‘On Thin Ice’ exhibit expresses student’s experience with mental illness

Danielle Cecil didn’t think she would make it through her bachelor of fine arts program. Now, she is set to walk in May and has a photo exhibit detailing her struggles with mental health on display at the Saginaw Art Museum.

Cecil, who will graduate with a bachelor of fine arts with a concentration in photography, began working on the exhibit, “On Thin Ice: Therapy through Photography,” in December 2019 with fellow student Shelby Thurston.

“The previous show was a requirement in the University Art Gallery to graduate with a degree in Fine Arts,” she said. “The inspiration came from a really not-so-great mental place. I had made a promise to myself to get through the BFA show but felt that I couldn’t handle it due to my mental health. I decided to try to take advantage of my situation to help me get to a better place, while making something worth looking at.”

Cecil worked on her photographs for over a year. Art department chairman Hideki Kihata said Cecil used a large format film camera with 4” by 5” film, which is uncommon for students, as they usually use digital.

“Her work is all taken using a traditional film camera, specifically the view camera,” he said. “The reason she uses the view camera is that it has large film. It’s a lot better quality than other cameras. So, her images in the Saginaw Art Museum are some of the best-quality photographs around.”

Cecil chose this larger frame because it provides a much higher quality print than the standard 35 mm film.

“This gives great sharpness in each shot when enlarged and printed,” she said. “It took a full three semesters to get used to the camera and developing the film correctly. Your average person today doesn’t see a point in shooting film when you have access to digital.” B

ecause of the film she used, to get the photos featured in the exhibit, Cecil had to keep resetting up shoots, developing and printing images and reshooting photos.

“It was very time consuming, but I knew what I was getting myself into,” she said.

Kihata said he worked with Cecil as she developed her exhibit when she was his student.

“She worked with me and studied with me to create her exhibit,” he said. “It’s very cohesive and very personal about her life, specifically about her experiences in childhood. It’s a personal statement about her life and is accompanied by a written statement, too.”

For the subjects of her photos, Cecil drew inspiration from her personal experiences with trauma and PTSD.

“Some of these photographs are based on flashbacks are related to other things in my childhood and are related to feelings during panic attacks,” she said.

Her goal, she said, was to make those viewing her works and reading the accompanying statement about PTSD feel less alone if they have experienced similar issues.

“People often have the misconception that only war veterans can have PTSD, but this is false,” she said. “Mental health is important, and more people have been in those shoes than a lot of people realize.”

Kihata said he was proud of Cecil’s work and encourages others to visit her exhibit.

“This is a very special exhibit,” he said, “because the technique she used to produce this portfolio is very difficult and highly technical. It’s professional and high-quality with its detail and sharpness.”

Kaitlyn Farley

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