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Charlee Brodsky

Picturing Understanding


A closing door. A dented pick-up truck. A pair of perfectly pressed pants. These images are just a handful of the 36 stories Carnegie Mellon's Charlee Brodsky is sharing in her new book. The School of Design professor's recently published "I Thought I Could Fly" is a compilation of first-hand experiences with mental illness.

Using personal narrative and photographs, Brodsky tackled this project drawing inspiration from her family's struggle with her daughter's experience with bipolar disorder. She is hoping to increase awareness and understanding, and to dispel the stigma associated with mental illness.

"We're still afraid of the mentally ill because we think of them as somehow different from us," she explained. "But mental illness is extensive; it's in all our families. Many of us had an Uncle Harry who was odd, or a mother who was depressed. I think it's extremely important to deal with the stigma that's out there ... so that people are not so isolated ... if they need some help."

Brodsky has been a photographer, and at Carnegie Mellon, for over 30 years. She considers herself a 'documentary photographer.'

"I really enjoy dealing with issues in the world that I think people should know about," Brodsky added. "The purpose is for people to share that information, to share what they've learned, to share their stories."

Not surprisingly, she's become more concerned over the years with reaching a wider public than the typical small gallery audience. Through books — and a soon-to-be launched website — she is sharing her work with more people.

Until recently, Brodsky worked almost exclusively in black and white, preferring the personal connection created in the darkroom. "I Thought I Could Fly" remains in black and white to best reflect its subject matter, but with the advent of digital photography, she's begun a new exploration of color.

Brodsky believes her experience with traditional photography has allowed her to develop a keen eye for seeing in the world, and continues to impart this to her students.

"For people like me, there is a precision and clarity to our seeing," she said. "What we're teaching our students is about seeing, about communication, about how to structure their work. It's not just Photoshop — it goes much deeper."

Brodsky has embraced Carnegie Mellon's interdisciplinary atmosphere. Her projects have frequently combined narrative and photography, collaborating with colleagues in both the English and History departments.

"I enjoy working with writers who can give voice to my images, who bring story to my images," Brodsky said.

Related Links: Buy Charlee's Book  |  School of Design

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