In the skyways near the Hilton DoubleTree, there is a glass case filled with photos.

Some are overlaid with text, some are black and white. Many are self-portraits of the artist, 16-year-old Rachel Galvan, with various effects or distortions applied, meant to offer a glimpse into her struggles with mental illness.

Accompanying the images are Galvan’s artist statements about her photography journey, mental health, and healing, with affirmations for anyone who might be struggling.

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A rising junior at the Rochester Alternative Learning Center, Galvan uses photography to explore her own experiences and spread awareness about issues that are important to her.

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In addition to her images in the skyway, another project on chemical dependency is on display at ALC.

A photo from Rachel Galvan's project about mental health, currently on display in the skyway near the Hilton Doubletree. (Contributed photo / Rachel Galvan)
A photo from Rachel Galvan's project about mental health, currently on display in the skyway near the Hilton Doubletree. (Contributed photo / Rachel Galvan)

Galvan said the goal of her work is to express solidarity with and support for those who are struggling.

“[It says] I'm with anyone the whole way and I get how hard it is because I’ve gone through it myself,” she said.

Creating awareness about social topics like mental health is special, Galvan said, because “art just makes it more personal, and it’s about making something ugly turn beautiful.”

The teen's first experience with photography was a project about COVID-19, but she soon began to create more personal work, using photography to express what she was feeling. In addition to having a difficult home life, she has dealt with mental health issues, which were exacerbated by the pandemic, making photography all the more important as an outlet.

“I don’t really like talking or opening up that much but photography was different for me,” reads Galvan’s artist statement about her photography journey. “It made my mind clear and I didn’t deny my emotions or my thoughts.”

"I'm with anyone the whole way, and I get how hard it is because I’ve gone through it myself," said Rachel Galvan, a student at the Rochester Alternative Learning Center whose photos about mental health are currently on display in the skyways. (Contributed photo / Rachel Galvan)
"I'm with anyone the whole way, and I get how hard it is because I’ve gone through it myself," said Rachel Galvan, a student at the Rochester Alternative Learning Center whose photos about mental health are currently on display in the skyways. (Contributed photo / Rachel Galvan)

Alexis Zaccariello, Galvan’s art teacher at ALC, said since Galvan got hooked on photography, she has pursued it with a passion, sending dozens of photos to Zaccariello, whom she consults often for guidance and ideas.

“We'd set up time to talk about the photos and critique them, where she’d ask questions and I’d give her feedback,” Zaccariello said. “Really fast, there was a dialogue built between us, a relationship where she felt comfortable, asking for help and reaching out.”

Photography has brought about “a big transformation” in Galvan, according to Zaccariello, making her more outgoing and ready to build relationships with those around her.

“She's really come out of her shell,” Zaccariello said. “She has this conviction to not only help herself, but to help other people.”

Galvan, who is largely self-taught, with limited experience from her art classes at ALC and a photography club during the pandemic, said she was critical of her work and nervous about showing it to others. However, these anxieties were eventually outweighed by the potential that her work could make a difference.

“A couple of months ago, I would have been uncomfortable, but it's just not about me," she said. "Yes, I'm involved, but it’s about other people. I created it for other people.”