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Mindful Photography and Positive Psychology

Last Friday I was invited by Professor Andrew Kemp to talk about Mindful Photography to his Positive Psychology students. I will be explaining what positive psychology in a moment and exploring the links between it and what I do. There are plenty. I should also say that it wasn’t really a ‘talk’, more an experiential workshop. After an outline of what Mindful Photography is and sharing my 4 Stage Seeing Practice, I got the students and Andrew to complete a mindful photography activity and then share and discuss some of their favourite photos.

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play. University of Pennsylvania

The link above is a great starting point and there are many more resources there that will provide you with all you could ever want to know about this fascinating branch of psychology. I’m gonna relate the three pillars of positive psychology below and it is from the same source. Dr Martin E.P.Seligman is kinda regarded (informally) as one of the fathers of this and he works at the University. His book Flourish is well worth a read. (I am not an affiliate)

The Three Pillars

The Three Pillars: Positive Psychology has three central concerns: positive experiences, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Understanding positive emotions entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits involves the study of strengths, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom. Understanding positive institutions entails the study of the strengths that foster better communities, such as justice, responsibility, civility, parenting, nurturance, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, purpose, and tolerance.

University of Pennsylvania

What has Mindful Photography to do with Positive Psychology?

All mindful activities intend to bring you into the moment. Mindful Photography is no different. You use what you see as the anchor to return to, every time you notice photo thinking, looking for a photo or any other thoughts or feelings arising.

All mindful practice leads to a greater ability to notice your thoughts and feelings. Such practice is not always easy, but the intention is that by being more aware you then have the opportunity to make a more skillful response, rather than your habitual reaction. Continued practice leads to greater self awareness, and an opportunity to practice being with the difficult moments, thoughts and feelings, rather than reacting in a normal human way – denying, deluding or distracting yourself!

This is true practice. Challenging practice. It is a practice because you don’t always get it right. Your habitual patterns and reactions are well ingrained, but practice leads to new neural pathways being created and the possibility of responding skillfully and positively to life’s challenges.

It seems to me that all mindful practice provides the foundation for understanding the self, one of the three pillars of Positive Psychology. This is the area that I have developed my work with Mindful Photography, particularly to support living with difficulty after major change of significant loss. It is at this time that everything you believe you know about yourself is uprooted, the tethers to your kind of ‘normal’ dissolve, and whilst you still remain attached to the version of who you were before the change, living with who you are now brings huge difficulty.

I believe that there is an opportunity to use Mindful Photography Practices to explore and understand who you are after this major change and significant loss. Sometimes talking about your thoughts and feelings is difficult, impossible or just not something you are used to. Learning how to represent emotions and ideas in a photograph provides a visual way of representing how you are. It also allows you to get personal and share as much or as little as you are comfortable with. The photos can exist shared or kept private, with or without explanation. They can be a window to your soul and the practice allows you time to process what you are living with.

My Work

I believe that this is my work for the next few years. I am finally finishing my book on the subject, and it will be available in 2019 initially as an eBook. I will continue to offer courses and workshops and will also offer free talks on the topic to interested groups. I also have an application in with the Arts Council to fund a project called ‘Who Am I Now?’ that will create up to 15 diptych self portrait photographs with people who are living with significant loss. One photo will represent who they were before the change and one who they are now.

I plan to develop my website and newsletter to support this clear direction and would welcome and thoughts, ideas and interest from you.

The Workshop

Back to the workshop with the psychology students. We were blessed with a glorious day and they were all invited to create 5 photos in 30 minutes, without looking at their creations and not deleting any photos. Upon their return they got into small groups and chose one photo per group to share and talk about to the rest of the group.

All of this was done with smartphones and a cool app called Slack. This allowed the students to upload their photos, share a written comment and it appear instantly on the feed. Kind of a closed Facebook group but without the need for a FB account. Unfortunately, I forgot to get written permissions so I cannot share any of their photos – you’ll have to manage with mine in this post!

