Past PhotoVoice trainee Ruth Davey writes for us on photography and mindfulness. She describes how the two can complement one another and support people living with mental health challenges.
In September 2014, photography started to take on a whole new meaning to me. For some time I had struggled with episodes of anxiety and depression and I was going through a particularly challenging time. I decided to attend a retreat ‘The Photography of Being’ in Scotland for a week. I allowed myself to feel the depths of my thoughts, spending a couple of days immersed in the darkness of the dense mossy wood where I was staying. As the week unfolded, I started to feel lighter. I found myself coming out into the open, where I observed the movement of the running stream and the beauty of the nearby Loch. The warm autumn colours were already in their full glory and I lay on the ground and bathed in their warmth. My series of photographs from the week reflect my process of being in the dark and coming out into the light. The experience was incredibly therapeutic.
Asking nature to support me
A year later I experienced what I called at the time, a full-on breakdown. I was overwhelmed and burnt out and my body forced me to stop. Fear got the better of me and I was not able to work for some months. As part of my recovery I walked in the beautiful Cotswolds woods and commons where I live . My camera came with me. I allowed myself to be guided towards particular places, objects, colours, textures, shapes, patterns, and areas of light, dark, or shadow that caught my eye. I looked at the detail as well as the bigger picture. I started to be fully present in the moment, to breathe and to experience what I was looking at, not only through my eyes, but through all my senses.
Sometimes, I would take photos, sometimes I would simply look. I found that nature would ‘speak’ to me through my eyes or the lens and help me look at my life with a fresh perspective.
Recovery through mindfulness and photography
As part of my recovery, I renewed my interest in mindfulness. This time the thought came to me: mindfulness + photography = mindful photography. I realised that my breakdown was in fact a breakthrough. Mindful photography became a practice that I use to help deal with my own challenges and that now, I share with others.
Look Again: mindful photography for wellbeing
My organisation ‘Look Again’ unites photography, mindfulness and nature to help people slow down, take notice, and see their life, work and world with fresh eyes. My vision is to inspire others to use photography as a tool to improve the health and wellbeing of people and the planet. To help people make a positive difference in their own lives and in the wider world. I workshops and training for businesses for a variety of organisations, as well as for individuals. I also offer workshops that help people look at their work or organisation with fresh eyes: to clarify their vision, represent it visually, take better photographs and tell their story more effectively. Benefits include: improved health and wellbeing, increased self-esteem and confidence, focus and clarity of vision, and boosted motivation and productivity.
Examples of recent work include running workshops for the NHS 2gether Trust’s Recovery College in Gloucestershire, running an INSET day for staff at Claremont Special School in Bristol, a staff away day workshop with the University of the West of England, and public workshops at the Forestry Commission’s National Arboretum at Westonbirt, at the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge, and Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol. Also, Look Again is working with arts and health charity, Artlift to run a series of free ‘arts on referral’ mindfulness photography courses. Funded by the Big Lottery ‘Finding Focus’ workshops are supporting people experiencing long-term mental or physical health challenges in Gloucestershire.
Look Again combines Ruth’s love of photography with 25 years’ experience of working with NGOs, businesses and social enterprises in London, Africa, Bristol and Gloucestershire.She founded and ran artXchange in The Gambia and was a creative industry mentor for the Arts Council. With 10 years’ experience of running photography workshops, she is a commissioned photographer in her own right. She completed PhotoVoice’s celebrated participatory photography training a few years ago and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts.Do get in touch with Ruth, if you would like her to run a workshop or deliver training for you. Visit www.look-again.org to find out more.
Featured image: © Ruth Davey