Photographer captures portraits of recovery

Coral-colored sunsets, rugged rock walls, a leafless tree dusted with snow, those are the kinds of images Edmund Smith planned to share in an exhibit of his fine-art photography.

A death in the family changed those plans.

“In February, my half-brother passed away from narcotic pain medication and alcoholism. He was 53 when he died,” Smith said. “I decided I’d really like to make these pictures something else.”

Now, his photo exhibit showcases strong faces, not the natural beauty of the Skagit Valley where Smith makes his home.

“Portraits in Recovery,” a photography show now on view in Mount Vernon, was born of Smith’s hard-earned knowledge that others do recover from substance abuse. Smith’s photo exhibit is open through July 31 in the Lincoln Theatre Gallery in Mount Vernon. He’ll be at the gallery from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday for an artist’s reception.

Smith knows his subject — and his subjects. He has two careers. In addition to running a ­photography business in Mount Vernon, he has worked for years as a chemical dependency counselor. “Right now I work for an agency in Snohomish County,” he said Thursday.

The people pictured in the exhibit aren’t his clients, but all of them have struggled with drug or alcohol dependency or addiction.

“All the photographs are colleagues and friends, people who’ve been in recovery and have multiple years of recovery,” the 40-year-old Smith said. Each face is identified by first name only. The black-and-white pictures, which aren’t for sale, are accompanied by quotes from the subjects.

Smith knows well what they’ve been through, both from professional and personal experience.

“I’ve been sober nine years. My life was very bad, a sad life. I got sober and got better,” said Smith, who grew up in Philadelphia and has a bachelor’s degree in fine arts photography from Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

“I got into a 12-step program nine years ago. You keep doing what you need to do to take care of yourself. That’s what I do,” he said.

He’s seen agonizing failures. His half-brother, he said, had tried 12-step programs and his family had tried to help. “He was in a revolving door,” Smith said. Yet through his counseling work, Smith said he’s seen hundreds of people strive to overcome substance abuse.

That determination shines in his pictures.

“Everybody has a common look, one of strength, perseverance and hope,” he said.

“One person is looking up, as if toward a higher power. One has an eyebrow raised. There are different expressions, but what connects them is hope and strength,” he said. “They have been able to weather the storm. That’s not to say you put booze and drugs down and everything gets better all of a sudden. It’s very difficult.”

Smith wants to share the message that people can get well — and stay well. The pictures don’t lie.

Every day, it seems there’s word of some celebrity being in or out of rehab. “In the media, you don’t learn a lot about people who stay on track and make something of their lives,” Smith said. “They blend in and become normal citizens. What an amazing accomplishment that is. There’s hope. There’s long-term sobriety.”

In the exhibit, Smith includes a quote with each face. One man pictured, identified only as Tom, answered the question “What does recovery mean to you?”

Sober for eight years, the man said: “One word, ‘freedom.’ Freedom to be the kind of person that God, my family and my friends always knew that I could be.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Granite Falls
Granite Falls man died after crashing into tree

Kenneth Klasse, 63, crashed June 14. He was pronounced dead a week later. Police continued to investigate.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist dies in crash near Lake Stevens

Around 10 p.m., a motorcyclist and a passenger car crashed north of Lake Stevens. The man driving the motorcycle died.

Everett
Port of Everett hosting annual open house after pandemic hiatus

Also, Rustic Cork Wine Bar plans to open a second shop at Fisherman’s Harbor — the latest addition to the port’s “wine walk.”

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Lake Stevens in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Everett boy, 12, identified as Davies Beach drowning victim

Malachi Bell was one of three swimmers in distress Sunday in Lake Stevens. He did not survive.

Food forum
Cool down with these summertime drink recipes

Refresh yourself with two light, refreshing drink recipes.

Rev. Eugene Casimir Chirouse, pictured here holding a cross at front right in 1865, founded a boarding school for Indigenous students on Tulalip Bay. It became one of the first religious schools in the country to receive a federal contract to educate Indigenous youth, with the goal of assimilation. (Courtesy of Hibulb Cultural Center)
Unearthing the ‘horrors’ of the Tulalip Indian School

The Tulalip boarding school evolved from a Catholic mission into a weapon for the government to eradicate Native culture. Interviews with survivors and primary documents give accounts of violent cultural suppression under the guise of education at the “Carlisle of the West,” modeled after the notorious Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

X
A brief timeline of Pacific Northwest boarding schools

The Tulalip Indian School had roots as a Catholic mission founded in 1857. Its history is intertwined with the Tulalip Reservation.

The Supreme Court in Washington D.C. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Supreme Court limits EPA in curbing power plant emissions

This impacts how the nation’s main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Officials tour the future site of the Faith Family Village Wednesday morning at Faith Lutheran Church in Everett, Washington on June 29, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Everett eyeing Sievers Duecy city land for new shelter village

If approved, it could be near another new village for families at a church — and the third shelter of its kind in the city.

Most Read