An American citizen, Elaine Poggi has resided in Florence, Italy, for many years. But, when her mother was admitted to Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, in 2001, Elaine returned to the states to assist in her caregiving.
Out of desperation to bring life and color back into her mother’s life, Elaine decorated her hospital room with photographs of underwater scenes and landscapes of Florence. The photos had the effect of boosting her mother’s morale, and quickly became a topic of conversation for the hospital staff, other patients, and visitors.
After Elaine’s return to Florence, while mourning her mother’s passing, her personal mission became clear. If her photos had such a positive effect on her mother, perhaps they could offer comfort to other patients and families.
You are both a musician and a photographer. Your first career was as a concert pianist. When did photography become a passion for you?
Photography has always been a part of my life. Although I have no formal training in photography, I feel that one of my God-given talents is an “eye” for seeing beauty all around me, which I try to capture with my camera.
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
The detour came when my mother was hospitalized with non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I left my family in Florence, Italy to be with her in St. Louis for the last three months of her life. I was almost overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for her and making difficult medical decisions all by myself (my sister and brother had died a few years before this). I tried everything to bring joy into her hospital room—I played music by Mozart and songs sung by Pavarotti, I sprayed perfume to kill the hospital odor, and I taped my beautiful nature photos to her walls, which was the inspiration that led later to the founding of The Foundation for Photo/Art in Hospitals.
How does your faith play into your work?
I feel that I have a God given talent to view beauty and then photograph it. I have been blessed in my life with good health and a wonderful family. Placing my photos in hospitals to give color and hope to patients all over the world is one way that I can “give back.” This is one of my purposes in life!
Let’s talk about The Foundation for Photo/Art in Hospitals. Please tell us about the foundation.
I founded it in 2002, in response to my mother’s hospital experience. It is a non-profit publicly supported organization dedicated to placing colorful, soothing photographs of nature in hospitals to give comfort and hope to patients and their families, visitors, and caregivers.
Where in the world have you placed photos?
I have placed over 2500 photos in more than 150 hospitals on six continents! Just this past year I sent photos to India, Sri Lanka, Croatia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Trinidad, Guatemala, Italy, Norway, and Virginia, Missouri, and Pennsylvania in the United States.
Photo: Elaine Poggi
I understand that the foundation is involved with research studies, investigating art as therapy. Please tell us a little about that.
In March 2009 we presented the results of a six year Italian research project, “Beyond traditional treatment… Establishing art as therapy.” Three hundred forty-five cancer patients in three cancer centers in Italy were tested while receiving treatment. The patients who participated in the research were divided into two groups: a control group and an experimental group that answered a questionnaire on their perception of the hospital environment before and after the display of photographic images on the walls of their treatment rooms and hallways. Results were that the great majority of patients prefer art on the walls of hospitals, instead of white, sterile walls. Only three percent of the patients tested preferred hospital rooms with nude walls. The art preferred, in order, was 1. Nature landscapes (most popular), 2. Animals, 3. Scenes of everyday life, 4. Portraits, 5. Urban landscapes, and 6. Abstract (least popular).
The control group’s “fiducia” (trust, confidence, faith) decreased from viewing only white, sterile walls, whereas the experimental group, who viewed nature photos for several months, had an increase in “fiducia.”
The results of the research confirm the great power of images, especially those of nature that seem to help patients regain faith and trust in life.
How can others contribute photos and/or make a donation to the foundation?
Until 2008 only my photos were used for our projects. Since there was great interest by other photographers who wanted to participate in our mission by donating a photo to our collection, I created the Contributing Photographers Program. We now have 53 professional and amateur photographers in our program. Interested photographers or others who would like to coordinate projects in local hospitals can contact me directly at epoggi (at) healingphotoart (dot) org.
Donations can be made through our website, www.HealingPhotoArt.org, or on our Facebook page. Since we have no paid staff, all donations are used for printing, framing, and shipping photos to hospitals and for promoting our cause.
Photo: Elaine Poggi
A few fun questions…
You grew up in the United States but have been a resident of Italy for many years—what is your favorite comfort food from your childhood? Do you also have a favorite Italian comfort food?
My mother’s homemade coffee cake was the best! My favorite Italian comfort food would have to be pizza!
You have been involved in music and photography. Do you also have literary aspirations? Any plans to publish your photos as a coffee table book?
I am so involved in placing photos in hospitals around the world that there is no time to aspire to publishing my photos. Maybe later!
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
A love song!
Are you a major or a minor chord?
Definitely major, optimistic, positive!!
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
I’d say that I am the independent woman who follows her heart and is very, very enthusiastic about life and living it!
I’m a dog lover, and I know you are too. Please tell us about your pets. Have any of your pets appeared in official foundation photos?
I love my dogs—Samba, Dave, and Kimba! My wonderful Yorkie, Niki, who passed away last December at 15, was in many of my photos taken while hiking in the Dolomites. She loved to pose for my photos!
Thank you, Elaine! It’s a pleasure to have you at DivineDetour!
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For more information about Elaine and her work, visit The Foundation for Photo/Art in Hospitals website at www.HealingPhotoArt.org
Friend The Foundation for Photo/Art in Hospitals on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Foundation-for-PhotoArt-in-Hospitals/139862948933?ref=ts.
Follow The Foundation for Photo/Art in Hospitals on Twitter at http://twitter.com/healingphotoart.