MY CAMERA, MY THERAPY compiled by Natalie Ball
Front cover image by Luke Saxon Instagram: @luke_saxon
My Camera, My Therapy During lockdown I found myself going out by myself with my camera to cope with my own mental health. I find that I talk more openly about my mental health and the struggles I face daily on Twitter and Instagram through sharing my work. On a trip back home to Yorkshire I started to work on a personal project, an idea that had been with me for some time. I started to receive messages of support and people also started sharing their stories about how photography has helped them. I realised that I was not alone in this struggle and that other people used photography as an outlet as well, as a form self-therapy to slow down, look and create. Their positivity showed me that talking about mental health doesn’t have to be intimidating. We can talk openly and create something of beauty to inspire. This project has brought a community of like-minded people together to be creative during these difficult lockdown months. They have talked openly about their mental health and shared the images taken. Their work shows that feeling low, having anxiety and struggling from day to day doesn’t have to be a burden that isn’t manageable and most importantly, we don’t have to struggle alone. The contributors in this zine are an inspiration to everybody. Talking about personal mental health and personal experiences is not easy and too often people remain silent, but we hope that our photography and stories help you to get out there, stay creative and talk more openly about your mental health. Photography and the arts can become a passion, can help us slow down, look, become creative and be used to open up in so many ways. It can become our therapy.
Natalie Ball Photography for me over lockdown has felt like my only outlet. I struggle a lot with my mental health, I dwell on past trauma and struggle with anxiety. I would normally deal with these feelings by seeing friends, going out, going to the gym and keeping busy by working and this would help me manage my depression and anxiety much better. When lockdown started it felt like a holiday. At first, we thought it would be over in a few weeks, but as the months went on I started to feel very alone and very isolated. Even though I lived with friends it felt like we were dealing with everything separately: There would be times we came together, especially when the hot weather came, but most of the time I felt like I was in my room, alone, staring at a screen. When lockdown was lifted and rules relaxed I got to go home and see my dad who had a stroke over lockdown and while there with him I started to get my routine back. The weather was nice and I would take Eddie for a walk, my dad’s dog and take pictures and I started a project I had been holding off for a long time. My head started to level out and the fog started to lift that had been there for months. I got to spend quality time with my dad after not being able to see him in hospital and everything seemed better and it gave me quality time to be home, reconnect with my home and take pictures again. Photography for me has always been a way to cope with my mental health issues, going out, walking and only thinking about my surroundings. Searching for light, shapes, colours and layers helped me concentrate on just creating images and not what was fogging my mind. I like topographics, architectural and observational photography, because its more about looking and finding beauty in the mundane and banal. Finding beauty in the everyday for me is a way of putting my mind at ease and it quietens down the noise of the everyday. I have tried so many things to help with my depression, but nothing calms my mind more than photography, photobooks, art and being able to be by myself sometimes, out walking with my camera, looking, breathing and taking pictures.
Meg Russell The past year has been a lonely time for a lot of people. We’ve been cocooned away, separated from one another. It’s been a time of geographical isolation, confined to our local areas. I tried to pass time, and keep occupied with photography, taking my camera with me whenever I went for a walk. I initially felt incredibly frustrated and bored by the confinement, but over time realised that being restricted was forcing me to look at things differently. I was noticing the small details, the flux of time and the changes that come with a slow turn through the seasons. It has felt simultaneously lonely but grounded, my own self-assigned mindfulness. Documenting this time has, more than anything, given me a reason to pay attention, to be attuned to the small changes in foliage, the graffiti that comes and goes, the way different light makes the same walk seem new again. It’s given me a reason to explore and observe within the bounds of a lockdown, and forced me to appreciate the mundane. Photographing throughout this strange, monotonous time has helped immeasurably to keep the familiarity of depression at arms length, and I feel so grateful to have something that helps to reframe the mundane.
