Photography and Wellness

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A friend asked me why I was suddenly so camera-happy, going around taking a crazy amount of pictures. Or maybe she didn’t actually ask. I could just feel her wondering. Either way, I answered, “I’m taking back part of my life.” I’ve been working way too hard for way too long, and it is taking its toll. I am physically, emotionally, and mentally burned out. I have to do something to turn that around, or I will not be able to keep doing my job.

I bought the camera hoping to learn to use it well enough to embark on a few artistic projects. For one, I wanted to take my own photos to use as my own writing prompts. For another, I wanted to explore some of the small towns and historic sites around my state–almost as homage to Eudora Welty who took incredible photographs of Depression Era Mississippi.

What I didn’t know until I had the camera in my hands was that I would be inspired to undertake photography as a daily ritual, immediately jumping into photo-blogging and Flickr-sharing. What I didn’t know was that I would approach photography not as a matter of art but as a matter of health.

It is a time of exercise and meditation for me. I find myself in quiet places looking at the world outside the problems and responsibilities churning around in my head. I walk. I squat. I stretch. I bend. I twist. All in an effort to see more clearly. It is as good as yoga to me.

Sometimes I don’t have much time, but even ten minutes of looking around for pictures usually yields something interesting, and even ten minutes of not thinking about work clears the head and relieves the stress.

This has me wondering if others practice photography in the same way. A Google search for “photography and wellness” yields a bunch of stock photos on subjects related to wellness but not so much articles on the topic. Google is, unfortunately, as far as I’ve gone thus far in my research. I did find a kporterfield.com discussing photography as a healing practice, but kp seems a little out of date as the advice is all about film. How retro.

K Porterfield aside, I have my own ideas about the types of photography I’ve done in just two short weeks and their health benefits.

(1) Food. I started out with the tangerines. Those shots were my first real experiment with the new camera, and they made me more aware of the appearance of my food purchases. That day I just happened to have tangerines and cherries on hand. The next time I went to the store I bought pears and grapes because I wondered how they would look in pictures. That’s when it occurred to me that I had put myself on a pretty food diet for the sake of the camera and that this was also a healthy food diet. There’s nothing whatsoever attractive about a cheesy tot. If you take the time to actually look at your food, you’ll probably buy it the way God and all of Italy always intended, for its healthy color.

(2) Nature. Nature photos mean nature walks. Relaxation + exercise = nothing healthier. Plus, sometimes you make friends with a new dog along the way.

(3) Yard art. I adore yard art. It makes me laugh. It makes me smile. Add that to relaxation and exercise, and it just keeps getting better and better.

(4) Historic sites. I haven’t done much of this yet, but I did go to Cedar Hills Cemetery in Vicksburg to take pictures of the angels there. This I would qualify as a spiritual experience. I walked a lot that day but I didn’t notice because I was entranced with the place. This was walking and watching as meditation. I also learned a few things and remembered a few things I’d once known about the town and its history.

I know there are books about art and wellness and writing and wellness. There are even books about blogging and wellness. I’m going to be on the lookout for books about photography and wellness. If there isn’t more about it out there, someone needs to write it. Photography has something of a unique capacity to hit multiple wellness needs at once. I’m certainly finding that to be true.

8 thoughts on “Photography and Wellness”

  1. This is a beautiful entry, and I think it’s wonderful that you’ve found something both beautiful and therapeutic. I especially loved the point about the food– I love food photography, and you’re right, the healthiest food often looks the best too.

    Looking forward to more of your photos–makes me want to get my camera out too!

  2. Thanks, Jackie. If you do get your camera out, you might be interested in the Shutter Sisters group on Flickr. I’ve been following it. That’s a little added motivation.

  3. It’s certainly not news to you that I feel this way also about photography…mine makes me focus on my children…and the more I take pictures, the more I want to take pictures…also making me focus on what’s most important in my life. The Shutter Sisters 365 Project was meant to create more incentive to take pictures of other things besides just my kids. My walks with Reagan and just the times of being still and taking in God’s wonders around me have brought peace to my mind. You can’t help but think about the colors, light, textures, etc.
    During the Christmas holidays I found myself wishing I could do somthing else…after 8 years of working on a PhD, I thought about another career!!! WHAT???? I knew I had to find something away from work. Thanks for being an incentive to start a blog…that coupled with the photography and finding others who blog with photography made me feel even more that this was the release I was looking for. Maybe we can both keep doing our jobs 🙂

  4. You should take a look at Billie Hara’s photoblog, Patti. She’s done a 365 project several times (and she teaches college composition): http://partsnpieces.typepad.com/project365/2010/01/index.html

    Yes, it’s been touch and go with having the heart and the energy left for the job this year, but the blog and the camera and I are coping. I’m so glad you started blogging. It’s so much more fun if you have blogging pals.

    Did you know Tuggle is interested in photography? Turns out there are a lot of people on campus with a camera bug. I thought about trying to start a Flickr group for our campus. I wonder if people would participate.

  5. It is always interesting to see someone’s life through a lens. We all focus on large or insignificant moments of beauty.

    And for the record, I love yard art, too. Goofing grinning love of the yard art.

  6. Sharon, you are one of the many that I think of when I think of the expression “working tirelessly.” If anyone needed a break, it would be you. I have been awed by your work over the years and inspired, too. It seems like this year, with your blog, you’re making sense of the world all around you and us. I’ve had a yen to get back to photography–my Blackberry photos just don’t cut it!

  7. Thanks, Joanna. You know the iPhone was part of my yearning for a nice camera. It was my first phone with a camera. When I always had a camera with me, I found myself wishing for a better camera. The 2 megapixel iPhone cam just doesn’t do the job.

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