1st March 2020 – Mindful Photography 23rd Jan-13th Feb)

Just over four weeks ago (23rd January!), I had to opportunity to attend a Mindful Photography workshop, as part of Revival’s Ways to Well-being campaign. It was organised and run by Gerry Atkinson, a renowned Whitstable photographer, Revival café based above The Horsebridge in Whitstable and East Kent Mind the 4-week workshop would enable participants to explore mindful photography as a new or different way to support wellbeing.

When I googled ‘What is Mindful Photography?’ It produced this quote from Benjamin Stevens, a photographer and writer with an interest in mindfulness, art, philosophy, and creativity.

Mindfulness photography is a meditation practice where the visual world and clear seeing are the focuses. … It is how you produce unique, beautiful and meaningful photography. And it’s also great for mental health.

(Stevens, 2021)

As I was preparing for my second semester in Level 5, I figured I could do with the distraction, (well, not so much distraction but the advantage) of having something to support me during the stressful transition back into the educational timetable. After all, my anxieties were already rocketing as I’d recognised the full-on impact the timetable and modules were likely to have on my health, mentally and physically.

I’d been working on my assignments throughout the festive break. It was tough going, but it relieved my stressed levels and there were no meltdowns. Just one week of struggling to string words together for an assignment because I couldn’t connect to it and I admit to being an absolute DRAMA QUEEN wandering about the home moaning about slurring out the words:

Villanelle from Killing Eve – Season 2, Episode 4

Not only that, I also had a major high from receiving my highest grade, only for me to come back crashing down to Earth and past it, the moment I read some messages reminding me that there were still some complications with some of the students still waiting for theirs due to administrative errors. Not my fault, of course – But the feeling of sharing my joy felt out of place in the moment and it left me on tender hooks.

However, I feel this drop was an accumulation of things. This was just the ‘tip of the ice berg’ as they say. With unfortunate family health issues going on, as well as my own irritating health results following a trip to St Thomas’ Hospital, and the lack of any break between one semester to the next due to my constant workload (which, whilst it helped out greatly, don’t get me wrong!) also meant there was only one weekend I had with no workload on my shoulders.

So, you’d think it was mad taking on something new. I’m known to do this in the midst of crisis, I seem to put too much pressure on myself and throw myself into as much as I can, wanting to be involved with as much as I can, to learn, grow and achieve. But how can I do that when I’m left feeling exhausted and catching up with myself? This Mindful Photography workshop ran on a Saturday morning for four weeks. I took that as an opportunity to get up on a weekend, be creative and meet likeminded people who also understand what it is like to feel all the above (stressed, anxious, depressed, overloaded…) who all live local to me, who I’ve never even met before. Except Gerry, who I’d met through another project with Our Work of Art “With These Hands”. I’m still in contact with the Our Work of Art community project as most of you know, and the new project is Covid-19 Daisy Chain with Espression Art CIC and Kent Arts and Wellbeing.

The weekly sessions would allow me to get up, find a focus and stay up – because let’s face it, in the middle of winter, and in a pandemic, it’s been too easy to give into the temptation to stay in bed! These weekly sessions would also give me an insight into another outlet which I have used before as a coping mechanism – I love photography. I have used photography throughout my life to display feelings and emotions. I stumbled across photo manipulation and the website DeviantArt at the age of 14, and although the website has changed massively (as has my age! Haha), I no longer use the website, nor use photo manipulation except for soft editing to tweak photos. My work was dark, often macabre. It was often combined with my written poetry or lyrics from my favourite bands. When I look at my old work, it is odd. I won’t lie when I say some of it looks terrible! After all, technology has advanced so much! I also used photography in my BTEC Media Studies and my HND in Graphic Design. I’ve chosen some of the nicer, but eerie photos to share with you from past times:

I’m by no means a professional photographer, but I did consider it a a career at one point, as a Pet Photographer, setting up a “hobby” business as, firstly as ‘Michaels Memories’ in memory of my first rabbit Michael, but after discussions about the confusion this may cause people thinking it was a memorial page rather than a photography account, I settled on ‘Wild About Pets Photography’ (and yes, the Instagram account is still active, although it contains random photos of our pets rather than the actual photo shoots for some reason!!) The photos below show: Bumbles and Squeak (Guinea Pigs RIP), Frank and Harley (Bunnies RIP), Teddy and Sally (Cats, and yes, that’s Sally as a kitten – ADORABLE!!), and Pip (Dog!)

