Dre Erwin, a Saskatchewan Health Authority primary health care nurse in the remote northern community of Pinehouse, is sharing his love of photography with young people to help them tell their stories in a safe, non-verbal way.
For some, “photography helps bring focus to positive life experiences, relieving their preoccupation with illness or addictions,” said the registered nurse, noting that Pinehouse youth often manage feelings of isolation and mental health issues while having ready access to alcohol and drugs. “Practicing focusing on the perfect shot also helps them have focus in everyday life.”
For others, such as one member who lost her hearing due to a brain tumour, photography provides a means to communicate.
John Ray, a member of the photography club, can attest to the club’s value.
“Drinking became a big problem in my life. I lost so much because of it. But because of this nurse and his compassion, he not only helped me realize what I was doing and where I was going, but he introduced me to photography and how therapeutic it can be.
“It has been an amazing journey so far. . . . taking pictures of the northern lights and looking for beauty all the time, instead of hiding my pain with booze.”
Erwin isn’t surprised by the positive results reported by club members. Photography provided him with his own healing outlet while managing difficult life circumstances and inspired him to launch the group.
Community donations, used to purchase studio lights and backdrops for photoshoots, have allowed the club to evolve and take part in community projects. Some of the events they’ve participated in include an Elders’ gathering, a poker rally and work for the junior hockey team.
People and organizations have begun to take notice. The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) included the photo club in a commercial and documentary. The club has also been contacted via their
Facebook page by people from as far away as Newfoundland who are interested in starting a similar group.
Said Erwin, “the goal is to reach out to communities all over the world and show them that photography really does help. With mental health, there is so much focus on talk, but at the end of the day most of the kids are left wondering, ‘Now what?’ Photography gives them the opportunity to tell their story and share it safely with others.”
Pinehouse is located 350 kilometers north of Saskatoon and has a population of just over 1,000 people.
Club member Laura Iron photographs the northern landscape.