In January of 2022, photographer Jared Charney strolled into the Northshore Mall with his daughter and her friends, hoping to entertain them for the day. Upon arriving inside the mall, he stumbled upon an art exhibit that was set up. Intrigued, he decided to take a closer look at some of the work and noticed a painting of the mayor of Gloucester, who he had photographed many times before.
Amazed to find such dazzling art, particularly at a mall, Charney decided to contact the artist responsible, Amy Kerr, to see if he could photograph her for an upcoming magazine issue.
“As I was there, I stumbled upon Amy’s exhibit. I was amazed to find something like that at the mall,” he said.
Flash forward to this month, and Charney is now featured in the exhibit that he was once so encapsulated by. What started as a photographer looking to capture an artist at work turned into an artist that saw an opportunity to tell Charney’s story.
In 2018, Charney, a Marblehead resident, developed sudden hearing loss, or tinnitus, in his right ear after undergoing a violent episode of vertigo.
He was told that his hearing would eventually come back, but for the next three years, he endured a battle that involved, as he described in an essay in Kerr’s exhibit, “distraction, isolation, fear, resentment, and, as I articulated during the vertigo, an absolute and daily wish I could just pass away.”
The tinnitus affected his work, family life, and mental health, and after continuing to spiral into hopelessness, he decided to get tested to see if he could receive a cochlear implant.
After multiple expensive tests, it was finally determined that Charney could receive the implant, which he was ecstatic to find out.
Charney’s battle with sudden hearing loss was the reason that he resonated so much with Kerr’s exhibit, entitled I Am More, which helps to tell people’s stories through portraits that range in topics from depression and addiction, to coping with health diagnoses like brain cancer.
The day that Charney did the photo shoot with Kerr, she noticed his cochlear implant, and Charney began to tell his story. Fascinated with everything she had heard, Kerr saw an opportunity.
“I was just so enraptured with this story and it was fascinating and immediately thought if I’m this interested in this, other people would want to know about this too,” she said. “This fits really well with what I’m trying to do with everything that he went through to get to this point.”
Charney never made his story public before Kerr’s exhibit. He didn’t post on social media about his condition as he did not feel that it was the right way for him to deal with what he was going through. But once his portrait was displayed in the exhibit, not only did it impact Charney, but it helped others who were dealing with similar conditions.
A person who attended one of Kerr’s exhibits reached out to her explaining that he also dealt with sudden hearing loss. Kerr then got Charney in contact with the person, and the two ended up having coffee in Marblehead, talking about the process of receiving a cochlear implant. Charney explained the importance of exhibits like Kerr’s because it helps not only those in the portraits, but those who see and read their stories.
“That’s where I think public art that actually resonates to people with these conditions can quite literally do very positive things for people,” he said. It’s great that the art is out there connecting people.”
After meeting Charney, Kerr said his battle with hearing loss opened her eyes as to how much a physical condition that isn’t terminal, like hearing loss, can impact someone’s mental health.
“I just thought it was so important to get that perspective of how something that we think about as sort of technical and a physical ailment that needs to be fixed can really eat you up,” she said.
Charney said he couldn’t have been happier to be a part of something so important and was grateful that he stumbled upon Kerr and her exhibit during his journey with tinnitus.
“For me to be just walking around the Northshore Mall and to be completely blown away by artwork at a really deep, deep level, this is a testimony to the power of Amy’s work. One of the best things about artwork is that it’s traveling.”
Though he had previously kept his condition private, Charney said Kerr’s portrait helped to restore pieces of his mental wellbeing, and that he will never forget the experience.
“That piece that she did of me will always have a special meaning,” he said. “Doing that and having that piece just helped to even take a little more of the burden from that depression that I suffered from.”
Kerr’s I Am More exhibit features portraits of people from 20 different communities across Massachusetts. Each of the portraits have essays on display next to them that were written by the subjects, each one telling their story and how they have overcome their situation and proven that they are more than their mental or physical illness or life situation. Each essay is also complete with a Spanish translation for the first time at the exhibit.
Mental health resources are available at the exhibit from NAMI Greater North Shore & Cape Ann, and The NAN Project.
I Am More will be at the Northshore Mall until Feb. 25. For more information, visit amykerrdraws.org.