Photographer amplifies marginalized voices of The Lemonade Stand

The Lemonade Stand of Muskegon has been in the city’s Nelson Neighborhood for decades, providing a "family home" for those struggling with mental health and addiction issues. 
 
Photographer Pat ApPaul has documented the member-run mental health day center. After first sharing the story in a compelling photo essay in The Lakeshore, he published the book, “The Stand.”
 
Eight of the images are on public display on the city-owned vacant office building at Houston Avenue and Third Street through the end of the year as the city seeks a developer to renovate the building. 

The Lakeshore recently checked in with ApPaul for a conversation about this passion project that he spent years working on and the response it has received. 

Pat ApPaul

The Lakeshore: How did you get involved with telling the story of The Lemonade Stand of Muskegon?

Pat AtPaul: “The Stand” is a project focused on The Lemonade Stand of Muskegon and the members that use and run the member-run mental health day center. I was first connected to The Lemonade Stand through local community organizers. I had recently finished a story following a man named Cowboy who had spent 50 years of his life being voluntarily homeless. He had recently found housing and work and was using his experience to connect the "housed" and "unhoused" communities together. I was looking for a new story to document, and The Lemonade Stand of Muskegon was one suggestion from many based within my local community. Cowboy had connections within The Lemonade Stand, and I was invited to one of their weekly meetings. After showing them the work I had done with Cowboy and explaining my intentions, they took a vote and then welcomed me in. 

TL: Can you describe the scope of the project in terms of how much time you spent working on it and how many photos/videos you captured? 

PA: The first photos were taken in June of 2018, the last in December of 2020, I took over 2,500 images in that time and hours of audio recordings. Every week I would go and spend time there, a few hours at a time. I would go on trips with them, attend the general meetings. It was important to me for the members to feel as comfortable with me as possible before I ever picked up the camera. The camera was always there, they would ask about it, they would ask about me, where I'm from, what I'm interested in. Without building these relationships first, the project was not going to work.

TL: How did you approach your storytelling, and what was the aspect of the story that you thought was most important to share?

PA: The interviews were always going to be the crux of the whole project. I wasn't ever going to truly understand their stories or their experiences, and they were not my stories to tell. I was more interested in presenting an opportunity for those who were willing to share their stories, the way they had experienced them. This was much less about presenting a fact-checked piece of journalism and much more about helping to encourage and amplify voices that are often left out or even actively marginalized within our communities. The photography was simply a vessel to direct attention to the interviews, to the voices of those who struggle with mental health and/or addiction.

Initially, I had no idea where the story was going or where it would end, but through the interviews, what I realized was that The Lemonade Stand of Muskegon itself was not just a place I was going to meet with people who struggled with mental health and/or addiction, but that The Lemonade Stand was the story. All the interviews with Lemonade Stand members highlighted a loss of community, loneliness, separation, neglect, misunderstanding, mistrust, and othering from their families and local communities as a result of their mental health and/or addiction. 

The world around them could not, or simply did not want to comprehend what their lives were like, or why they behaved as they did in certain situations. But each member highlighted that whatever their life was like outside of The Lemonade Stand, inside there was family, understanding, community, and home. That was very important to Judie, The Lemonade Stand founder, that inside those walls each member would be able to find a place to call their own, to call home no matter what was going on in their lives or their minds, that at The Lemonade Stand they were always a welcomed and valued member of the community. 

Eight of Pat ApPaul's photos are on display in downtown Muskegon through the end of the year.

TL: Can you share more details about the book and where people can buy it? 

PA: The book is a 112-page self-published color magazine, with images, text, and QR code links to audio recordings of portions of the interviews conducted with Lemonade Stand members. It can be found at my website www.patappaul.com.

TL: An exhibit of your work is currently on display in the city of Muskegon. Tell us more about this.

PA: My first goal for The Stand was to educate the local community about the existence of The Lemonade Stand of Muskegon. The Lemonade Stand has existed for over 20 years but is still a very unknown part of the Muskegon community. Even within the local neighborhood, Nelson, where The Lemonade Stand is based, little is known about the center and its community. I wanted to be able to present the project to The Lemonade Stand’s immediate community first and foremost and give them a chance to interact with the project. I also wanted to remove many of the traditional barriers that often prevent people from experiencing and interacting with such work, barriers of location, cost, time, etc. 

A free, public, outdoor exhibition in an area with high foot traffic seemed like the best opportunity to do this. After a lot of scouting, the city released information about the Third Street location with a designer to find developers. With the help of city commissioners and employees, I was able to present my idea to the City Commission, which agreed to let me use the space until the end of the year. The Third Street location is the main thoroughfare through the Nelson neighborhood, linking the downtown to the rest of the community, and as such has a high amount of foot traffic, not just from local neighbors but also from visitors to the eateries and other shops of the street. Third Street is also a stone's throw away from The Lemonade Stand of Muskegon’s front door. Finally, the costs of printing and installation were covered by the Nelson Neighborhood Improvement Association.

Eight of Pat ApPaul's photos are on display in downtown Muskegon through the end of the year.

TL: Tell us about your background. How long have you lived in Muskegon and what brought you to the community? How did you become a documentary photographer?

PA: I'm originally from South Wales in the U.K. My wife and I came to Muskegon in 2015. I grew up and have always lived in or around big towns and cities. South Wales in the U.K. has seen its fair share of boom and bust economics, beginning with the collapse of the coal mining industry in the '80s and the steady decline of the steel industry ever since. Muskegon reminded me a lot of home, some of the attitudes, the history, the pride seemed very similar, yet also very alien at the same time. 

I was gifted a camera for my 18th birthday. I always had a creative urge, but was not a great musician and never had the patience to draw or paint. The camera created an opportunity to be able to create from what was already in front of me; it provided me a way to frame and present what I was seeing in a new and creative way. Shortly after that, I studied media production and photography at university, and since then I have been using the camera as a way to explore and ask questions of the world around me. 

I see documentary photography as a way for me to delve deeply into a topic that I do not understand, to connect with people who I would not necessarily meet in my everyday life, and to go places I may have no reason to be. I am specifically interested in communities that sit on the margins of society, people who the world has seemingly forgotten or ignored, people who do not easily fit into the society we live within. The privilege of then being able to present these projects to the world is a bonus, but I hope I can at least stir some questions in other people's minds, about the world around them and how they see and interact with it.


TL:  What's been the response to your work from the community?

PA: So far the community reception has been really good. A lot of people have approached me commenting on specific images or noting that they never knew such a place as The Lemonade Stand existed. I pass by the exhibition daily and often see people interacting with the exhibition. I've had great feedback from some of the business owners on Third Street as well as city commissioners and the mayor.

TL: How have the participants of the Lemonade Stand reacted to your work?

The Lemonade Stand members have always been supportive of “The Stand” project from the beginning. It's been an honor to work with them and help amplify their voices. As I have gone through the project with them, sharing images and audio, their response has always been one of joy and support. Members have often shared that they are happy to be involved with the project if it means others can know about The Lemonade Stand of Muskegon and know that they are not struggling alone in their lives, that there is support and community out there for them. It has been an honor to do this project with them.



 

Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.