it, support other invisible illness warriors, and champion this mission,” said Rose.

    ONLINE: www.CreActivLLC.com
    SOCIAL MEDIA: @PicofHealthBR

    By Candace J Semien
    Jozef Syndicate ereporter
    @JozefSyndicate

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    Panel to explore art as a tool for building awareness around health issues, Oct. 13

    On Sunday, October 13, the result of a partnership between Baton Rouge Gallery and CreActiv, LLC, BRG’s Sundays@4 series will host a special panel discussion, Invisible Illness Awareness through the Arts, on CreActiv’s invisible illness awareness project, The Picture of Health, to explore art as a tool for building awareness around the taboo subject of health issues.

    Panelists will discuss the creation of the project, stigmas surrounding disclosing illnesses, what it is like to have an invisible illness, ways to elicit compassion for those among us who suffer every day, and more. The program will also feature a musical performance by Invisible Illness Warrior, Chris “The Madd Katt” Lee, that will depict the pain of sciatica through drum beats. The panel will be moderated by Donney Rose. A few pieces from the exhibit will be on display.

    Panelists include:
    Leslie D. Rose, photographer, The Picture of Health and CreActiv, LLC founder and COO
    April Baham, Project Manager, Louisiana Division of the Arts and Curator of The Picture of Health
    Rani Whitfield, MD, Family Practice Physician
    Tamiko Francis Garrison, Invisible Illness Warrior and Patient Advocate

    Danny Belanger, Director of Arts Education and Accessibility/ADA/504 Coordinator, Louisiana Division of the Arts

    The Picture of Health is an invisible illness awareness program inspired by CreActiv, LLCfounder and COO, Leslie D. Rose’s own struggles with invisible illness. It seeks to highlight individuals living with invisible physical, chronic, and mental illnesses. Through the art of photography, the project shows people living with these illnesses in the manner in which they present themselves daily, focusing on the perceived ‘normalcy’ of people housed in ill bodies. The exhibit kicked off its preview run on May 29 at The Healthcare Galley and held a three-month showing at Southern Grind Cofé this past summer. Pieces are still being added to the exhibit and a full showing is being scheduled for May 2020.

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    Invisible illnesses to be highlighted at ‘The Picture of Health’ exhibit, May 29

    A photography exhibit highlighting invisible illnesses will be unveiled on Wednesday, May 29 at The Healthcare Galley, 3488 Brentwood Drive, Suites 102 & 103, Baton Rouge. The Picture of Health exhibit is produced by Leslie D. Rose, a Baton Rouge based photographer and writer who suffers with fibromyalgia. The exhibit features more than one dozen Baton Rougeans representing illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, kidney disease, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, autism, psoriatic arthritis, high blood pressure, and more.

    Through the art of photography, The Picture of Health, shows people in the manner in which they present themselves daily. Using a mixture of head shots, full body shots, and shots of the individual’s hands holding up a sign detailing their illness, the exhibit focuses on the perceived normalcy of people housed in ill bodies. The mission is to highlight invisible illness, elicit compassion, and promote education on a variety of health issues. The Picture of Health  (4)_edit

    Inspired by her own diagnosis journey with invisible illness, Rose wanted to create something that would help non-ill people better understand what “sick” really looks like. In 2014, she was misdiagnosed with anxiety disorder. A diagnosis she believed as her husband had just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After three years of trying to yoga and meditate the pain and fatigue away, she was hit with neuropathy so bad that she could not walk on her own for a full week. This began a yearlong second opinion process. During which, she began counseling sessions to cope with the unknown chronic pain and other associated symptoms, which was later revealed to be fibromyalgia. All of this has always been met with a huge lack of compassion, because rarely does she “look sick.”

    Being so closely touched by a variety of invisible illnesses and having been misdiagnosed, shining light on invisible illnesses of all kinds became a passion project for Rose. This is why she started an online support group for women of color suffering with chronic pain. But this wouldn’t be enough – she had to find a way to help other people understand invisible illnesses. At the top of September 2017, it was a simple Facebook post that asked people to comment with a selfie if they have invisible illnesses. Some 100 plus photos later, she knew the project in her head was much bigger than she could imagine, and so The Picture of Health was conceived.

    The one night only exhibit kickoff to be held on May 29 is sponsored by Rose’s activism-based arts organization, CreActiv, LLC, in partnership with Dr. Leone Elliott and The Healthcare Gallery. The exhibit is curated by April Baham. The event will run from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and will feature brief remarks from invisible illness warriors and medical professionals.

    ABOUT CreActiv, LLC

    CreActiv, LLC is an activism-based arts organization with the mission of promoting and producing programming that heightens awareness, raises funds, and/or supports important issues through the use of the arts and partnerships. The organization currently houses two programs Louisiana Artists for Puerto Rico and The Picture of Health.  Follow us on Facebook or Instagram@Picofhealthbr.

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