Our society must decide to make a greater investment in mental health research. Unless it becomes a top tier issue, we will consign generations of children to a life of stigma and discrimination, inadequate treatment, or none at all. Increased public awareness and parity toward mental illness must be our goal to prevent families from the desert of confusion they will inevitably wander, when their loved ones are diagnosed with a mental illness. Such was the case when the Morgan Ortons’ son was diagnosed with childhood onset schizophrenia. Their journey is boldly documented and illustrated with clarity by Karen Davis in Still Stepping: A Family Portrait.
— DR. SIDDHARTHA MUKHERJEE
Oncologist and Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies and The Gene: An Intimate History
Still Stepping should strike a chord with every family that’s found itself in uncharted territory because of the illness—mental or physical —of a child. In warmly candid pictures and words, we follow Meredith and Ed, and kids Parker and Maggie, as they struggle, improvise and grow. I applaud their openness about childhood schizophrenia, and their willingness to share their experiences, from crisis and hospitalization to joys and laughs and unexpected highs. They are at once an ordinary family and an extraordinary one, facing tough challenges with the courage and love and commitment we see in so many families touched by mental illness.
—HAROLD KOPLEWICZ, MD
President; Medical Director, Child Mind Institute, New York City. Former Vice Dean and Senior Vice President, NYU Langone Medical Center. Former Chair, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine
Karen Davis crosses the divide between ordinary and extraordinary with her rare long view of the revealing split seconds that commemorate one family’s struggle. With a keen sensitivity to both emotional timbre and engaging composition, she elevates what might have been a clinical memoir into a poignant and profoundly humane story of the redemptive power of a family’s love.
— ELIN SPRING
Neuroscientist, Photographer, and Editor of What Will You Remember? Online photography review magazine
Karen Davis’ Still Stepping: A Family Portrait is an authentic and rich document of one family’s journey through a diagnosis of childhood onset schizophrenia. Davis, as witness, engages us with intimate black and white photographs of daily moments she has captured of the Morgan Ortons for almost a quarter of a century. The photographs, coupled with yearly holiday letters, provide a nuanced understanding of the family’s triumphs and challenges. This visual and very human story will leave the reader rooting for each family member. Some will relate to the overall experience. Others will be called to action. All in all, Davis’ photobook is transformative.
— PAULA TOGNARELLI
Executive Director and Curator, Griffin Museum of Photography
My mother suffered from schizophrenia, so I have some personal interest and parts invested myself. This is important work for all of us. To open a door to light a little corner of mental illness that permeates throughout all of us is a substantial undertaking. An undertaking you have penetrated with your relatives and given us all some resolve.
I’ve read Karen Davis’ book carefully and find I’m enthralled. What connections. It is what a humanistic photo book should be, yet it is not just a photo book; it is a book about a family’s life in their words— their unity and struggle to stay that way.
— SHELBY LEE ADAMS
Photographer and Teacher. His archive is in the collection of the Center for Creative Photography. His work has appeared in many catalogs and periodicals. He is the author of four books, most recently: Salt and Truth, Candela Books, 2011.
Karen Davis’ photographs poignantly capture the love that sustained the Morgan Orton family and nurtured Parker, a boy with a devastating emotional disorder. They depict hugs and cuddles, family gatherings, and wistful moments that defy an alienating illness. It is an inspiring family story; not one of therapeutic triumph, but of a family that made a safe place for their son. Maggie, Parker’s sister, said it best: “You have to accept that your sibling is sick and kinda have to do the best thing for the family.”
— NANCY BRIDGES
Author, Moving Beyond the Comfort Zone in Psychotherapy
Karen Davis has created a beautiful mosaic of words and photographs. This book comes straight from her heart. With humility and wisdom, she shows us the resilience within a troubled family.
Photographer and Teacher. His archive is in the collection of the Center for Creative Photography. Books include: The Last Roll, Daylight Books, 2013; Melting Point, Nazraeli Press, 2006; and My Fellow Americans , University of New Mexico Press, 1991.
Just got caught-up in your work, wow, really enjoyed the book, a family portrait. The images are beautiful and the story touching and heartbreaking and the emotions fully relatable. My eldest daughter was just diagnosed with high functioning autism and although a wholly different situation, I can relate to the demand of a child with special needs and to what it does to a family and their focus and to siblings. This story is so important, and you’ve done it with grace, humor and insight… I’m so glad I had a chance to get captured in it. Thank you.
— (NAME WITHHELD)
Photographer and Author
This book is a chronicle of what love and hope can accomplish in the face of a diagnosis of child onset schizophrenia. Karen Davis has compiled a journal progressing out of despair and grueling acceptance by his family as integral to his beginnings on his road to recovery. There is no sugar coating this experience. COS or other chronic illnesses, as this book so eloquently reveals, don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in the core of a family, loving and supportive or otherwise.
Poet and Member of Mass Mental Health Committee. An active participant for the last ten years in a research group of top tier researchers and clients with lived experience (as Larson has) entitled the Psychosis Research Program. They have recently completed a survey examining the relationship of a therapeutic alliance and the link it has to quality of life.
Looking at Karen Davis’ photographs in Still Stepping, one begins to notice the hands—touching and reaching—and bodies intertwined. Her portrait of the Morgan Orton family is all about closeness— physical and emotional—even as mental illness threatens to shatter familial bonds. Davis gives the family members their own agency in her word-and-image portrait, excerpting from their letters and interviews that begin when the children were small and continue to their adulthood. And through all those years, before and after the onset of childhood schizophrenia, she was there with her camera, showing us how their physical proximity and actions convey emotional and relational entanglements—now loving, now playful, now isolating. Davis’ images keep the family front and center. Avoiding the stylistic flourish or eccentric instant, she is an onlooker who captures, in this decades-long portrait, the resilience and complexity of this “ordinary” family.
— ELLEN FELDMAN
Photography Editor, Women’s Review of Books (Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College)
A very real, sometimes searing representation of schizophrenia, love and family. We live, never give in or give up and find solace in the journey.
— TOM CHIODO
Senior Executive Director for National Program Development, WETA. Project leader WETA/PBS, 10-year, 3 documentary series on Brain Health/Mental Health.