Alberta photographer using her lens to shatter the silence of suicide and mental illness, while spreading hope across the nation.
On May 15, 2012, the world lost another beautiful young girl too soon to suicide. Her name was Hannah Ouellette and she was only 15 years old.
The sudden suicide of a daughter and sister turned her family’s lives upside down, but they chose to not suffer in silence. Instead, they talked openly about how Hannah died despite the stigma that shrouds suicide.
“It’s not easy to share so openly, but we need to change society’s view and secretiveness around suicide,” explains Hannah’s mother, Tammy Ouellette.
It was the courage the Ouellette family displayed through talking openly about Hannah’s suicide that inspired Grand Prairie photographer Suzanne Sagmeister to take action against the stigma that leaves so many struggling in the dark.
“When [the Ouellette’s] lost Hannah, they always said, ‘Hannah died by suicide.’ They were never ashamed,” explained Sagmeister. “This triggered something inside of me that said this is what I have to do.”
Seigmeister launched a mission to use her camera as a tool for suicide survivors – individuals who’ve lost someone to suicide or attempted suicide – to share their stories, combat stigma and spread hope across the nation. She calls the movement Conspiracy of Hope.
“They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and I truly believe it,” she says. “I walk [survivors of suicide] through an emotional place in time, where they are connected to their own truths and their story, so when they are gazing into the camera, I am able to capture a deep, authentic moment, not just a picture.”
Conspiracy of Hope’s inaugural presentation took place on September 25, 2014, in Grand Prairie, unveiling the first 25 stories, including that of Ouellette family.
“I feel like there is a purpose in Hannah’s life, and in her death,” explains Tammy Ouellette. “I get to share my story of loss and pain, but also of hope, so that someone may relate and someone’s life may be saved.”
Among the original 25 stories is one that is exceptionally close to Sagmeister’s heart: a month before the launch, her son lost his father to suicide.
“Some people thought that I would never go through with the project after the loss of my son’s father,” she explains.
But the significant loss only fuelled her desire to grow the project, and she is now in the middle of a cross-Canada tour, backed by overwhelming support, including that of Robb Nash from the Robb Nash Project. Supporters helped Sagmeister write the project’s theme song, Hope, that is being used to fundraise for Conspiracy Of Hope Suicide Awareness Foundation through iTunes. The music video for Hope is can be seen on YouTube.
In addition to the stunning photographs, Sagmeister is also having each story written down as part of a related book project titled, Life After Dark, set to be published in Spring 2016. Her journey across Canada will see her capture 100 stories from those affected by suicide – or Architects of Hope, as she calls them – for the book.
“I believe that by sharing our stories, we can help each other build resiliency and inspire hope,” she explains. “It is these people with a story to tell, they are the ones that are going to spark change.”
Download the project’s theme song, Hope, on iTunes to support the project. All proceeds going to the Conspiracy Of Hope Suicide Awareness Foundation.