My inspiration for my MFA thesis series, Personal Space and Perceptions of Identity, stems from my own battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I've had a lifelong experience with OCD ranging from skin picking, anxiety, depression, lock checking, and repetitive hand gestures and motor tics. It has created anxiety and turmoil in my life, and I see my work as a platform for others with similar challenges to advocate on their own behalf. This series is a culmination of portraits of people who have a diagnosed mental illness. This work is important because it shows that people with a mental illness are normal people who are functioning and productive members of society. It presents the individuals as real people with genuine feelings and emotions. Mental illness is joked about and thrown around loosely in the media and conversation, and it is a serious issue that affects 1 out of 5 people in the world. Stereotyped as people who are crazy and dangerous, mental illness is misunderstood by society at large and needs more attention. These portraits aim to show people who are suffering with symptoms of mental illness that they are not alone and there are others who are going through the same thing, and getting better. Many people work, go to school with, or pass by someone with a mental illness and they would never know it unless that person told them so. Through my work, I want the viewer to know that mental illness is no different than having cancer, diabetes, or simply a broken arm. There is no reason to treat someone with a mental illness as lesser, weird, or different. People who are struggling can see that there is hope and they can get better no matter how bad their circumstance may be.
Dan Fenstermacher’s photography has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. Recently a solo show, Sonrisas Jóvenes Que Hacen, Felices A Corazones Viejos, (Young Smiles Make Old Hearts Happy) was exhibited in Costa Rica at the San Ramon Museum during his artist residency with Odysseys Costa Rica. This work was recognized for a grant by the Creative Capacity Fund, and was shown at Pro Arts in Oakland, CA. Fenstermacher’s work has been included in juried exhibitions such as the: 2015 MFA National Competition at First Street Gallery, New York, Divergence: Emerging Legacies at the de Young Museum, San Francisco, and MFA Now 2015: Archive Project & Juried Exhibition at Root Division in San Francisco, CA. Fenstermacher has worked in photography on four continents including a multi-media internship in Ghana in 2006, as a portrait photographer for Expression Sessions in Sydney, Australia, and was a Professor of Fine Arts at Xiangfan University in China during the 2010-2011 school year. His work about mental illness and stigma has been featured on The Huffington Post and UK Daily Mail. He recently graduated with a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Photography from San Jose State University in May 2016 and teaches photography at Eastside College Preparatory School in East Palo Alto, CA.
Learn more about the artist at www.danfenstermacher.net.
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