Invisible Warriors: Photo exhibit reveals the truth behind invisible illnesses

When photographer and writer Leslie D. Rose is told “oh, but, you look good! ” it is not a compliment. For many people living with invisible illnesses, very rarely do they “look sick.” And quite often, there is no celebration in looking like they are disease-free when beneath the surface their bodies are fighting debilitating conditions or chronic pain.


Leslie D. Rose photographer

In fact, a moment of conversation with someone living with diseases like multiple sclerosis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, or lupus, will reveal little known truths about the appearance of illness and the journey to get to an accurate diagnosis. These truths are some of the reasons Rose unveiled The Picture of Health photo exhibit on Wednesday, May 29.


Inspired by her own fibromyalgia journey and her husband, Donney’s, MS diagnosis, Rose created this exhibit to help non-ill people better understand what “sick” really looks like while giving the power of transparency to people who are chronically ill. “The biggest thing is to elicit compassion,” she said. 

For those attending the exhibit’s reveal, she accomplished more.

Picture of health man viewing

Nearly fifty guests flowed through the Healthcare Gallery in Baton Rouge to view Leslie D. Rose’s The Picture of Health exhibit on May 29, 2019. (Photo by Yusef Davis)

“This exhibit is moving. I see myself in every picture,” said Vanessa Pitts who has lived with Systemic lupus erythematosus for more than 20 years. 

Tinicia Turner said this is “such an awesomely fresh and thought-provoking exhibit.”

“Thanks, Leslie D Rose for bringing light to those suffering in the shadows,” said Tamiko Francis Garrison who presents polycystic kidney disease and migraines in the exhibit.


Invisible Warrior Tamiko Francis Garrison stands beside her photo in The Picture of Health exhibit.

Spread across four walls of The Healthcare Gallery in Baton Rouge, the exhibit features more than one dozen Baton Rougeans living with invisible illnesses like kidney disease, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, autism, psoriatic arthritis, high blood pressure, and more.

Rose’s art of photography shows people in the manner in which they present themselves daily. Using a mixture of headshots, full body shots, and shots of the individual’s hands holding up a sign detailing their illness, the exhibit focuses on the perceived normalcy of people housed in ill bodies. The mission is to highlight invisible illness, elicit compassion, and promote education on a variety of health issues. 


Invisible Warriors Sylvia C. Chapman and Erika Mitchell, two of the people photographed in The Picture of Health exhibit, meet during the reveal on May 29. (Photo by Antione Mitchell)

Shining light on invisible illnesses of all kinds has become a passion project for her after a simple Facebook post that asked people to comment with a selfie if they had invisible illnesses. More than a hundred posts and responses followed and she realized something should be done. “And this (exhibit) is that something,” she told supporters who attended the unveiling and reception which were sponsored by Rose’s activism-based arts organization, CreActiv, LLC, in partnership with Dr. Leone Elliott, The Healthcare Gallery, and Jones Creek Dentistry. The exhibit is curated by April Baham. 

One of the exhibit’s collections features Sylvia C. Chapman who shared how psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis sent her life spiraling through debilitating health crisis and depression. “I often asked God why this was happening to me and then I started to see purpose in it,” she said. For her, the yearlong Picture of Health exhibit helps her release her purpose of showing others that they can survive and live their lives completely with illness. 

“My heart is full because so many people are interested in promoting invisible illness awareness. The program is ongoing, but the project will culminate in May 2020,” Rose said. Now, CreActiv LLC seeks a temporary home for the preview pieces on display and a location to host the full exhibit next year.

ONLINE: @Picofhealthbr

Candace J. Semien
Jozef Syndicate reporter

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