PORTLAND — A photo exhibit spotlights the perspective of Portland High School students who were asked to consider how outside influences – from advertising to social media to family expectations – could impact their decision to use drugs or other substances.

The exhibit will be at the Portland Public Library throughout the month of May and will be shown in the rotunda at City Hall during the monthly First Friday Art Walk, May 3 from 5-8 p.m.

Prevention Specialist Janet Dosseva said four students volunteered to participate in the new Photovoice initiative offered by the city’s substance use prevention office.

Dosseva met with the students for an eight-week session focused on using photography as a tool to empower and promote social change.

“The Photovoice project was based around … capturing photos that students felt aligned with the socio-ecological framework for (substance use) prevention,” she said.

Dosseva said the prevention model the students studied looks at the concentric rings that surround an individual, from their interpersonal to community interactions, and the public policies and laws that can either add to the risk of substance use or help form a protective layer.

“The students were instructed to be creative in their photography,” she said, and “were (also) encouraged to consider the various protective and risk factors that could influence substance use.”

Dosseva said her goal was for the students to question their influences. “We are constantly surrounded by advertisements and marketing and it’s important to be aware (that) some of the influences impacting substance use are almost subliminal.”

She said many ads or marketing campaigns are “cloaked in the things we see on our daily commutes or trips to the grocery store. I want these young people to be thoughtful about the information they are presented with and dissect some of these messages they receive.”

Dosseva said she’s impressed with not only the quality of the student photographs but also the care that went into taking many of the images.

“Seeing their thought process when they explain what a particular photograph means and why they chose to take it is very interesting,” she said. “For example, one student took a picture of a brightly-colored ice cream cooler (right next) to a display of small wine bottles on sale.”

“The Photovoice participants all had strong motivating factors to prevent them from using various substances at this point in their lives,” Dosseva said, so it was great they were able to both “clearly identify protective factors, (as well as) risk factors for substance use.”

She said the students were given the option of using their own cameras or cellphones or borrowing a basic digital camera from her office to take the photos to be displayed.

Education and outreach are important tools in the prevention of substance use, Dosseva said. And while much of current policy and laws are focused on responding to issues as they arise, she said the real key is to “shift the focus to preventing these problems from occurring in the first place.”

The city’s substance use prevention program relies on an “array of strategies to target populations, ranging from adolescents to adults, with the goal of empowering people to make choices that will ensure healthy and productive lives while providing options that help reduce the harm caused by drug use,” its website states.

For the Photovoice exhibit, Dosseva said each student was asked to choose several of their favorite images and to provide captions for them. She said the students were allowed to find their subjects on their own, while given instructions and examples during the weekly meetings.

Dosseva wants those viewing the exhibit to take the time to be more mindful of their surroundings and their environment.

“We’re all influenced by our own beliefs, social circles, organizations we are a part of, community, and laws, as well as how all those factors interact with one another to (enforce) the decisions that we make. I hope that those who view the photos (recognize) that teens are influenced by a lot more than peer pressure” when making substance use choices, Dosseva said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

One of the Portland High School student photos in a new substance use prevention exhibit at the Portland Public Library.

A Portland High School student’s photo notes the incongruity of placing ice cream treats, attractive to children, next to a wine display.


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