Zeno Mountain Farm Retreat 2017 / by Amanda Crommett

Last week I participated the in inaugural "Spoonie Collective"; a retreat co-run by our team at Suffering the Silence and our lovely hosts at Zeno Mountain Farm. The retreat focused on offering a safe and productive space for those living with chronic illness and their allies to share in and to generate community.

It was a snowy, very chilly week filled with absolutely inspiring conversation and connection-making (all nestled between two MOUNTAINS!?!). I myself am not chronically ill, so in my work with STS I often feel as though the space is not mine to fill; but this lovely group of giving souls showed me how I can be a better ally, activist, and straight-up friend. I love working with Allie and STS, it's helped me develop my photographic practice so immensely but also just be a better human. The week really solidified my thought about the work we do: if one very simply offers a platform to stand on, and opportunity to be heard, people will rise up. SO powerful.

Over the week we had several workshops including one with a meditative art healer (I went IN!), a  half-day with some award winning Moth story-tellers, and some emotionally important group-sharing sessions. The week culminated in a POWERFUL moth-style story-telling evening. Again, it is so awesome that it can be so simple as asking, "hey, what's your story" of someone *especially those otherwise marginalized* to evoke great inspiring narratives. For some, really being heard is cathartic. 

On our final day I sat down with each of the attendees and spoke with them. I've been honing in on this thing I call "meditative photography" where a subject and I sit and chat and muse and ponder before we start photos. I find it really helps people to not only be more comfortable with a big camera in their face, but also with my own understanding of who that person is. Sometimes it's really just a few words, but I find it brings out the subject's spirit, and also helps in my own creative practice.

For these photographs I asked each person "What are you leaving with and taking with you into the world". I have to laugh because in explaining this prompt I mentioned the "day four" concept I know from my time working in Episcopalian retreats. It is interesting that my time working with youth ministry and in the church feels so distant but also so entirely close to all the things I am passionate about. 

I'm always trying to come up with different ways to include words with photographs for our campaigns on STS (so over the hold up a white sign deal!!, Cara at the retreat made a good point that this trend is also dangerous in the potential for someone to photoshop in whatever words they want once it is published!). I had each person write down the word they were thinking of as I shot them and used that in the photos. It's cool because it's their own handwriting, but the even cooler thing is that I think the word would shine through without the superimposition. 

Im so excited where the next year will lead us at STS. I'm hoping next year's retreat is a bit more diverse, just as life-resetting, and even more powerful!