To practice my skills, I also volunteered for the RSPCA for a short while, taking photos of the cats up for adoption, a dog photo shoot for a friends adorable terrier, and of course, lots of shoots for the bunnies and cats in our own home. I really enjoyed it. I’m sure you see that when I share my photos even to this day with you!

The Mindful Photography workshop would challenge me to think ‘outside the box’. It’d be getting me to think about the things which are there all the time, but I may ignore because I’m so used to it, that I no longer notice. It would also get me to interact with others. Something I wasn’t used to doing because lockdown was restricting this, and social isolation has been quite high, despite attending university online.

Often, when we go for a walk, I like to look at detail. Macro photography is truly something. You can visit a whole different world if you look closely. It reminds me of using our senses as superpowers. In terms of the helping professions, we are to use our listening skills, and acts of silence to capture the unconditional positive regard, the congruence and empathy. It’s connecting your senses towards something else with great importance, with an energy, feeling a spark – It’s where the magic happens and the work is done.

Silent’ and ‘Listen’ contain the same letters…

In Mindful Photography, the lens can help connect you to the ‘now’. It requires you to ‘keep things simple’ and see things from another perspective, connecting with other people’s lives and going with the flow.
Each workshop focuses on something different – Allowing us to be curiouser and curiouser. Don’t stop to think and analyse, just snap, look at the light and dark, big or small, new and old, or rough and smooth. Search for reflections or shadows indoors, or head outside and flitter between the gardens. How does it feel when you find something beneath your feet? Under your nose? Within sight? Looking at things in a different way sometimes made me feel as though I was Alice, and that I really had fallen down that rabbit hole. There were times where I felt uncomfortable, and there were times where I felt excited by what I had found.

I found the hardest challenge being ‘connecting with ourselves/others’. I had an instinct this would pop up on one of the activities, so I wasn’t taken by surprise, but I did feel my stomach churn and as I stepped away from the computer, I felt this agonising fear of detachment and dissociation. I realise I have conflicting thoughts in my head, as if there are several narratives going on at once and keeping up with them is hard to follow.
– One knows where I want to get to and I have a direct train to get there *visualises a straight line*
– Yet another, hasn’t got a clue who I am and continues to look at the reflection, thinking ‘Don’t I know you from somewhere else?’ as if I have lived once before, but just can’t put my finger on it, and the visualisation is *a spiral going back in time through a mirror and finding my true identity*
– And then there’s another one, just sat there not doing anything at all – It’s quietly succumb to all the pain and is just stuck, and the visual is *turning to stone*
It’s tough.
When I’m in and out of all these places where am I supposed to be, and I looked at myself (see reflection photos) and there’s definitely some doubt. I’ve got to be non-judgemental and compassionate towards myself, and I just feel like there’s someone who needs rescuing. How many times can one keep rescuing themselves?

However, I work continuously on building a positive mindset. I know there will be times when I end up in survival mode. Having a survival mindset is ok, it pulls us through the days which are tough, and we can get through them, but managing them is what we need to work on. I’m working hard on positive steps, and mindful photography will be added to my toolkit to help me – Though, I just may skip the reflections and stick to photos of animals or plants.

All the images taken are in order of the four weeks exercises. From top to bottom, column 1, 2 then 3.