Stephen Cross Before Covid-19 I never thought of myself as suffering with mental health issues. The latest round of lockdown restrictions this winter has made me re-assess that view. Day to day life for me involves looking after my four year old son, and because he is now at home all day and not going into school I find the pressures and stresses on me have increased. Looking after a bright four year old is wonderful but it is also relentlessly intense. I have found myself getting irritable in situations where I would not have done so before and feeling depressed at times, which is not normal for me. In this period of lockdown my son and I usually go for a walk most days. Getting outside for some exercise is in itself good for us both. I take a camera on our walks together and use it like a visual diary, recording things seen and of interest to me. I think of my photographs as a personal record and there has always been a therapeutic aspect for me in making them. The routes we now go on are repetitive (there’s a limit to how far you can walk with a four year old). I have found myself thinking it will be impossible to be creative, to find ways of photographing what I see without repeating myself over and over. To counter this I have tried to adopt an attitude of having no expectations, of looking without prejudice or preconceptions. I like this quote from Dorothea Lange, “To know ahead of time what you’re looking for means you’re then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting.” I try to respond to my surroundings in a way that is fresh and renewed on each walk. I’m not always successful. I have come to think that being limited in where I can go and how far I can travel to take photographs, is not necessarily creatively limiting in itself. I have always worked within self imposed limits to some extent (restricting myself to a single focal length lens for example) and I’ve tried to look on the limitations that have come with lockdown as an opportunity to develop my photography. Responding positively to the restrictions that have come with Covid19 has resulted in work I am happy with and has helped me maintain a feeling of well being.
Albertina McNeill I’ve been photographing my area for about ten years. At first it was to support local campaigns but I realised that I was seeing things that other residents didn’t because they drive rather than walk or use public transport. I spent 2012 sharing the photos I had taken with a bridge camera through a daily blog to show them what they were missing. This was a small triumph after two periods of about two years during which agoraphobia left me almost housebound. At times I was too anxious to go into the back garden so my world was limited to what I could see through the windows. Eventually I progressed to a DSLR, a rare sight where I live. I found that carrying around what many people took to be a “serious” camera afforded some protection on occasions when I didn’t feel up to talking to anyone. If I looked busy they’d leave me to it. More recently it has given them a reason to speak to me but it’s easier to cope with now, and after months of limited contact with others it can be a relief. When the first lockdown started I was worried that I wouldn’t be allowed to stop for long enough to take photographs but I realised that police in cars were slowing down because they were wondering what I was looking at. I’ve learned that while I’ve been well I’ve taken for granted being able to see into the distance. I miss the walk home from work in the evenings. I wanted to emphasise the sense of distance by using a vertical/portrait orientation for this project. Creating images, sorting, editing and sharing them has been a distraction from concerns about work, the future and the thought that I might be too overwhelmed by anxiety again to go back to “normal”. Photography gave me a reason to be outside. One of these days I might be confident enough to get past the auto/no flash/continuous settings I’ve been stuck on since the DSLR came into my life but, right now, I don’t let it worry me.
Website: www.greenford365.com Blog: positivegreenford.tumblr.com
Ellie Jiménez Hi, my name is Ellie Jiménez, I’m a photography student from Costa Rica, currently working on my graduation thesis. While the pandemic hasn’t been really awful to me and my family, we’ve kept our jobs, we haven’t gotten really sick and there hasn’t been any loses, thankfully, but being in mostly self-imposed lockdown has really taken a toll on my mental health. I’m lucky to live with my parents so I still have some sense of community, but I haven’t seen most of my friends and family in about a year and the only two times I’ve seen my best friend we’ve kept our distance and have been about 5 minutes long for each of our birthdays. This lack of touch and closeness has been really hard for me, I feel lonely and empty, and every time I see someone hugging on TV, I start crying. While I’ve been trying to keep myself busy and healthy, going out hasn’t been a part of my routine and I’m pretty sure the lack of sunlight and fresh air has been hurting me more; yesterday I went out for a little walk around the place I live and going with the idea of taking pictures helped me distract my mind from the things that have been making me feel stressed, I also started noticing certain things, like how Catholicism is still very present everywhere at the same time that the church gates are closed to the public, the streets being mainly empty, except for the parked and abandoned cars and the flowers everywhere. The reason I open and close with the red car is because I thought it was great seeing how the weather changed in the minutes I was out, there was a huge gray cloud when I left, and the sky was mostly blue when I came back, and it felt a little like the weather improved with my mood. This was a nice exercise to get me back to taking pictures, I’ve been struggling with creating and barely touch my camera unless I feel like it, I took these with my phone because it was safer than carrying my camera, but it felt like I finally had a reason to use it other than just because I had to and a new outlook to the little things around me.
