We first met Connor 2 years ago while attending the Jack Summit in Toronto. We caught up with him recently to chat about his newest endeavour, Project Pilgrim.
WYL: Tell us a bit about yourself
C: My name is Connor McCracken and I’m 20 years old. I grew up in Vancouver, BC but am currently at school studying chemistry and physics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, AB.
WYL: What's your connection to mental illness?
C: Growing up I had a sister with an eating disorder as well as a host of other issues. Personally, I have experienced social anxiety and depression over the last few years which actually forced me to withdraw from school in November of 2014.
WYL: How did you overcome some of the struggles you've faced?
C: I was lucky. Because of having exposure to the mental health system growing up with my sister, I was able to recognize when things weren’t going well for me and when I needed help. I also, thankfully, knew how to navigate the system because I have a parent who works in the mental health system at a hospital in Vancouver.
When my anxiety first started acting up I tried to get help at my school but actually was turned away. I decided it was best to withdraw from school and focus on myself and so I headed home to get the help I needed. I entered into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy almost immediately and it’s really worked wonders for me. Nowadays I am doing much better and would definitely recommend therapy to anyone who was considering it. I would not be who I am today with out, it was exactly what I needed.
WYL: Tell us about your new project?
C: My new project, Project Pilgrim is a way I can give back and try to reduce the stigma around mental health. My idea is that if I talk to many people about mental health and get their insights, thoughts, opinions, and experiences on the subject, more people will understand how mental health exists on a spectrum. So far, I have taken 120 portraits of my friends and received their insights on mental health. I will be posting these photos with their responses daily for the next few months. Then, in May I will be heading to Europe to hike the famous 1000km Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage route to do the same. I will take photos of the people I meet and gather their opinions and thoughts concerning mental health. The reason I chose to do the Camino is because the people who walk this route are walking 20 to 40km a day alone. In this time, they become very self reflective and I believe if I tap into this introspecting I’ll get some really interesting responses. The end result will be a printed book including a selection of the photos I take and the responses. I am pre-selling the book through a Kickstarter here.
WYL: What inspired you to start Project Pilgrim?
C: I’ve always had a passion for portrait photography. I love how photos of someone’s face and body language can so clearly convey their emotion with no explanation needed. My idea for Project Pilgrim stemmed from trying to combine three of my passions together: photography, mental health, and the outdoors. Taking someone’s photo and talking to them about mental health while hiking 1000km sounds like the best kind of adventure for me. I’ve obviously been inspired by similiar initiatives like Humans of New York and The UnmaskED Project, but I think my project has a really unique angle to it. I actually cycled the Camino as part of a larger family vacation back in 2013 and I know from experience some of the incredible stories you hear from people you meet along the way.
WYL: What do you hope readers/followers will get out of the visual documentation of your journey?
C: My hope is that by collecting many people’s opinions and sharing them with you, we will all come to a better understanding of what mental health is and how to overcome issues we may face.
A picture is worth a thousand words, but a picture with an emotional connection to it is worth many times more. My goal is that by taking people’s photos and asking them about mental health, I can start a conversation that can work towards breaking down the stigma around mental health. Talking about mental health normalizes mental health and my hope is that Project Pilgrim can be one of the many stepping stones needed in order to make mental health an everyday conversation.
Check out Project Pilgrim at the links below: