Michael Blanchard, photographer and author of Fighting for My Life: Finding Hope and Serenity on Martha’s Vineyard, can’t sit still. He’s a recovering alcoholic who works full-time in Maine and spends his weekends shooting the picturesque landscape of the Island as a source of therapy to overcome his addiction. When he’s not taking pictures, he’s editing them, a cathartic process that brings him back to the moment he first captured the image.
This process is what keeps him sober, and is what he hopes to share with others on the Island, particularly young people who are also facing the road to recovery. Recently, Mr. Blanchard shared his plan at the Vineyard Haven public library during one of their evening programs.
He is completing his second master’s degree and working toward an addiction-counseling certificate so he can ultimately move to the Vineyard full-time and give back to the community as an addiction counselor. With this goal, and the staggeringly high rates of addiction on the Island, in mind, he is hoping to develop an arts therapy program to stress the “photographic art of healing.”
Mr. Blanchard was inspired by Steven Koppel, whom he was introduced to by Alison Shaw and who is another photographer already using proven photographic-therapy methods off-Island at Gosnold Treatment Center in Falmouth and McLean Hospital in Boston. He has developed the Expressive Digital Imagery program, which uses mobile devices to capture and transform photographs into images that tell stories.
“I’m in remission from a fatal disease … even though I’m doing good, I have self-doubt,” Mr. Blanchard admitted, as he stressed the importance of breaking down the stigma associated with addiction and using photography as both a way to solicit positive feelings and as a platform for sharing emotions that otherwise may go untold. “The taking and editing of images instills a sense of accomplishment and repairs mood. … Art therapy in long-term addiction treatment reduces anxiety, promotes engagement, and improves self-esteem. I have the power and strength to capture beauty that affects others.”
Often addicts have a hard time facing their addiction and the guilt, shame, and social judgement that often accompany it. The use of photography, Mr. Blanchard believes, taking photos, editing them, and sharing them, can often break down those walls and provide a coping mechanism.
Mr. Blanchard’s first step is to work with the Vineyard House to help decorate the walls of their new sober-living facility with his photos, an initiative prompted by research that shows that anti-anxiety medicine prescriptions double at inpatient rehab facilities that display modern art, versus naturalistic scenes similar to Mr. Blanchard’s photography. The rest of his proposal calls for increasing community involvement. For instance, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services receives $5 for every copy of Fighting for My Life that is sold; this has currently raised $3,000 for the Island nonprofit. He is hoping to work with Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School to curb addiction where it starts, and is looking for additional donors and sponsors to help him offset the cost of cameras, tablets, and imaging software that would be necessary for the photographic-therapy program he hopes to one day bring to treatment centers and schools on the Island: “As someone who is in personal recovery from alcohol addiction, I know that inspiration and motivation can take many forms — and every little bit helps.”
For additional information on Mr. Blanchard’s life and work, or to get involved in his upcoming program, visit his web site at blanchardphotomv.com, or contact him on Facebook at facebook.com/blanchardphoto.