One of the other ideas we were exploring that links Positive Psychology with Mindful Photography is that of Psychological Flow – the moment of being completely attuned, holistically, with the one thing that you are doing. It’s the kind of experience where time dissolves and you achieve maximum performance without realising how you did it. Practicing the skill is the bedrock of this experience, then somewhere approaching 10,000 hours of practice (Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers) you slip into the flow. In photography the camera becomes an extension of your body, all of the technical and compositional decisions just happen and a great photo is born.

At the end of the workshop Andrew asked the students if any of them had the flow experience. A few put their hands up. I’m grateful they were so polite!

Many thanks for the invitation for Professor Andrew Kemp and for the students for getting fully involved

 

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Foundation Skills Course Week 4 Mindful Composition

Week 4 brings us to Photography Composition, with a mindful twist. Now photography composition is an area of knowledge that generates books and courses on its own, and I cover it in two 2.5 hour lessons. Obviously, I have a particularly mindful approach, one that centres upon following a compositional guideline as a mindful practice. But I am getting ahead of myself. First a definition and then the guidelines.

Composing a photo means arranging elements within it in a way that suits the core idea or goal of your work best

As the topic of photography composition is so large I separate it out over two weeks and make use of a summative structure to help new students remember all the possible guidelines. This week I introduced the four overarching themes, each one having a few individual elements of composition that kind fit the theme. The four themes and elements are:

▪ Balance (Rule of Thirds, Weight, Frames, Diagonals, Symmetry)
▪ Subject and Background (Depth, Foreground, Isolate Subject)
▪ Point of View (Juxtaposition, Leading Lines)
▪ Simplicity (Minimal, Fill Frame)

The elements of each theme are each of themselves photographic composition guidelines, I just group them in this way to help understanding and learning. This is also backed up with visual examples and discussion. But the heart of my course is experiential mindful learning and that means a Mindful Photography Practice.

The students were invited to spend an hour following one of the themes and elements to create some engaging photos. They were encouraged to follow the 4 Stage Seeing Practice and to review each photo as they went, and then make adjustments.

The next session will cover part 2 of composition – the 7 Elements of Design. Later in the course we look at why, when and how we break the guidelines. Ooo, breaking the rules. Exciting.

Want to learn more? Come on one of my courses! Here are the students favourite photos.

 

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Foundation Skills Course – Week 3 Seeing the Photo

The beginning of the Foundation Skills Course in Mindful Photography is all about encouraging your ability to see a photo. An easy ambition you may think. Seeing a photo implies an ability to see a photographic opportunity. Perhaps the major challenge lies in that thought that may just have popped in to your head, “How do I create a good photo?”

The little voice we all have, can be curious about your ability to create a good photo. It may be particularly judgemental, saying things like, “Your photos are often no good.” “You can’t take good photos.” Or simply, “That’s rubbish”. This judging mind can be a real pain. And it gets in the way of what you are really capable of. My intention on the course is to connect you with what you can see and then to teach you the most interesting ways of representing that in a photograph. But what you have to do first is really strange, almost counter intuitive. I ask you to not look for a photo, whilst you are out creating photos.

I know, crazy right? How you can you not look for a photo and then create a photo. Ah well, that is what I teach on the course. It is a challenge, but it is also easy. What I encourage you to do is to remain present with what you can see. To walk in your location, not looking for a photo, but alert to what you can see. Then something will catch your eye. Only then do you stop and consider what it is. Really look at what is there. Look at where it is, how far away, what it is about it that stopped you.

Maybe you need to move closer. Maybe you need to change your point of view, move up, down, left right, in or out? Only after this consideration do you press the shutter, not look at the photo and move on. Walking, not looking for a photo.

I know. I said don’t look at what you have just created. This is helpful. It holds back your judging mind. If you don’t look at your photo, you will just move on, not looking for a photo. This way of being with your camera will improve your connection to what you can see. Then of course your photos will become more interesting.

This week’s mindful photos

This week’s task for our intrepid students was to create 20 photos in a small space in 45 minutes, not looking for a photo, not looking at what was created and just being with the seeing. Each photographer then shared at least 2 photos with the group and talked about why they shared them. Here they are.

