Monday, February 14, 2011

Photographer Elaine Poggi: Artist-activist installing nature and landscape photos as art therapy in hospitals worldwide

Photograph by Elaine Poggi

Expat American photographer Elaine Poggi of Florence, Italy and her terminally ill mother about 10 years ago sat in a Missouri cancer ward staring at blank walls for countless hours.

Poggi the artist sensed something very wrong and Poggi the activist sought to right it.

She said: "Patients surrender to a strange, cold and impersonal place, arousing fear, uncertainty and anxiety about the future."

The exponential power of one

The hospital let her decorate her mother's room with Poggi's enlarged nature photographs of underwater scenes and landscapes of Florence.

"Immediately, my mother's room had a more comforting, inviting and serene atmosphere.

"Not only did the photos have the effect of boosting my mother's morale, but they also stimulated interest and conversation between the patients, hospital staff and visitors," she said.

In a phone interview this week, Poggi said her not-for-profit Foundation for Photo/Art in Hospitals, which she launched in 2002 after her mother's death operates out of Florence and has installed more than 2,500 professionally enlarged and installed nature photographs donated by Poggi and 62 international photographers for150 hospitals on 6 continents.

Photograph by Elaine Poggi
Photograph by Elaine Poggi

Nature photos trump abstract art

All this grew from Poggi's inspiration and hard work. She volunteers her time and provides 95 percent of the staffing of the worldwide effort.

In 2002, she persuaded Eli Lilly to fund a six-year controlled study of 345 terminally ill cancer patients in cancer centers in Ancona, Messina and Perugia, Italy.

The project: "Beyond Traditional Treatment, Establishing Art as Therapy," directed by oncologist Prof. Francesco Di Costanzo, may be a gold standard for art therapy in hospitals.

Two groups participated: a control group (bare walls). A second group viewed only Poggi's nature photos on the wall; however, both groups were shown her nature photos and abstract works as part of the questionnaire evaluation.

Nature photography, according to the study's conclusions, came in first by a landslide.

The study confirmed Poggi's original thesis about bare walls versus art decorated walls offering a gentle visual adventure across beautiful, colourful landscapes, most without a hint of figures in them.

Poggi and her non-profit art therapy charity join other players in the fast evolving world of art therapy.

Hospitals offer artists new marketing niche

In LinkedIn's Visual Artists and Advocates group, Laurie Barrows, for 17 years curator of a hospital's art therapy program in Auburn, California, could not agree more with Poggi's pathos and ethos (although I don't think they've connected yet).
Barrows wrote that her Art Can Heal Program at the Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, funded by a charitable foundation of the same name, produces excellent results. She sees art therapy in hospitals as a growing market for artists.

"The artwork has a definite, positive impact on the healing environment, patients, their families, and staff members," she said. She stressed, however, the art must fit the venue.

"The public may see the work, but that doesn't make every genre of art appropriate; the focus should be positive, uplifting work the viewer can get lost in."

But what about fractal art?

Perhaps many hospitals still rely on art consultants to decorate hospital corridors and walls, not necessarily with patients as their priority.

A few days ago Spanish TV showcased new cancer hospitals totally kitted out with the very best equipment and staff. Spain has one of the best healthcare systems (single payer, universal care) in the EU.

Yet it lacks carazon (heart and soul) and ambiente (ambience) in halls, on the walls and in the patient's rooms.

All walls appeared sanitized zinc white. Poggi confirmed to me her foundation has yet to find a venue in Spain.

Other kinds of art, yet to be tested, might also comfort cancer patients, fractal artist Scott Ferman told me during one of our LinkedIn discussions.

Trees, he opined, follow simple fractal rules on how they grow and branch. "Whether consciously or not, humans look for and recognize these patterns," he said, responding to my question if his art would be suitable in cancer wards.

"My work would have much the same effect on a hospital patient as these photographs."

Be a contributing photographer

The Florence-based Healing Photo Art charity has a stable of contributing photogs, who donate limited licenses for use of their images and for which each artist receives professional credit. "We have room for a few more," she told me.

Photograph by Elaine Poggi

Her foundation is a low budget operation exacting maximum impact tens of thousands of people. Individuals, Rotary clubs, chuches and businesses help pay expenses, Poggi said.

To reach her:

Rock on and practice peace and love.

Photograph by Elaine Poggi

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this Stefan! This is a fabulous and inspiring project!

    Rosemary Bannon Tyksinski, PhD