I created this book when I needed it. I am a photographer. I also use mindfulness and meditation as a regular support to help me live authentically. Over the last few years, I have combined these two loves and shared ideas and practices in Mindful Photography through workshops, talks, online and email courses and eBooks. However, in November of last year, I had major throat reconstruction surgery. Whilst I was there recovering, I used photography and writing to support the processing and acceptance of what I was experiencing, feeling, and thinking. Every day I went walkabout – not far, I was barely allowed out of the ward – and I created photos of what I saw and felt. The challenge of creating new photos each day in the same environment and writing about how they reflected my experience kept me occupied every morning. I noticed that the activity helped to make me feel more positive about the situation. They also provided the opportunity to work through what was happening and lean into the difficult feelings.
Whilst I was there, my thoughts turned to the next stage of recovery and how I could support my health and well-being, post-op and beyond. One morning I came up with the titles and outlines for 20+ photographic activities that would support my well-being. I decided that over the next few months that I would complete each of the activities, recording my experiences in a notebook, each activity illustrated with one Instax photo and several digital photos. Somehow, I thought, this would become a book for others to use to support their well-being through photography. And here it is, Book 1, with another one to follow in a short while. Every one of the 15 photography activities in these pages has been used to support my health and well-being and will support yours. It is also a record of my own experiences and photographs as I completed each activity. These really work, I used the activities to support my recovery to full health. This is Photography for Well-Being.
Firstly, let’s delve a little into this thing we call well-being. After all, everyone seems to bandy the word about in relation to recovering from difficulty, enabling effective staff teams, coping with major change, and just generally living holistically. But what is it? Rather than Google it first, I asked my friends what contributed to their well-being? Here is a shortlist of their thoughts.
Gardening, the beach, helping others, walking, healthy food, wine, fun, excitement, my husband snoring next to me in bed (comforting, she said!), the wonder of darkness, doing something new, knowing that my family is safe, well and happy, singing along to favourite songs, listening to the waves roll ashore – dragging pebbles with them (eyes closed), smiles on the faces of loved ones, mixing colours and splashing paint across a surface, line drawing in a sketchbook, warm sunshine on my skin, the sound of fresh snow being compacted underfoot, the love and greeting from my dog, the smell of fresh bread, having a loving family, good friends, enjoying the countryside, caravanning, classical music, the changing seasons, a good book, salty sea cure, wind on my face, walking the cliff path.
No doubt you will recognise some of these as factors that support you. But what is the official understanding of well-being? Let’s start with a definition.
The book, Well-Being: The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath and Jim Harter, is an authoritative guide. Their findings are based upon Gallup's comprehensive study of people in more than 150 countries that revealed five universal, interconnected elements that shape our lives:
· Career Well-Being: how you occupy your time -- or simply liking what you do every day.
· Social Well-Being: having strong relationships and love in your life.
· Financial Well-Being: effectively managing your economic life.
· Physical Well-Being: having good health and enough energy to get things done each day.
· Community Well-Being: the sense of engagement you have with the area where you live.
The authors and the Gallup survey have a strong work focus in their research. However, there are other descriptions of well-being available that include:
· Spiritual Well-Being: having strong core beliefs.
· Psychological Well-Being: consisting of positive relationships with others, personal mastery, autonomy, a feeling of purpose and meaning in life, and personal growth and development. (From Carol Ryff: Six Factor Model of Psychological Well-Being).
I have reflected on my friends’ ideas and the experts’ concepts in the development of these photographic activities for well-being. Each activity has a common structure, they all include these six aspects:
1. Creativity - Improving your seeing skills, learning and developing your photography skills and creating photos that you love.
2. Being in the great outdoors (there are one or two indoor exceptions).
3. Gentle physical exercise.
4. Love - of a place, person, thing or experience.
5. Mindfulness - through a Mindful Photography Practice.
6. Social interaction by sharing your favourite photo.
It is this combination that I believe works to create a sense of well-being. Creativity is mood-changing magic. Out of one set of ingredients, activity, situation or experiences, something else is created. In this case, photographs that would not exist if you were not out there, following my instructions, noticing what you see and creating photos that relate to the time, place, your feelings and your individual abilities. Creating photos whilst you walk in nature, feeling the sun (or rain) on your face, looking in awe at natural or human-made magnificence, has the capacity to lift your mood, illuminate what you are feeling, and allow difficult thoughts to settle and soften.
Each activity is also designed to develop a specific photographic skill. It does not matter if you are using a smartphone or a digital camera, you can do all of these activities with the camera you have with you. Some of the skills development is specific to digital cameras, but all of the activities can still be done with a smartphone and where relevant I have provided guidance specifically for smartphone users.
In each activity, there is a section called Photography Skills Development. Each activity looks at one specific skill, in a rotation of three topics: Mindful Photography (Seeing Skills), Composition and Technical skills. However you describe yourself as a photographer, each activity has the potential to enrich your photographic skills. Learning new skills or enhancing existing ones, whilst enriching your creative powers, will boost your sense of achievement. You will feel purposeful and develop a greater belief in your photographic ability.