Taking photos has always been a hugely cathartic process for me. I derive a vast amount of personal peace from being behind the viewfinder. These moments hold time to think, time to relax, time to explore and time to release – all in one. As a result, I set a huge amount of stock in the power of the photographic process to give me a sense of balance in life. Here’s a (not particularly succinct) account of why:
I think it is really important to be honest and open about one's mental health situation. Unless you are forthcoming, people tend to reach their own conclusions about you and mark you down as somewhat of an odd fish. Personally, I hold a good deal of social anxieties, from chronically low self esteem to communication and basic interactions. As well as these, I have artistic confidence issues, personal discipline problems, and a deep seated aversion to being assessed – especially publicly. I've started coming to terms with the situation, with help, and progress flows ever faster.
My point is, that photography really helps me achieve this progress. I've done my own photography completely for my own benefit since I was young. Despite running a large scale awards myself, I never entered any, never put myself forward for guild/society assessments, or felt a desire to put on a personal show, or publish a photo book, or commercialise it in any way. This is not because I was not confident in my work, quite the opposite; I really was proud of what I was (slowly!) achieving with my photography. The hesitation came from wanting to be in full control of my own creative process and keep it an isolated art, that I could hide in, with no outside influences, no assessment – in short, a pure hobby.
Now, a lot of these decisions were grounded on a default mental state that, (based on the issues listed above) encouraged me to shy away from exposure. For clarity's sake, I am not saying that my photography merited much exposure, that any show I put on would make headlines, or photo-books published would sell out – simply that the impetus wasn't there to try. And so, my process evolved in a very sheltered way and developed into one that is intensely personal to me. As a result it has always been my safe haven, an isolated calm space where I can take time for me, and put everything else on hold. After well over 20 years taking enjoyment from it, I can't measure how much it has benefited my life, granting both purpose and protection.
Aside from the mental wellness that photography brings me, another related aspect is my personal creativity. While the prospect continually terrifies me, I have been really trying to push myself in recent years, not for recognition, but for personal growth reasons. I find photography an incredibly flexible and adaptive tool for creativity, with a huge variety of disciplines, equipment and processes to explore.Two of the things I had set a target for were trying to get outside my social comfort zone and regain a sense of creative fulfilment. While founding a few very public-facing companies, in 2017 I took the opportunity to complete a Photography MA at Cambridge School of Art on the ARU campus - and the combination of the two massively helped.
I was aware of how sheltered my practice was and how, by focusing so specifically on my favoured discipline, I had begun to stagnate in my photographic outputs, often creating very similar photos, months apart, without realising. Lastly, I was aware that Art School was not for everyone, but because I felt that I was not someone for whom it was for, creatively speaking (especially in my 30's), the more it seemed a really good suggestion - way to go mum! The dynamic course included cross-school collaborations with leather workers, book illustrators, print-makers, fine artists, sculptors etc. It truly did wonders for me, not only in building creative confidence, but social confidence as well.
The main change I noticed was in a very common aspect for most photographers, namely that I was somewhat of a perfectionist when it came to my workflow. All the way from in-camera composition, right through to processing and the arrangement of my online gallery. All creative aspects had to be 'just so'. I always preferred to work alone, I used to believe that this would somehow safeguard 'my' craft. What I learnt, is how much creativity can be bolstered and morph when in dialogue. All the protective worries I had about 'control' proved unfounded and it fundamentally affected my entire outlook on photography. I have recently started seeking collaborations in unlikely places to keep this creative train rolling, and it has proved really satisfying.
The last way photography grants me real headspace is in the feeling of learning. As I say in my bio, I am excited about learning, and see myself as a perpetual hobbyist. But the learning is not specific or confined. Instead, I find photography is a great vehicle from which to explore a myriad of other pursuits. Not only do I love the technical and scientific aspects, and the behaviour of light, for example, I also enjoy studying the behaviour of animals. In order for me to improve in my field, a good understanding of both is required. As much as I enjoy hunting new (and used) gear to record light with, I also relish the tracking and photographing of interesting species, which in turn, has taught me a huge amount about the natural world; geography right through to biology and chemistry (things I used to balk at at school).
Some paths of curious inquiry have gone full circle and led straight back into influencing my practice. In 2014, for example, I became fascinated with nature's camouflage while doing some project work. I read all about how different animal groups can see different bandwidths of the spectrum (this, for example is why deer hunters wear orange). This led me to study the anatomy of animal eyes and to assess my field gear to see how effective the supposed 'camouflage' I had adopted was for certain species. Using a variety of imagining techniques I quickly learned a lot. For example, my green, ripstop nylon bag reflected a lot of infra red light, and would not appear 'green' at all to many animals. It would be a lot more visible than I thought. This encouraged a shift in my gear and preparations, new cloth treatments and textured scrim netting etc. But, it also got me interested in broad spectrum and infrared wildlife photography as I was curious about how these animal eyes I had studied saw the world.
I guess, in a very basic and quasi-philosophical way, photography feeds my human curiosity. While I know this curiosity is never going to literally take me to the moon, as it has for some people, it creates an enrichment platform for my day to day life. But, on the downside it makes you incredibly boring at dinner parties. Swings and roundabouts I guess...