Foundation Skills Course – Week 2

Using Seeing as your anchor for Mindful Photography

The Foundation Skills Course centres upon using Seeing as your anchor for Mindful Photography. If you are to create fabulous photos that say something of your world and are not just like anyone else’s, then you need to really pay attention to what you can see.

You may think that this is easy. It is easy to understand. However, to really see what is there and to overcome the barriers to clear seeing you first need to pay attention, to be really present with your intention to create photos. This week’s lesson and next week’s are the foundation of developing that skill.

This week I introduced the 4 Stage Seeing Practice. This is a simple structured approach to support your intention to pay attention to the visual feast in front of you. It turns the act of creating photos into a kind of meditation and is at the heart of Mindful Photography. Remember:

Looking is a gift. Seeing is a power Jeff Berner

The students were presented with a photography activity, or as I call them a Mindful Photography Practice. The practice was timebound, the number of photos they could create was limited to 20 and they were not allowed to review the photos as they created them. This was achieved by turning off the review facility and trusting them not to take a sneaky peak!

All of these limitations support the intention to remain present with the visual, to not be distracted by your judging mind as it reviews each photo as they are created and decides whether its good or bad. This is a theme I return later in this course – and on Course 2 – as it has familiar echoes through the rest of your life.

When the students returned to the class they reviewed their photos and decided upon the two they wanted to share and discuss. This section allows for understanding to deepen and learning to be mutually supportive and is often the most eagerly anticipated part. Here are their favourites.

Foundation Skills Course – Week 1

This week was the first of my rebranded Mindful Photography Course. I’ve changed the name of the first 8 week course to ‘Foundation Skills’. The content is still the same and covers an introduction to Mindfulness, Mindful Photography and three key topics. The first is Clear Seeing – how you can improve your seeing and use seeing as your mindful anchor when creating photos. The second looks at Compositional Guidelines and the third is Mindful Attitudes – how mindful attitudes can be developed through photography. The course also includes Mindful Photography Practices to support the development of your skills and understanding.

The name change is designed to clearly reflect what the course covers. It provides you with the skills which you can then develop and use on the second course: Exploring Life. Together the two courses support people who have experienced significant loss or great change in their life to explore the question, “Who Am I Now?”

Week 1 is an introduction to Mindful Photography. I cover what mindfulness and meditation are and link this to an outline of what Mindful Photography is, particularly describing how photography can be used as a mindful practice. I also run over the other topics that we are going to cover on the course: Clear Seeing, Composition skills and Mindful Attitudes.

Slow Down

The first challenge I set our new group was to slow down their photography practice. The speed at which we can create and delete photographs digitally has led to a disconnect with the present moment. This contributes to our inability to see what is really there. Digital cameras can take hundreds of photos in minutes and we can easily discard the ones we don’t like. This leads to a belief that because we can take many photos one will be good and we then don’t pay attention, as well as we can, to what can be seen. Seeing is at the heart of photography and is our anchor in Mindful Photography.

All photography activities on the course are called practices. Each one can be completed more than once, each one is an invitation to practice being present with your camera. My initial practices on the course encourage you to slow down and really connect with what you can see. This intention is supported by turning a digital camera into something like a film camera.

You too can do this. All you need to do is to turn off your viewscreen – for viewing and review. If you can’t, or don’t know how to, you can just tape a small piece of card over the screen. Then you limit the number of photos you are allowed to take. For example you only allow yourself 10 photos, with deleting not allowed.

Not being able to see what you have created (and if you have no viewfinder you have to imagine what the camera is receiving) slows you right down. Each photo becomes more precious, and just counting to 10 becomes a challenge! If you would like to know more take a look at the post ’10 Tips to slow down your photography’

At the end of the practice – which we did for 45 mins, each photographer chose one favourite photo to share and discuss with the rest of the group. Here they are.

 

 

Developing Mindfulness through Photography – Part 2

Mindfulness + Photography = Mindful Photography

In 2017 I published a post called ‘Developing Mindfulness through Photography’ that explained how mindfulness could be developed and applied to photography. I detailed my understanding of mindful photography’s roots, offered 10 reasons to embrace it and shared a useful Mindful Photography Practice. If you haven’t seen it just follow the link above.

