The photo essay: If You Only Knew

(formerly titled “What Mental Illness Feels Like”)


“If You Only Knew” was created for people who have ever wondered what it's like to live with a mental illness but were afraid to ask. This photo essay provides some of the answers. The goals of “If You Only Knew” are to create personal connection, increase understanding of mental illness, and, ultimately, to humanize it.

Barb Kellogg, a photographer from Avon, Minnesota, created “If You Only Knew,” a photo essay inspired by conversations with a friend who battled depression. The result of those conversations was an understanding, not of the textbook definition of the illness, but of how it actually felt to him in terms she could relate to.

That experience made Barb wonder how she, as a photographer, could visually translate mental illness to increase understanding, and hopefully create a connection in people. The result is a photo essay exhibit and book more than four years in the making.

To create the exhibit (and book that further expands the initial photo essay), Barb interviewed people living with mental illness. She then wrote essays based on their conversations, and created visual analogies through photography as another way to convey what mental illness feels like. The essays and visual analogy photographs are meant to complement each other. Portraits further humanize the project, letting you see that mental illness can happen to anyone.

What's Next?

Due to the fabulous and encouraging responses received during and after the main exhibit in May 2018, I’m continuing with this project, interviewing more people living with mental illness and creating imagery inspired by them. The goal is to have a book out late 2019.

Past and future exhibits at:

  • May 2nd to 26th, 2018: Gallery St. Germain, 912 West St. Germain, St Cloud, MN

  • June 20th, 2018 — Aurora Community Center, Aurora, MN

  • July 2018 — CentraCare Health Plaza, St Cloud, MN

  • August & September 2018 — Whitney Senior Center, St Cloud, MN

  • January 9 to March 2, 2019 — Great River Arts, Little Falls, MN

  • May 1 to May 15, 2019 — Zeitgeist, Duluth, MN

  • October 6th to November 17th, 2019 — First Universalist Church, Minneapolis

  • January 2020 (exact dates TBD) — North Hennepin Community College

If you’d like to display this exhibit, you can find more information here.

The online version of the photo essay

A condensed version of the Images & Stories can be seen at this link .


This project was stewing in my head for several years before it started in the spring of 2017. It wasn't until a friend who knew a friend introduced me to Sue, then the program manager of Catholic Charities Hope Community Support in St. Cloud, Minnesota. She had been looking for a photographer to work on something mental health related. We were the perfect match! And I can't thank Dale (the current program manager), clients and staff enough at Hope, as without them, this project would not be what it is today. Everyone was 110% behind me and my efforts. (Many of their clients are a part of this project.) I still can't believe that so many people were interested in being interviewed and photographed. I honestly don't think I'd be as candid if the roles were reversed.

Partial funding of this activity was made possible through a grant from the Central Minnesota Arts Board, thanks to funds provided by The McKnight Foundation.

Press Kit

Press Kit (includes Promotional Flyer, Cover Photo, Project Summary, About photographer Barb Kellogg, Contact Info, etc)