Instagram: @the_bubblecat Portfolio: https://bbctph.myportfolio.com
Aaron Yeandle One of the principal reasons I became a photographer was because I had a burning need to express myself through art. I needed to escape from my so-called reality and use photography as my creative outlet. I have used photography and the arts in the past as a means of staying positive and creative in dark times. Especially throughout the lockdown period. I believe it is extremely important, to be and to stay creative as a positive outlet for our mental health, in these new and challenging times. The arts are extremely important for our mental health, not just creating art for oneself but it is important for the spectator, to view art in galleries, museums or online. It allows the viewer to escape reality for a moment and to be inspired, to observe art and photography as a visual, creative and positive outlet. Art and photography can improve and manage negative behaviours, process feelings, reduce stress, anxiety, increase self-esteem and self-discovery. The work titled Penumbra, was created as a form of therapy and escapism through the dark months. Creating this work, allowed me to exercise my mind in a positive and creative approach. This body of work provided me the opportunity to observe the mundane of the everyday and turn these scenes in to a visually, romantic and creative observation. Exposure to art and nature or even viewing scenes of nature through art, can improve physical and mental health wellbeing. Without photography and the visual arts, I cannot even imagine where I would be physically or mentally today. Photography has provided me a rich and a positive outlet throughout my creative and personal life.
Instagram: @aaron.yeandle Portfolio: www.aaronyeandle.com
Cullen Topping For what I can remember from the age of 8 I started to get signs of bad anxiety, I did not really understand it as it started so early, and it gradually got worse. I never knew how to tell anyone because I did not understand how I felt and was so deeply insecure and ashamed of the thought there was something wrong with me. But as I got older, I got help. I started to become honest with myself and others about how I felt, and I was surprised at how many people have been secretly feeling similar ways to how I feel. From other people’s experiences I leant that there was nothing wrong with me. But I would not have been able to express or tell my story now if it were not for photography. I came across a photographer called Bruce Gilden and his extreme ways of making images. He is fearless and never sorry of who he is and will express it with no thought. I admire those qualities and that is how I first started to get into photography. The journey from where I first started to now, I’ve created theses amazing experiences with other people and I’ve seen so much beauty. Ive grown to a person with empathy, kindness and love for others and especially myself. Without this 1 hour a day of walking and making pictures, I would go crazy, and I could not imagine being in that frame of mind once again. It is no longer a choice, it is my life, I live for photography.
Hazel Bingham My life before the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown was going according to plan. Preparations for my solo exhibition/degree show “Wake up to London – London’s Hottest Postcode N1C” at the HIP Gallery, Hull, were almost finished, with hanging due to take place on 1 April 2020. Then the news that the country was going into lockdown broke and my life changed. During the first lockdown, I was kept busy sourcing and devising ways of completing my degree, working in an online space rather than a physical space, alongside others in the arts and creative industries. The permitted daily walk provided me with the opportunity to have a rest from the computer screen. As I am single and live alone, I found going for a walk and people avoiding social contact hard. I have a smartphone with a good camera and after a few days found discarded and lost items on my neighbourhood walks. Finding these items motivated me to go out on a daily walk and it no longer mattered that no-one spoke to you or they crossed the road if they saw you coming. Photography was helping me cope with lockdown. I shared my images on my social media threads, thus connecting me to others. As lockdown ended and outlets such as Starbucks Drive-In opened, I noticed that rubbish became more prevalent and larger items such as beds were discarded. I began to find it harder to source suitable objects to photograph. The second lockdown in November I found more difficult to come to terms with as I had planned for life after studying by participating in workshops to learn more bookmaking skills and how to make glass Christmas decorations. These of course did not come to fruition. Although I knew that Lockdown 3 was coming on stream it hit me hard. The occasions I met up with a friend for a local walk lifted my spirits, but these became more difficult to arrange during the short hours of daylight and winter weather. Joining this collaboration enabled me to refocus my photography. I was photographing for someone else, a person who was not familiar with my area and who would look at my images with a new set of eyes, they would no longer be the mundane. Gradually as my confidence and motivation grew, my daily walk no longer became a drudge but something I looked forward to.
