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Cross-Country Photo Project Shows Suicide Survivors There's Life After Darkness

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Canadian photographer Suzanne Sagmeister has been taking portraits of suicide survivors for over a year. But her latest adventure is taking her across Canada for what she calls a “heart-driven, story-driven project.”

It started with a 25-portrait photo series of both suicide survivors — those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide; and suicide attempt survivors — those who have attempted suicide and survived. The project was unveiled September of last year in Grande Prairie, Alberta.

Sagmeister presents her portraits of 25 suicide survivors in Grande Prairie, Alberta.

Sagemeister says the topic of suicide has been part of her life as long as she remembers. She herself has been through what she calls a “period of darkness,” and a month before her project was complete, suicide touched her again — her son, Lawson Kons, became her 25th portrait after his father took his own life.

Sagmeister’s son becomes her 25th portrait.

Now, she’s taking her movement, “Conspiracy of Hope,” to the road. She plans to take 100 total portraits, collecting both images and survivors’ stories. According to her Facebook page, the project’s purpose is to “create conversation about suicide, inspire others and save lives.” Since June 18, she’s traveled about 9,000 km (5592 miles) across Canada. 

To find her subjects, she selected an “ambassador” from each Canadian province — someone she already knew who was a suicide surviver. These survivors used their network to organically find people who might be interested in the project. For some of her subjects, who she calls Architects of Hope,” this is their first time telling their stories. But she says she hasn’t had a hard time getting people to open up. Connecting with her subjects is her top priority.

“People don’t understand the power they hold,” Sagmeister told The Mighty. “But when they’re talking you can see when their eyes light up. I want people to see this and think, ‘Wow, if they overcame that, I can do that.’”

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jonny holliday

About 11 people end their lives by suicide in Canada each day, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Suicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death in the United States for all age groups, taking the lives of over 38,000 Americans every year, according to the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

Although Sagmeister has been traveling solo for the past month, her son will be joining her for the last eight days of her trip. Once the journey is finished, the portraits and the stories will be compiled in a book called “Life After Dark,” to be published spring 2016.

“My own story shows that there’s life after dark,” she said. “I’m traveling across Canada sharing the stories of people who have chosen to turn their pain into purpose, to show others there is life after dark.”

She called the project exhausting and rewarding. Through her subjects’ pain is always a message of hope, and it’s this hope that keeps her going.

“People are now holding hands across the nation,” she said. “To me, that’s the visual.”

Editor’s note: This piece has been modified to protect a subject’s privacy.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Originally published: July 9, 2015
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