If he really wanted to get cynical about it, Benjamin Franklin could’ve amended his oft-quoted quip to say, “…in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and budget cuts.” After all, it sure feels like every time a group of city, state, or federal legislators comes together, one of the main topics at hand is budget cuts. Those cuts might not affect those of us who are well off — either fiscally or mentally — but they certainly take a toll on the less fortunate.
Andy Kemmis is trying to push back on more budget cuts in his home state of Montana. The photographer has been working with the Behavioral Health Alliance of Montana to put together an ad campaign that puts those affected by the cuts front and center.
BHAM is a member-based organization in MT that strives to coordinate, advocate, and communicate for behavioral health services. I am currently working on pulling together a mini campaign for them to take to the state legislature as they begin to lobby legislators to provide funding for health services. The last time around, budgets were cut a lot, so our campaign will show a few faces of the people who have been impacted.
The goal of these ads is to make the legislators see a few of the people who are affected by the cuts they make. The state cut about $50 million during the last session and things aren’t getting any better with all the challenges everyone is facing. Using these as a conversation starter is a goal too, and helping people recognize that effective treatment of some of our most vulnerable is actually financially responsible.
Andy and BHAM’s Executive Director have been working together for about a half decade, going back to when the latter was with a different organization. Andy is also more invested in this project than you’d expect a photographer to be, primarily because he’s not just the photographer for this campaign.
In addition to photographing various projects, I help with general marketing tasks such as preparing emails, posting on their website, and other behind-the-scenes items that the Executive Director doesn’t have time for.
But the crux of his work does lie in the imagery, the shots of real people who lead real lives and have real issues with which they need help. Those same shots will (hopefully) find their way to the desks of every Montana state legislator before the next round of budget hearings.
The shoots for this portion of the campaign were a collaboration between the Executive Director and me. We used real people who were impacted by recent budget cuts, and who had real hardships or challenges because of it. So far, I’ve photographed the three people seen in the ads.
Shoots were very minimal — just the subject and me, but in one instance one or two others were on hand to help out. The two outdoor shots were taken in a public park near a housing unit where one of the subjects is staying. The indoor shot was taken in the art room at a place called Opportunity Resources, which is an organization that finds meaningful work for developmentally disabled people.
Of the three subjects Andy photographed, the one whose story most stuck with him was Tawnya’s. Listening to (just a few of) her hardships, it’s difficult to imagine any decent person not wanting to use everything in his or her power to try and help. That’s what makes this work so vital — if you can put a face to hardship, if you can point to tangible suffering as a result of budget cuts, you have a better shot of fixing things. Additionally, if you can point to the benefits of these people getting state funding for health services, you can encourage legislators to keep it going — and expand it.
The most impactful things I heard were from Tawnya, who has had horrible event after horrible event in her life. Five members of her family have committed suicide, she’s had her kids taken away, she’s been locked up, I could go on.
There is never a finish line with treatment, but she seems to be doing well in her current situation and with the help she’s getting — which is a result of state funding.
Kudos, Andy. And Godspeed.
See more of Andy’s work at andrewkemmis.com.
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