Instagram: @hazelbinghamphotography Portfolio: www.hazelbinghamphotography.com
Katie Hayward During this past year, like many of us, I’ve experienced many emotions. The first lockdown came at a point where we had uncharacteristically warm weather for the time of year, and it seemed to last forever. It gave me an opportunity to really get into some gardening and to spend time doing things I wouldn’t ordinarily have the time to do. I already went walking quite a bit, as this is an integral part of my practice as a photographer of landscape and environment, but the first lockdown gave me an opportunity to walk further, explore more and spend more time in those places and spaces. It felt positive and helped me focus and really develop ideas with much less interruption. Having this more intimate experience with those landscapes meant I formed a deeper connection; the sense of belonging was reinforced. We’d only lived there three years. But, in August we were notified that our landlord was to sell the house we were living in, wanting to take advantage of the stamp duty holiday imposed by the government. To say we were upset was an understatement, COVID was now having a direct impact on our lives. It was a decision out of our control, and it was a very emotional and traumatic time. Thankfully, we found another property some sixty-mile further south, right in the middle of Constable Country and on the edge of the Stour Valley and Dedham Vale AONB. It was a place I didn’t know, only through John Constables paintings. I still hadn’t quite come to terms with the move, but I continued with my ritual of going out walking with my camera, attempting to explore what surrounded me. It was a wilderness to me then, somewhere where I didn’t know the path home, getting lost, being lost and feeling lost was a daily occurrence and it mimicked what I was feeling inside also. There was a wilderness within me too. But, through the process of revisiting, it changed, and we became friends. I learned the paths, the routes mapped out in my mind and I found the way home. The images I’ve been making throughout this whole process are, for me, a tangible form of my emotional journey. They are visuals to how I have been feeling. Contemplative, emotional, sinister, romantic, melancholy and hopeful. Staying creative has given me a way of working through that process. Those emotions, difficulties and challenges are imbued within those images, forever attached and associated. I suspect that in a year or two’s time, when I look back, the full realisation of how staying creative during this period of time helped me through, will be fully realised and these images are incredibly important for this reason also. They are a point for reflection but are also proof that I made it through.
Instagram: @katiehaywardphotog Website: www.katiehayward.net/wilderness
Laura Hill The biggest struggle for me during Lockdown and the pandemic was certainly finding a ‘release’. I was furloughed for 6 weeks before returning to the office to work as a full-time graphic designer. I also run my own online store, so I constantly felt like I was always staring at a computer screen for 13-14 hours a day, that alongside caring for my mum really started taking its toll on my mental health. My mother was told to isolate as she’s highly vulnerable due to her poor health, prior to the pandemic I would get help from my brother, who could ‘pop’ in to see her and help, but obviously with the lockdown, he wasn’t able to. I certainly asked myself many times during all this “There’s got to be more to life than just work, than just this, surely?” My walks out helped me a lot and helped me find that ‘release’, it helped me to get into a routine again and take that ‘break’ that I would of previously got from going to see my friends/family etc. I started appreciating the smaller things in life, like the sunrises/sunsets, walks with my pooch, the sound of the birds etc… Even on the dark cloudy days when things seem miserable in life, there’s always something unique and joyful to be seen out in nature, like a flower or cygnets on the water, a bee collecting pollen or just a happy dog that’s buzzing to be out on a walk. There’s always something to make you smile. The same happens in life, there’s always something you find that lifts your heart, even if it’s only for a few seconds. It’s made me realise there’s more to life than idling strolling through life, Work, home, pub, repeat. I will continue to go on my walks by myself as the world begins to open back up, I will carry on taking photographs as I have found it to help with my creativity without having to be stuck behind a computer screen all day.
Jörg Marx Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD after working as a medical worker in war and crisis zones. Since then, I have to cope with panic attacks, dissociation, insomnia, suicidal thoughts and psychosomatic complaints in my everyday life. I live a withdrawn social life in the countryside and work as a freelance writer. Hospital stays, therapies and medication didn’t help me. What carries me through life instead is my dog, now 16 and a half years old, being out in nature whenever I can, and taking photos every day. For me, photography is a kind of meditation that calms me down and offers a way to connect with reality. In a way, I photograph against the images in my head, against my memories, which disconnect me from reality today. Landscapes and places play a big role in this. They are ambivalent for me – on the one hand they evoke memories, on the other hand they locate me in the now. I think from landscapes we can learn a lot about trauma and recovery. For me, it’s difficult to describe in words, and that’s precisely why I take photographs. Photography eludes the logic of language and thinking, which always tends to over-text reality and to explain it in an apparently conclusive way. Photographs, in contrast, always leave a gap. They give reality a chance to be seen without subjugating it to the things in our head, which can be obsessive in the case of trauma or in crises situations, like now in the Covid-19 pandemic. For me, photography is less an art, more a strategy for dealing with the world. It doesn’t create anything new but opens up something; it’s not a potency of the senses, instead it exposes the senses to a power. For me, the act of photographing itself is more important than the result. Although I also pursue photo projects, it’s the daily taking of photos that gives me stability. I take photos for myself alone, without thinking of anyone, especially not of any social media platforms, to which I have an ambivalent relationship. In my opinion, a photo on the internet is not a real photo at all. You must look at a photograph directly. That is also part of my strategy for dealing with my mental health: There are many pictures by other photographers on my walls, and I often leaf through photobooks.
