Mindful photography

Before I had my most recent period of being acutely unwell from the results of having an eating disorder I had started studying for an online course. I’d had to extend my deadlines a number of times due to my health. It was distressing me that I still hadn’t completed it, so as part of my recovery plan I had a goal of finishing it by the end of this month. It’s taken me to the end of this month to feel up to starting it again. I spent a solid day catching up, then got to the section about needing to run a group. I have aspergers syndrome and find being in a group difficult. I find people hard to understand, I’m not good at communication and I always come away feeling distressed after group interactions. One thing I am good at however is planning. So I began by planning the group in micro detail, researching online how it should be laid out, scripting what I might say. I chose to theme it around one of my special interests – photography. I’ve been reading about mindfulness this year and had noticed that in some instances I am using photography mindfully to regulate my emotions and to keep myself focused in the present.

I decided to run the group for friends and family in first instance, with the view to running it on behalf of our volunteer group later in the year if it went well. On the day I was filled with terror and anxiety. I stayed in my Pajamas most of the morning and felt paralyzed with self doubt and fear, putting off everything that needed doing for the day. In the end I made myself a short list of what needed doing and worked through it one by one until I was ready.

The group started with a discussion about mindfulness and how it could be applied to photography. I am by no means an expert or even a novice at mindfulness, the aim of the group was simply to think about taking photos differently and the benefits it can have to our mental health. I then gave out bookmarks with double sided tape on them, an idea I’ve pinched from The Forest of Avon Trust having attended one of their wellbeing groups previously. I asked the group members if they wanted an easy or hard task – the options ranged from seeing how many colours of greens they could find, to different textures or finding all the colours of the rainbow which was more difficult. We all agreed that it really showed the field in a different light as we normally rush through it in haste to get to nicer locations. Our next activity was looking at texture and how many different types we could photograph, without thinking so much about the composure of the photograph. The following activities after this involved trying to capture emotions in photos and also taking photos without being able to see the image of what we are taking. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the group and some of the messages on the feedback forms were really warming, we were learning together. At the end of the session I gave the group a handout of the activity featured in this article I intend of trying out this activity next time I am feeling overwhelmed and that I might resort to more unhelpful coping mechanism. There is also a free online course on the same website which I’d like to do. I’ve put below all of the images which 3 people took, there are rather a lot, but I found it intriguing how differently we saw and felt things.

The following day I went out into the the mountains for the first time in 7 months. I used to go hiking in the hills and not being there regularly has been painful. I had to do a route which I have done many times before as I wasn’t capable of doing anything more difficult. I was feeling a bit despondent about doing the same route I had done before, but my mind was on the photography I had been doing the previous day. As I was taking photos I was thinking about the last 6 months and how difficult they have been, there was something helpful about putting this into image form, shedding some of those feelings/experiences. I noticed that I was seeing textures and shapes in a different light and my mind was more in the present than worrying about what was to come in the following week, which often happens on Sundays.

This weekend has really inspired me and has started the seed of changing the way I think as a photographer. I’ve struggled with mindfulness in the past, but associating it with a special interest of mine seems to have had a real benefit. I’ve also been able to eat more than I have done in a long time which is something positive to take away too. As always I’d be interested to hear the thoughts of others.


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