Photography & Mental Health and Wellbeing

Written by Guy Walsh
22 August 2018

Long before I was involved with photography, I worked in a job helping people with mental health support needs back into work. I had more than one client that used photography as a way to manage their wellbeing and keep themselves present.

A long time would pass before I would pick up a DSLR myself, but, now two and half years into this journey, I am feeling the positive effects myself.

Aside from keeping me present and keeping my mind focussed on the job in hand, taking photographs has numerous other benefits too. For example, one of my long-standing self-imposed life rules is to try to walk somewhere new every day. Even the simplest act of walking a different way to work or going slightly off my regular route into town brings with it a sense of excitement and refreshing anticipation, no matter how small. Not knowing what is around the corner or behind the wall stimulates my imagination and gets my creative brain working.

Working on the Brighton Cat Snapper project means I’m completely focussed on what is going on around me at all times, so that I can catch moments like this!

When I’ve got a camera in hand, that excitement is amplified because not only am I experiencing something new, I’m also analysing the area for an interesting composition. I’m looking closely at colours, textures, curves, lines and points of contrast. I’m looking for signs of movement, for juxtaposition, for drama, for comedy, or for an interesting moment.

Now let’s bring cats into the mix. Not only do I have the image composition to think about, but I also have a live animal to keep an eye on. Cats are no doubt my spirit animal, due in no small part to their unwillingness to do what anyone tells them to do. They are stubborn, they don’t care for human values, and they don’t play by your rules. Which, as well being reasons that I love them to much, are the reasons I have no choice but to stay present if I want to get the photo I’m looking for!

Then there’s the exercise. I can walk for miles with a camera in my hand without realising how far I’ve travelled. On more than one occasion I have found myself in the middle of nowhere, miles away from home, having set off with the intention of turning back a mile down the road. I tackle steep hills with enthusiasm, steps with a tingling anticipation, and fields without thought for my own safety. (Don’t try that at home, kids)

Walking through the Suffolk countryside allowed me to take one of my favourite landscape photos

But I think the biggest benefit to my emotional wellbeing is the immediacy of the art. Now I know a lot of people will preach against instant gratification, and I believe in longer-term development too, but when I’m feeling anxious or depressed and I need something to get me out of my head, the fact that I can pick up a camera and start creating something without hesitation is a real bonus. That’s in part how the Brighton Cat Snapper project came about. I can just pick up my camera and wander.

Sometimes I get in my car and drive to the nearest hill, or field, or windmill, or other point of interest. Sometimes I’ll put a podcast on in the car, and sometimes I don’t get out of the car at all. But it gives me the release I need.

I think everyone should find the thing that helps them stay present. Some people draw or paint, others play music. I tend to sing or write too. I’m a big believer in mindfulness, and the arts are a great way to occupy your mind in a positive manner.

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