Can photography lead to better health?

In this fast-paced, 21st century with all the technologies of mobile phones, TV shows, emails, computers and social media forums, it’s easy for your day to become full of the intensity of misdirecting your time. A lot of people live through their apps – Google, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook – which in itself, if moderated, can be creative, versatile and used as productive tools.

If you are like me, it is easy to forget to take care of my wellbeing and relax, doing things I enjoy.

Gustave Flaubert, the artist, once said “You don’t make art out of good intentions” and that of course is very true.

I personally sometimes blame my personal health as a reason not to be creative! This is obviously not a helpful mindset to have, unless of course it is essential to rest.

You have to intend to want to improve your wellbeing and now the NHS are even helping with this by connecting people to community organisations and activities. So instead of prescribing, or perhaps in addition to conventional treatment such as anti-depressants, they are referring patients to non-clinical services that help to enrich the lives of individual patients. This social prescribing has had such positive results that the NHS are now employing Link Workers to help connect patients with activities and organisations that can help to be mentally restorative.

Outdoor activities, in particular, have been noted in various studies to show that being outside releases those feel good chemicals – serotonin and endorphins. Any activity that brings you into the present moment – in other words, where you are absorbed in the activity and your mind is not elsewhere – such as gardening, walking, photography and painting can help to improve the state of your mind.

Outdoor photography is a really good example of this. It’s an activity that makes you stop and look and really ‘see’ what is around you. It involves working on colour, composition and light and can lead to total mindfulness in the creation of an image – you can be only doing that and nothing else. Even beginners need only a simple smart phone to get them started and to begin to feel the beneficial effects of a mindful activity and at the same time getting some fresh air!

If this sounds all too overwhelming to you, can I recommend a book by Matthew Johnstone called ‘Capturing Mindfulness – a guide to becoming present through photography’. His book shows us how taking a photograph can be used to retrain the brain to help us live completely in the moment, allowing us to capture a time where we were fully engaged in the world around us.

Take a look into your local U3A; my local University of the Third Age has nine walking groups which cover different mileages. Why not get out, make friends and check out walks you can do. Then, having taken a few images on your phone as an aide memoire, return another day to engage in some mindful photography.

The use of a smartphone is available to most people and this can be the start of a mindful, artistic moment. The images are instantly accessible and shareable and its portability means that mindfulness is available to people any time of day whether it’s capturing a street scene, nature, a coastline and so on. In other words, it is completely spontaneous. I have a good friend who is a really good smartphone photographer and she describes it as “truly exciting, you don’t know what the next image is going to be – it’s unbelievable what you can see when you start really looking! Being aware and curious about what’s around me makes the art of taking pics even more exhilarating”. The key is looking, recognising what you are seeing, giving yourself the time to work out how to capture the image and most importantly, and where possible, reflecting before and after you take the photograph.

For me the mindfulness in outdoor photography extends beyond that. It helps me to experiment with infinite possibilities and this in itself extends and challenges my traditional perceptions of the outcomes. Rather than taking the traditional, iconic view of Eastbourne Pier, for example, how can I show and demonstrate from a different viewpoint, a different angle, a more personalised record of this wonderful structure?

For me, it includes planning for my own mental wellbeing; I have to create a ‘cunning plan’ which involves the preparation of camera, lenses, very importantly charging camera batteries (!) and any filters and any tripods I might use. Planning also includes checking weather conditions including tide times, for example, choosing suitable clothing as well as considering nourishment and refreshment. Without this I feel that my mental/creative being suffers because I am not looking after myself. Having the security of good preparation leads to the freedom of my creativity in the appropriate pre-planned place. Although it may not go the way I planned it to be due to weather, lighting and other environmental factors, I can still enjoy the day out being connected to nature rather than not venturing out at all.

I enjoy the solitude of mindful photography and yet it is equally possible to do this with friends and family who share the same interest because they ‘get’ the benefits and joy of the process!

Simply a walk ‘around the block’ with your smartphone or camera can lead to a good mindful experience, an image to take, enjoy and share; a memory that can be recalled at any moment in time – such is the power of mindful photography. So the key to a healthier mind and body is giving yourself permission to be creative and mindful – I know this works for me and my wife!

Jacquie’s Tee-shirt

 

Sorry I must stop this post now, it’s time to get away from this screen and go for a stroll around the block. But it’s raining outside!

M

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