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Chi Lives: bringing mental illness into focus

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In January of last year Alisa Hauser had just started working as a social rehabilitation counselor at the Lockport Center for Behavioral Health when she saw a picture of celebrity photographer Marc Hauser in a magazine. "He looked a lot like my father, who had passed away," she says. Curious, she called him. "We talked a little bit and found out that he and my father were cousins."

A former reporter for a newspaper in the Fox River valley, Alisa had been thinking of writing a book about the Lockport Center's unique approach to mental illness: clients are strongly encouraged to interact socially in the town, and most hold jobs outside the facility. A social center--with a juice bar, big-screen TV, and pool table--is housed in a former movie theater, and clients have access to a nearby stable that caters to people with disabilities.

Alisa asked Marc if he'd take pictures for the book. A former newspaper photographer, Marc had been in mental institutions "where they tie the patients up to chairs with bedsheets." But when he heard Alisa's description of the humane atmosphere at Lockport, he agreed to collaborate on the project. The result, Images From Within: Portraits of People Confronting Mental Illness, is a collection of 53 photographs accompanied by excerpts of interviews Alisa conducted with the subjects.

Marc shot the portraits last June. The pair had already found a publisher in High Tide Press, an arm of the Trinity Foundation, which supports the Lockport Center. (Some of the proceeds from the book's sale will benefit the foundation.) At first Alisa wanted Marc to take feel-good pictures of patients square-dancing and doing yoga. "If the book was something like an annual report for Trinity, I didn't really want to do it," he says. "I wanted it to be about the people and what an unbelievable group they are. We photographed them in their favorite places to hang out during the day, and nobody said they wanted to be photographed when they were playing bingo." The shoot was a departure from Marc's usual routine. "I mostly do portraits with makeup people and stylists around me. This was just me and the people. There were no tricks or flash. I shot everything in natural light.

"A couple of times we had problems because their attention span isn't very good. In the middle of a shoot, one guy dropped what he was doing and said, 'I'm out of here. I don't want to be in the book.' Another day a guy came up to me and said, 'I am a giant bug.'" Once a female assistant received so much unwanted attention she didn't come back the next day. "These people have heavy-duty adrenaline," says Marc.

"One of the things about people with mental illness is that they are extremely honest about things," says Alisa. "They don't cover things up for the camera."

Most of the photos show people doing ordinary stuff--sitting under a favorite tree, strumming a guitar, driving a car, playing pool, petting horses. "I wanted to show how these people are, to show the love they have in their hearts, and to show that they really want to be normal, just like you and me," says Marc. "We take a lot of things for granted, like walking down the street and getting a hamburger, and they don't. It's hard work."

The Hausers will appear at a combination book signing and photo exhibit from 5 to 8 this Tuesday at Jean Albano Gallery, 215 W. Superior (312-440-0770). They'll be joined by some of the people featured in the book at another signing from 6 to 8 on Thursday, February 18, at the Roxy, 1017 S. State in Lockport. Call 815-774-0327 for more information. --Cara Jepsen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Alisa Hauser, marc Hauser hoto by Britt Fohrman; "Harold Hyde" photo by Marc Hauser.

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