Fine Line

Mental Health/Mental Illness

Michael Nye’s exhibition, “Fine Line” is incredibly powerful…

…and unbelievably moving. It connects you with each individual in such a personal way. These compelling photographs and intimate voices will educate and change minds.
-Frances Wise, NAMI, Executive Director National Alliance for the Mentally Ill San Antonio, Texas


Fine Line is a documentary of voices, stories and portraits that confronts stereotypes and reveals the courage and fragility of those living with mental illnesses.

Photographer Michael Nye spent four years photographing and recording stories. Schizophrenia, depression, obsessive-compulsive, anxiety and bi-polar disorders are among the experiences considered.

In simple and eloquent detail the 55 black-and-white portraits and voices draw you closer into each life by addressing and exploring many topics: family, confusion, pain, abuse, treatment and healing.

Consider Beth. She was one of the most talented writers in her high school – she performed her own original songs on stage. Later, she was unable to leave her home, and literally stayed in one chair in her kitchen for years.

Thelma raised six children on the banks of the San Antonio River and sings Mexican ballads when she’s alone. When she was 10, her mother tried to crash a hired plane in the desert with her on board.

At the age of 20, Kerry built a house that was featured on the cover of an architectural magazine. At the age of 49, he hung himself in his mother’s garage. He was gentle, kind, intelligent and shy.

Doris received a Master’s Degree in sociology. Her passion is collecting recipes. She was homeless for 2 years. As a child she was beaten and sexually abused.

Michael was the editor/part owner of an alternative newspaper. His gift is making people laugh. He had his first breakdown at the computer screen. He started crying for no apparent reason and could not stop.

Deeply personal stories can take us inside complicated issues where empathy and understanding begin. Each face invites you to listen.

Artist Statement

This exhibit is dedicated to Shatzie Crouch
and her son Kerry Crouch

1. Mental illness is not caused by a weakness of character.
2. Mental illness is treatable.

I don’t know where mental health ends and mental illness begins. This exhibit is about the Fine Line that moves through all of our lives as we weave our ways forward. It is about the recognition of our vulnerabilities and the fragility of control.

Mental illness is often about fear, fear of ourselves and fear of others. Each of the fifty-five individuals in this exhibit tells a story. What is forgotten is lost. These narratives are about remembering, about time and light, taking apart and putting back together, losing and finding, and holding on for balance.

These stories are not intended to summarize or explain anyone’s life. We all carry a thousand stories. There are many ways a voice can turn.

Mental illness is too wide, deep and complex to define. The U.S. standard reference for psychiatry includes over 300 different manifestations of mental illnesses. It is painful to be labeled and misunderstood.

Scientific explanations speak of neurotransmitters, serotonin, receptors, medications and about the mysterious genes we each inherit, carry as gifts or burdens, and pass on to the next generation. We are the vessels in an intricate network of conveyances.

Mental illness touches the deepest parts of who we are; our identity, self worth, the inability to communicate, confusion and loss of control. It can happen for no apparent reason and at any time. Every person has a chance of becoming mentally ill.

The response to mental illness is wanting and waiting. It is ultimately about redemption, sadness, humility and dignity.

There is an urgency for action. Today, as a result of mental illnesses, hundreds of thousands of our citizens including the homeless and incarcerated do not have financial support for care and treatment.

Anyone who has been to these deep places knows something important and valuable. I thank all the individuals in this exhibit for their courage and for being our teachers, for enlarging and illuminating our lives.

I ask each person coming into the gallery to listen carefully. Throw away your old definitions of mental illness and start over. Listen to each story as if it could be you or your child or your friend or some stranger you will meet tomorrow.

Michael Nye

  • Anna - audio excerpt
  • Portrait of Beth
    Beth - audio excerpt
  • Bonnie - audio excerpt
  • Cindy & Dylan - audio excerpt
  • Doris - audio excerpt
  • Elizabeth - audio excerpt
  • Ernest - audio excerpt
  • Jerry - audio excerpt
  • John - audio excerpt
  • Mary - audio excerpt
  • Molly - audio excerpt
  • Photograph of Peter
    Peter - audio excerpt
  • Portrait of Susan
    Susan - audio excerpt
  • Portrait of Thelma
    Thelma - audio excerpt
  • Portrait entitled Sadness
    Sadness - full audio
  • Portrait of Taylor
    Taylor - audio excerpt

Exhibition Can Be Installed in Any Space – On Walls or Easels Installation:
There are 50 portraits and 50 audio narratives. Each of the participants speaks in his or her own voice. Mounted below each portrait is a wooden box containing an audio player and headphones. The stories range from 4 to 6 minutes each. Many sites have used this exhibit as the centerpiece for related programming including, lectures, panel discussions, student field trips, radio and other educational and fundraising activities.

This exhibit can be installed on walls in formal museums or galleries – or anywhere with the optional easel installation. The easel installation has been designed to hold the photographs, lights and audio components and have been installed in universities, libraries, galleries and conferences.

Photographs & Audio
All photographs were made using an 8 x 10 view camera. Photographs are black & white silver darkroom prints. Each image is mounted on 24” x 30” archival board and framed. Audio narratives were edited/mastered with the approval of each participant.

Cost & Availability
Please contact Michael Nye

Portrait of Susan

Michael Nye acknowledges and thanks The Kronkosky Charitable Foundation for their generous support.

Fine Line, Mental Health/Mental Illness was completed in 2003/2004 and had its debut opening at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas. Fine Line has traveled to over 30 communities including:

Witte Museum, San Antonio, Texas
New Braunfels Museum of Art & Music, New Braunfels, Texas
University South Florida, Louis de la Parte, Florida Mental Health Institute
The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Conference of Southwest Charitable Foundations, San Antonio, Texas
Collier County Public Library, Naples, Florida
SAMSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Adm.), Washington, DC
Grace Museum — Abilene, Texas
Nevada School of Medicine — Reno, Nevada
Northwest Reno Library — Reno, Nevada
The Houston Center for Photography, Houston, Texas
Mojave Mental Health Services, Las Vegas, Nevada
Science & History Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
Southwestern University, Fine Arts Museum, Georgetown, Texas,
University of Delaware – Newark, Delaware
Honolulu Academy of the Arts, Honolulu, Hawaii;
Wichita Falls Museum of Art, Wichita Falls, Texas
Peter White Public Library, Marquette, Michigan
MHMR – Wayland Baptist University Gallery, Plainview, Texas
Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts, Lubbock, Texas
State Capital Building, Austin, Texas
Center of Contemporary Art, Columbia, South Carolina
Austin State Hospital, Austin, Texas
The Wittliff Gallery – Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas
Centers for Children & Families: Midland Public Library, Midland, Texas
The Health Museum, Houston, Texas
SMU University, Dallas, Texas
Chesapeake College, Wye Mills, Maryland
Museum of Science and History, Fort Worth, Texas
Midlands Technical College, Columbia, South Carolina

“It’s a mesmerizing experience — to stare into the eyes of the person so artfully portrayed, to listen to the voice and, in some small way, to get to know the individual beyond the mentally ill label, the person who’s so much more than the illness.”

Joe Holley, Editorial – Express News, San Antonio, Texas

“Thank you for these stories. I am so overwhelmed with emotion. I cannot breath. It is hard to explain how important this has been to me. These stories have given me answers to many questions.”

A Mother of a mentally ill son.