Overall, I don’t feel particularly anxious from taking the photos and sharing them. I’m a little irritated perhaps by them not being perfect, in terms of sharpness, in focus or portraying what I’m seeing in front of me. Some challenges were harder than others, especially when trying to find shadows on a cloudy and rainy day. But the experience was enjoyable and meeting others from the community who have similar anxieties to you and even interests too, were comforting in this situation. After all, we’ve been through a pandemic which has isolated us for so long. I am not comfortable meeting people in groups face to face, so having the opportunity to do this via Zoom made me feel more comfortable to do so, and I hope that it may make me feel able to meet them one day in person when the lockdown is lifted.


The workshop ended for us on 13th February, and a new workshop started on 20th February.
For more information about the workshop that’s running now and the workshop which will be running afterwards if you have an interest in getting involved, please check out:

Gerry Atkinson – Workshops
Cafe Revival at The Horsebridge and Mind in Bexley/East Kent Mind
Facebook – One Frame at a Time
Whitstable Views – Mindfulness Photography Course: One Frame at a Time

Since the workshops, there has also been a lot of news about The Horsebridge and the eviction of Café Revival. There have been petitions and interviews on Radio Kent (>> to 1.13 of the recording) regarding this terrible news. Especially in todays climate when mental health issues are on the rise and drop-in communities like Revival are an asset to people who rely on services for outreach support when they need someone to talk to. The café has brought a lot of custom to the Horsebridge, and they were aware of the café being a mental health awareness charity, but it seems as though there is some stigma and discrimination going on behind closed doors as they try to remove them from the premises. I do not want to say much more than this, but I urge you to do your reading on all the socials, read all the news articles, read everything Revival have posted about the situation and just see what the Horsebridge have to say… Or not say!


END NOTE:
There’s been a delay to me posting because despite my every intention to click publish last weekend, my mental health did unfortunately decide to blip and that meant a fair few things went out the window for me! I attempted carrying on as normal with university but it seems I should have perhaps stayed ‘off the air’ and given myself some time out to heal, as I don’t think trying to carry on as normal helped. I know this for next time and this is a really big step for me to admit this because I have carried on despite everything and this has led to every taking even longer for my brain to work through things. So, here I am now saying that despite it all, I am here and I’m doing ok. There are going to be a few tough months ahead with the lectures, however since starting this post I’ve received my final two grades of the first semester and I’m so proud of myself for getting even higher than my highest mark of the semester, and know that if I can manage the way I have been, then I’m well on my way to a first, as that’s what I’ve achieved for the the first semester and I cannot let these grades slip! As I said, there is that one part of me that knows exactly where I’m heading, so I’m going to need these grades. Also, I really want to point out here that the feedback I receive is also just as vital to my studies, if not more that the grade (though, I am having a little challenge with myself to keep beating my highest grade, just because at the moment – I still can…I’ma get to that 100… One day!! Haha!) Feedback allows us to work harder and better at achieving the marks we deserve. So, I’m working on all that’s been said, and at the moment it is silly things which are easily missed, or that my grammar sometimes goes a bit squiff because I write as though I’m talking, as that’s how I also write these posts – It flows naturally regardless if it is pen to paper or text to computer, which is odd when we discuss writing reflectively. And that’s something for another time!

Thank you again for reading – Well done if you’ve made it thus far! Comments always welcome via WordPress, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Feedback always appreciated. Let me know what you’d like to hear more of/less!

References:
Stevens, B., 2021. On mindfulness photography, and how it positively impacts your mental health. [online] Medium. Available at: <https://medium.com/photocurious/on-mindfulness-photography-and-how-it-positively-impacts-your-mental-health-805ec9b3dbd2&gt; [Accessed 15 February 2021].
Whitstable CommunityAd Magazine., 2021[online] Whitstable CommunityAd Magazine. Available at: https://www.communityad.co.uk/books/whitstable-community-ad-magazine/?fbclid=IwAR31hbAEJVKk5Ijn7EyY2nAiksJmKH5cQOIorxMJtIekNKCHoxMHkvoSX_E#foobox-1/0 (Accessed: 1 March 2021).

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