Kellogg reveals the humanity of mental illness

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Former Guttenberg resident Barb Kellogg recently authored and published her first book, "If You Only Knew: Revealing the Humanity of Mental iIllness." (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

Since 1949, the United States has designated May as National Mental Health Awareness Month. 

Former Guttenberg resident Barb Kellogg has found her niche in digital and film photography. The nature photographer, accidental author and recipient of the 2019 Individual Artist Award is the daughter of Ed and Karen Kellogg. Her father, Ed, and his brother, Bill, were co-owners of The Guttenberg Press in the 1970s. Barb and her family moved away from the area in 1979.

Photographer and author

Kellogg and her husband currently reside in Avon, Minn., where she specializes in nature photography. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in human developmment/family therapy. 

Kellogg's photographic images have been described as elegant, timeless and imaginative. She has a passion for floral photography.  

Kellogg has recently authored her first book, If You Only Knew: Revealing The Humanity of Mental Illness. She explained, "I created If You Only Knew from a place of kind curiosity and openness to understanding. The idea for the photo essay was inspired by conversations with a friend who battled depression. Those conversations helped me understand the illness, not the textbook definition, but how it actually felt in terms I could relate to." 

Project inspiration

Kellogg told The Press, "The whole process of writing a book kind of drains energy away from everything else. I have always been curious about people in general. About nine years ago my friend, who had been battling depression, died by suicide. Because of his openness I was able to understand why he took his own life. That was the catalyst for this project." 

Kellogg shared, "I wanted to create a book that would showcase individuals living with the challenge of mental illness. I did not want it to become a book of gloom and doom, which is often the world view. So many people have thanked me for the sense of hopefulness that comes from the vignettes – or stories." 

Kellogg described, "My desire was to give other people, who are unfamiliar with mental illness, an opportunity to have a glimpse into real peoples' lives and how they feel. I tried to encourage the reader to go beyond the diagnosis and definitions of mental illness." 

Putting the pieces together

"A couple of years after my friend's death, I took a conceptual photography class. I call them visual analogies for ease of understanding. I kind of wondered if I could use my power for good through photography – if I could convey the emotions of others' photographically – and be inspired to create images to help others understand how mental illness feels," she said. "I shared my idea for several years with others but it didn't stick.  I eventually piqued someone's interest about four years ago during a lunch engagement with a woman from Catholic Charities. That led to an introduction to a mental health program director who was very supportive of the idea. This provided the opportunity for introductions to people living with mental illlness." 

She noted, "In the beginning, I envisioned this project as an art exhibit, hoping to share interviews, portraits and visual analogy photographs featuring about ten people. I didn't have any problem securing individuals willing to be photographed and share their story. Many more people stepped forward recommending others they knew who were living with mental disorders." She went on to say, "It was challenging to gather a diverse group of people, but it was important for me to try. I received two grants during the last few years for this project. I needed to use a recent one before the end of 2019. That created a helpful deadline for me." 

Kellogg added, "Because books take time to create, some people were interviewed two years prior to the publication of the book.  I am happy to report that some of these individuals are in a different place for the better. When they re-read their interview they were amazed at the personal progress that they made." 

She observed, "One of the things that continue to surprise me is the gratitude I have received from participants. I am a good Midwesterner. I did not think I deserved thanks. People working as mental health professionals even expressed their appreciation for my work." 

The accidental author and award-winning photographer does not have any plans for another book. She commented, "I don't know if I will do another one. My intention was a photography project; while I expected it to be hard I was not prepared for the amount of time I would spend writing. For now I am still promoting the book."

Kellogg concluded, "I would like to extend a special thank you to Sue Leonhart, my second grade teacher, and the other faculty members who had an impact on my life while living in Guttenberg. The education I received during my primary years provided me with an excellent foundation for learning and who I've become today." 

Barb Kellogg can be reached via her wesbsite at www.BarbKellogg.com. 

 
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