WELL MADE Photography Exhibit to Explore Coming Out, Mental Health and Identity • Long Beach Post

well madeGrappling with your identity can often be compared to scaling a mountain, and an Everest-sized one at that. When it comes to figuring out who you are, what you stand for, and where your true authenticity lies, the battle begins not just internally, but expands outward into society’s field, an expansive obstacle course not made for the faint of heart.

Enter Well Made, envisioned and curated by Mental Health America of Los Angeles (MHALA) and MADE in Long Beach’s innovative staff, a portrait series to be presented in accordance with both World Mental Health Week and National Coming Out Day, two national awareness-raising efforts seeking to open the door to those from all walks of life.

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MHALA, the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach and MADE in Long Beach have announced that the opening reception for Well Made, photographed by Long Beach artist Sean Laughlin, will take place on Friday, October 9 from 6:00PM to 8:00PM at MADE in downtown Long Beach.

The portraits depict models who have committed to defeating stigma individually, some who are coming out as LGBTQ and others who profess their mental health diagnoses. Some are even locally esteemed members of the Long Beach community showing face to unabashedly show their support.

“We have some really dynamic people from our Board and staff modeling for this project and are thrilled to be a part of this unique collaboration,” said Porter Gilberg, Executive Director of The Center, in a statement.

Each valiant model stands in front of a backdrop of seemingly simply-drawn mountains, yet the imagery carries more meaning than you’d think at first glance. The mountains represent strength, difference and the possibility that all people can find these concepts beautiful, especially the differences.

Each portrait participant was also asked three questions, one if which was, “Mountains are valued for their difference from world around them. Which parts of you do you think are both different and valuable?” Opening reception attendees will get the chance to read the answers of the 36 Long Beach community members who stood still for the camera.

Ronda Schultz, executive assistant for MHALA was the “brains and inner beauty behind this idea,” according to Community Liaison Hilary Lawson and was kind enough to dive into the details behind the photo exhibit.

“We don’t always have the option of hiding the parts of ourselves that are stigmatized, but often when it comes to identities that are largely internal, we are faced with the decision of whether or not to reveal that part of ourselves to others,” Schultz said. “Coming out about a stigmatized identity is a complicated action, but it has multiple benefits.”

Schultz listed these benefits as helping the person with the stigmatized identity reject said stigma and combat the shame involved to instead instill a sense of pride and dignity in its place. Benefit number two: when those who, whether knowingly or not, subscribe to prejudicial stereotypes attached to these identities are exposed to the real people showing their authentic selves, they are given an opportunity to change their harmful way of thinking.

On why MHALA chose to partner with The Center, Schultz said it was a no-brainer, that there are major crossovers between the people both organizations serve, as in, LGBTQ people are often left without the natural supports that many are born into, the same with those suffering from mental illness.

“It is through the resources that the Center and MHALA provide that people like myself, LGBTQ people living with mental illness, can help regain access to the tools to live a healthy, meaningful life,” she said.

MHALA annually serves over 2,000 people living with severe and persistent mental illness in Los Angeles County, while their primary service headquarters are located in Long Beach. The LGBTQ Center provides programs and services that support 25,000 clients annually. And MADE in Long Beach continues to work on the front lines for good of the Long Beach community.

“When we approached MADE with the idea for this event, they were very eager to help out and have donated a great deal of time and resources toward making this concept a reality,” said Schultz. 

“I think it’s important that we come together to fight the shame and stigma that lead people to conceal important parts of themselves,” said Dr. David Pilon, president and Chief Executive Officer of MHALA, in a statement. “This event is intended to encourage people to come into the light of a welcoming community and embrace their strength and take pride in who they are.”

The Center and MHALA will be offering shirts (donated by American Apparel and printed by Red Eye Media) bearing the project’s mountain imagery as thank you gifts for donations made at the event. MADE in Long Beach will be donating 10 percent of all sales to MHALA and The Center, when customers mention “Well Made” at the register, during the week following the opening.

In addition to that, 24” x 30” prints of each photo will be available for purchase at MADE throughout October and 70 percent of the proceeds from the sale of these prints will be donated to MHALA and The Center.

Attendees of the opening reception of Well Made will be treated to appetizers provided by local sponsors Olives, Whole Foods and Berlin. A Long Beach Polytechnic High School jazz ensemble called “Soul Flow” will set the mood. MADE in Long Beach has also arranged to have beer and wine available for purchase.

For more information, visit the Facebook even page here.

Portrait of MHA Member Sofauna Johnson for Well Made courtesy of Sean Laughlin

MADE in Long Beach is located at 236 Pine Avenue.

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Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her @hugelandmass on Twitter and Instagram and at [email protected].

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