Local Photographer Battles Depression With Mermaids
Justin K. Thomas | Contributing Writer
Throughout our lives, there may be a period when we feel melancholy or a sense of despair. However, some people deal with those emotions in different ways. Some positive. Some negative. Some people deal with those emotions in ways that are unique and distinctive.
Tommy Lamkin, or to those who follow his Instagram page, “Mermaid City,” has taken his unhappiness and turned it into amazement, joy and exultation. More than 900 people throughout the United States and the world follow his page.
“‘Mermaid City’ is about my quest to change and Norfolk, Virginia is the catalyst for transformation,” Lamkin said. “It started as a hobby but became a form of self-therapy. I was going through depression coupled with an anxiety disorder. I had become hateful and went into a forced seclusion from the world. After seeking help through treatment, I would just drive around town and take photos of interesting elements I had come across. I discovered that a lot of these objects were always there even though I had passed them a hundred times.”
The National Institute of Mental Health states that depression is a common but serious mood disorder. Current research suggests genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors cause depression. Sometimes medications such as antidepressants are prescribed by medical professionals in conjunction with cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Lamkin states that a conversation with a friend regarding the off-putting characteristics of Norfolk is what made him want to see the city’s real side.
“I had a discussion with a friend who hated Norfolk and couldn’t wait to move away,” Lamkin said. “His answers did not have real evidence, or they were just superficial. My wife, Trish and I discussed how we could show our friend the real side of Norfolk. So, Trish and I thought my hobby of photography could give our mutual friend an answer. There’s a lot here to see, but it’s hard to notice when you’re not purposefully not looking.”
Of those inconspicuous municipal features, Lamkin says, are the statues of mermaids placed around town.
The mermaids, according to the City of Norfolk’s official website, have graced the city’s landscape since 1999 and “are truly loved by young and old, visitors and residents alike.”
Lamkin says that Norfolk has always been a great place for the arts and the statues of mermaids are at the center of the city’s culture scene.
“I love the mermaids and have always admired the local art,” Lamkin said. “As for it being a symbol, to me, it represents the community, and I’m very keen on being a part of this community. Mermaids, in general, are one-of-a-kind even though they do not exist, but It’s a beautiful thing seeing the happiness garnered as people pose next to one as they take selfies.”
Although Lamkin’s professional background is in lithography or printing ink onto paper, he has come to enjoy the art of “painting with light,” he said.
“I’ve never really considered myself a good photographer,” Lamkin said. “Before therapy, photography had become a chore. With ‘Mermaid City,’ it’s become a passion.”
On most days, Lamkin says that he will lose his sense of location and direction because he is continually photographing subjects around town.
As for the future for his self-therapy, Lamkin states that he sees his work becoming the unofficial digital “Welcome Center” for the City of Norfolk. He has received messages from sightseers and vacationers asking questions concerning places they should visit while in the area.
“I try to be very impersonal about my page,” Lamkin said. “’Mermaid City’ isn’t just about me turning my life around but the city as a whole and I’m having fun with it. You wouldn’t believe this, but I have gotten emails from tourists asking about the town and where are the best places they can take their families.”
Lamkin states that his wife has been the best therapist a person could ever have and that he wants his page to help bring other people together.
“Throughout our marriage, my wife has always supported me,” Lamkin said. “But since I’ve been struggling with depression, she’s been even better. As to the page itself, I know we have a few fans out there. If I can get one person to fall in love with someone else or explore and rediscover a place, that would be worth it. There’s too much here in the city not to love, so, maybe I can play matchmaker.”