Website: www.joerg-marx.de Instagram: @marx.photography
Ken Goddard For me, photography is inextricably linked with mental health. In 2009 I had a severe mental burnout. I went to see friend who is a psychologist so she could recommend a mental health professional for me. During our conversation I had what I imagine to be an epiphany. I realised that what I was missing in my life was the creative outlet given to me by photography. The cameras that I use most nowadays are my Fujifilm X-T2 and Halide on my iPhone. The phone is always with me and the app gives me that extra bit of control to get what I want from the image. The X-T2 is an absolute delight to use and just looking at it makes me want to go outside and shoot. I always recommend these cameras to anybody who wants to start photography because they bring a joy that, at least for me, is not there with a big DSLR (which I also use). A smaller, lighter camera allows you to relax and have fun with photography – and that is what it’s all about. Just about any hobby is good for mental health, I particularly like photography as it provides gentle exercise and a non-verbal way of showing others how I see the world. When I take the camera for a walk it’s similar to meditation, a clear focus and an opportunity to forget the world, while being in it, for a while. I started a 365 project in March, just in time for the pandemic, which has helped me enormously. These lockdowns are not so difficult for me because I can happily spend four or five days without going out, but actually forcing myself out into the world is more difficult. This project means I have to push myself physically, to go outside and be creative, I’m happy inside my head but in the long run we all need a balance - our own personal yin and yang.
Lindsay Bainbridge I’ve always drifted toward some form of art in times of need, creative endeavours have been an invaluable aide through many tough times in my life, and my inspiration for art can usually be found outside. Being creative takes the focus away from daily stresses and for as long as I can recall I have found creative sustenance amongst nature. When I was very young, in times of stress, I would often draw, badly, but that didn’t matter, it was the action of transporting the visual in my chosen landscape into something resembling a tree, flower, insect, focusing attention on something and then one day I was introduced to photography by my maternal grandfather, he was my greatest childhood influence. When I was 9 I was lucky enough to be the recipient of a camera of my own, something I considered very grown up and was the greatest gift, at that point in my life, that I had ever received, and it changed my life immeasurably. The creative manifestations of photography have been crucial to survival of the most life altering situations that I have found myself in, be it domestic abuse, a 2 year recovery from a RTA and a fight where my opponent was the big C. I’m convinced that my creative spirit had my back every time. Moving on 45 years from my first foray into photography and the tech has changed but the therapeutic properties of a day spent photographing, whether it be in a natural or urban landscape, haven’t diminished, losing oneself in this creative force for good, tempers the mind and is food for the soul, a genuine boost to serotonin levels. Now more than ever I reach for my creative therapy. In some respects I was well prepared for life in lockdown, that isn’t to say my mental health didn’t suffer because, like many people, it did. Being creative has been a huge help in navigating this particular journey. Saying that I have been incredibly lucky in that, very early on in the pandemic I found that utilising my creative muscle has definitely aided lockdown survival. In a remarkably turbulent year being creative has saved my soul. Being creative creates a challenge that shifts focus away from the trials of life to something extremely important, self-preservation, and fosters conditions for personal evolution and sharing the therapeutic properties of creativeness with other people becomes equally important and often returns the benefits. It’s a wonderful thing. it hinges on joy and exploration of self expression which helps to recalibrate the brain to such things occurring naturally, and that can only be a good thing. During the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns I have made a point, like many others, of sharing my images on social media, swapping my analogue for a phone camera means that the results are instant, today more than ever that is incredibly important, I shoot, edit, share, particularly to Twitter and this platform is where the images have held the greatest influence and they have created friendships with people that I would have likely never met, and brought about creative collaborations with other photographers, artists, writers, and sculptors that have had a profound impact on everyone involved. Art is everything. Being creative is everything. I also have my digital images transferred to prints. In times of stress when it’s not possible to escape into nature, just perusing the photographic memories transports one to your very own utopia.
Let’s talk more openly about our Mental Health