It is nearly a decade ago that I first picked up a camera, that I saw for the first time my world view through a fresh perspective. I noticed the environment that surrounded me in ways that previously had gone unnoticed. The more I explored photography the deeper my connection to nature and the outside world. Previously I had become disconnected, had lost motivation, and didn’t have a strong sense of direction.
Having emigrated from England to Australia as mother of two children, I had lost my sense of self, my identity, began to suffer from anxiety and depression as I sought to find my purpose once my children started school. The camera was the tool to lead me back to feeling whole again, a chance to reconnect with my outer and inner world.
The process was gentle, slowly progressive, but gradually I realized that many changes were taking place in my life because of photography. Every image that I captured was transferring an emotion, bringing my awareness to how I was feeling. The energy that I felt in that moment was evident in the images. Each image was telling a story of how it felt to be in that space at that particular time. Looking back over many years worth of images I began to see my story emerge, noticing growth, change, empowerment and transformation. The camera was transferring my sub-conscious thoughts and feelings into each image. By paying attention I could gain many insights into better understanding myself.
Using the camera in order to heal is very different from taking images that are technically perfect. Many people are use photography to capture precious memories or take an amazing sunset; these are recording moments in time. Healing through the lens requires us to switch our camera to auto enabling us to fully experience what we are seeing. We are seeking to become present in the moment, to be mindful, bringing your full focus and attention to what we are seeing through the lens. It is in this space that we can then experience the same benefits as meditation and mindfulness. We can allow the mind to become still and experience a greater level of well being through this experience. We can also allow our images to become tools, provide new ways of seeing the world around us. Many people are aware that art can bring many benefits to our mental health but photography has the same capabilities.
My belief is that photography is one of the most useful self awareness tools that we have accessible in the modern age. Many teenagers have Smartphone’s and use them on a daily basis; they are an extension of how they communicate. Using this tool as a means to better understand their self and as a powerful means of self expression could act of a catalyst for growth and change. The pressures of technology are disconnecting us from ourselves, removing real connections from each other, disassociating from our environment, seeking answers outside ourselves. We are drowning in social media platforms that tell us how to think and feel. However social media is here to stay and there are some positive benefits that can be utilized.
Five years ago I launched a free online photography project called “project 55’ each day for fifty days participants used their camera or Smartphone to capture an image based on a daily theme. The participants shared their images in a ‘closed Facebook” group. Over the years of facilitating the project I have noticed many insights have occurred. The group began connecting with each other positivity benefiting from sharing their images and often their personal stories. They reported becoming more present and noticing their environment, one lady walked the same way to work each day but didn’t notice anything much on her travels. She was stuck in her “head” thinking about the day ahead and not present. When she took part in the project she noticed many things as she began looking for images that fit the daily theme. She was excited by her environment and amazed that she never really noticed what was around her every day. The positive benefits were bringing about a shift in perspective, a positive shift in thought, new gratitude for what was in her life. The simple exercise of the daily theme was easy to follow and something that participants could capture quickly in their busy lives using a Smartphone.
The ease of bringing about this change is also crucial, in a society where we are time poor, leading busy lives trying to incorporate self care can bring about additional stress… we just don’t have time. But the Smartphone can assist in helping us reconnect with each other and our environment. Many of the group made lifelong friends, connections occurred from across the globe. This enforces that the images are powerful; they influence how we feel, evoke emotion and trigger memories. Through the images that were shared we gained glimpses into the worlds of other, we wanted to know more about their lives and started to care, to feel. Images trigger thoughts and feelings and allow us the opportunity to notice what makes us feel good, what we are drawn to, it heightens are observations.
Photography is a quick and easy way to bring our attention back to the core of who we are. Depression and anxiety in youth today is becoming an increasing issue. By using a tool that young people can easily connect with such as the Smartphone we can teach them to express themselves in way that feels comfortable. The “selfie” is hugely present in social media, focusing on our outwardly appearance to the world. Maintaining an image of perfection, an often a false sense of self, creating experiences that are lacking in authenticity and depth is leading to a generation of teens that are lost. It has been through my own journey of lived experience that I am passionate that the camera can induce healing in all ages, but in particular as a mother of two teenagers and seeing their struggles with technology I seek to find a better way forward. I have shown my own children how to use their Smartphone in a positive way for photography. I noticed many benefits, firstly they were spending more time outdoors, enthusiastic to take images and share them with each. Searching for new locations, places to explore with new opportunities to photograph. By finding ways to reconnect to ourselves and our others, our community, our environment by using a tool that is familiar and comfortable was a turning point in my own life and that of my family. Seeing through a new lens could change your perspective… what are you waiting for?