By Alex Carp
Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental health issues at some point in their lives and that is quite a stark statistic. I am a strong believer in taking up photography as a hobby when it comes to helping people who are experiencing mental health issues. Whilst there have many discussions around what can potentially lead to mental health issues, and ways in which people can get treatment and support, I haven’t seen many talking about how photography, can help your mind stay healthy. Getting out and about with a camera in hand helps people to become more present, more aware and more mindful.
Mindfulness is the art of living in the present without worrying about the future or the past. It’s all about having a clear mind, focusing on the present situation around you; on what you can see, hear, smell and touch. Whilst it sounds pretty easy to achieve, mindfulness in practice is quite difficult due to our circumstances; our busy working and personal lives. Take multi-tasking, for example. This is something we all try to do all day long without realising the long-term impact it can have on our health by accumulating stress in our system. We multi-task, thinking that we will achieve more by doing two things at the same time, but in reality, this could not be further away from the truth. We can only efficiently focus on one thing at a time, and whilst we believe we can multi-task, in essence what we are doing is switching our brains between tasks very quickly, which can create a very stressful experience. This brings me to my argument as to why I believe street photography is very effective at making us more mindful and mentally healthy as a result.
Firstly, when we go out and about, walking around our home town scouring for the perfect street shots, we’re subconsciously focusing on the present. For a few hours, we wander around the city stopping, observing, smelling and feeling the present reality. For those few hours we are being mindful, we notice our surrounding environment, take it all in and most importantly, we don’t make any judgement on whether what we see is good or bad… it’s just happening and we are capturing that moment through the lens as it happens. For this very reason I believe that photography is a lot like meditation; you’re simply living, free of judgement, in the present.
Personally, I favour street photography, as I find a lot of joy in framing shots, choosing the various settings at my own pace, savouring the moment I am about to capture and that helps me to forget about worries, fears and removes a lot of stress.
The second reason I believe that photography helps maintain our mental health is because you get the chance to look at the world through a different set of lenses. You get another perspective on things and sometimes you even put yourself in the shoes of other people, showing, as a result, greater compassion helping you to be more understanding, patient and less stressed about day to day life.
My third and final reason for believing photography improves our mindfulness is that it reminds us of our core values and beliefs. As children we are more creative and we do a better job at absorbing the environment we’re in, but as we go through education and life, increasingly we focus on our inner thoughts and day to day tasks, thus forgetting how to enjoy to wider world around us. Photography provides us with the opportunity to reconnect and cherish every moment.
Finally, all I can do is to encourage you to go out and enjoy the world, observe it just as it is, and whilst you are recharging your mental wellbeing batteries take your favourite camera with you and capture those special, unspoiled moments.
More from Alex Carp
Fully agree with you. As a clinical psychologist and photographer I’ve seen how photography in all its expressions provides an equilibrium that pulls us out everyday alienation. Personally I have always felt that photography gives me that peaceful and here and now sense of being there.By the way, there is a specific application of photography in psychology called Photo-therapy which uses photos and their personal meaning in providing insights about us…very interesting. Great article, thanks.
Hi there 🙂 I’ve never heard of photo-therapy, something new for me to learn about. Glad you enjoyed my little article.
I agree with you. Taking up the hobby of photography has been extremely helpful, in the way you described, with my recovery from mental illness.
I returned to my love of photography (after many years away) when I was diagnosed with PTSD following military service. I for one can agree with you Alex, that it is of huge benefit in alleviating some of the symptoms, and I shout this fact at every opportunity. Great article.
Thanks, great article! I find photographing an entirely different mental mode than my normal busy working day mode. Sometimes it takes a long time to switch, indicating I’m all wound up. During last year I had a burn-out and photography was a great way to pick things up. I learned a lot and especially how landscape makes me focus mentally, observe, and execute a task with great patience. And it gives me a reason to stand still in a single spot (in nature) watching everything and everyone move by! I see what you don’t see… 🙂 Regards.
Thanks for a new look at street photography. I now see it as more than just a “slice of life” image frozen in time.
Thank you for this article which articulates the way in which photography puts you in the present moment.
Great article. This aspect of photography was what lead me to mindfulness as a practice when I realized that it was the restorative effects of being out with a camera and a single purpose that was driving my love of the medium. It is certainly not limited to street photography, though, in my case it is primarily landscapes.
I am returning to this hobby for those very reasons – excellent article!
Excellent article! This reinforces what I already knew – that photography is very healing for me, and I’m sure it does the same for most other photographers – gets us to focus on the present moment.
So true. Photography can be beneficial to those experiencing any kind of chronic illness. Photography is one of many useful tools that can be used to shift your mind away from a difficult/hellish personal struggle (mental or physical)…you just have to find which of these many tools works best for you. Photography has been a godsend for me!
Loved your first photo of the girl in the gap in the wall (paradise.) Is it a real location? If so, Where ? Evoked such vivid and pleasant memories of a time so long ago.
Hi Alex I have just read your artical and I would just like to say well done ,as a passionate photographer and a yogi mindfulness is a way of life for me and when I am out with my Fuji XT2 and primes either doing landscape or street or what ever it’s a bonus ,I am totally in the moment .I hope your artical will encourage others to do the same.🙏🏻
loved this. Really beautiful images and an interesting take on mindfulness
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