The post has been very popular, indicating that there is a great interest in the idea. And as my understanding of mindfulness and its relationship with photography has deepened I felt that it was time for a follow up article.

Mindful Photography supports an exploration of your life

Mindful Photography brings mindfulness into the art and science of photography. It applies mindfulness to photography, considering how by attending mindfully to the process and art of creating a photograph you can elevate your photography skills. Mindful Photography also develops mindfulness through photography: by practicing your photography in specific ways you can become more mindful throughout your life. However, for me the most exciting (and scary) contribution Mindful Photography provides is its ability to support you to live with and accept significant loss and major change, or to just live with the great difficulty you are currently experiencing. It is an uncomfortable truth that we will all experience these things at several points of our lives.

I am currently writing my Mindful Photography book with the direct intention of it being a workbook for living with difficulty or travelling through life after major change or significant loss. It will be an experiential guide to life that will enhance wellbeing and support you to live the best version of your life right here and now. It will do this by sharing many photography and mindfulness ideas, concepts and theories that relate directly to using your camera to explore how your life is right now. Each will be supported with activities that I call Mindful Photography Practices. These are designed to apply the ideas discussed and develop a mindful approach to your life and photography.

Mindful Photography is for all photographers. Whether you think of yourself as a beginner, a snapper, an enthusiast or a professional. If you like to create photographs that say something of your world and how you feel it flowing through your body and life, then Mindful Photography will enable you to do just that.

Mindful Photography is for mindful people: beginners, enthusiasts and professionals alike. If you have an interest or curiosity about how mindfulness can support your wellbeing and enable you to live an authentic life, holding all the glory and grime with calmness, then Mindful Photography can support you to do that too.

Blending mindfulness with photography provides a way of living an attentive life with a way of exploring that life visually. This approach to photography and life is Mindful Photography, and my particular approach is designed for curious people who would like to live a happy life, but right now feel a little bit (or a lot) lost. I believe that Mindful Photography can provide a roadmap for working through life’s difficulties. However, this is challenging work because exploring what you find difficult requires courage, vulnerability and tenacity, and usually when we are in the midst of difficulty we might feel that being courageous is beyond imagining. That is OK. I understand, I have been in this place. I have been lost and unaware that I was lost. I have been uncertain of how to move anywhere, I just knew how rubbish it was in that moment. I am here to share with you one truth: nothing stays the same. How you feel can and will change.

How can Mindful Photography help?

I believe that Mindful Photography can be used to develop photographic and life skills that will enable you to understand how to create a great photo that says something about you, about your life, about how you feel and what is important to you. I call these the Foundation Skills and they include: An Introduction to Mindfulness and Meditation, an Introduction to Mindful Photography, Clear Seeing, Seeing Skills, Composition, Elements of Visual Design, Visual Metaphors and Symbols and Abstract Photography.

Each of these can be developed as a skill through experiential learning: this means that in addition to reading about it you need to practice the skill, through what I call a Mindful Photography Practice – a practical task or assignment. The way I teach this stuff is that every Foundation Skill area includes a definition, examples, explanations, a personal interpretation and a Mindful Photography Practice that encourages understanding and skills development.

Then you can begin to explore your how your life is now – after the major change or significant loss or right in the midst of the stuff you are finding really difficult. This is an investigation into who you are now and how you are living and feeling. This calls upon the use and application of the Foundation Skills and looks at developing the understanding and skills to become more resilient, positive and accepting of the new you.

However, this is very challenging work. Exploring how you really are in the midst of chaotic troubled thinking, or after major change or significant loss generates feelings of vulnerability and this maybe something you initially feel is impossible. I believe that through the gentle development of mindful attitudes, continued experiential learning and the application of your developing Foundation Skills you can move forward. For it is a truth that vulnerability is often the doorway to your true self.

Mindfulness has changed my life. Developing mindfulness through photography has been and continues to be one way in which I have explored how I live now and how I can continue to live with curiosity, authenticity, honesty and truth. I believe that it can do the same for you, but as the Buddha is reported to have said, “Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances. Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion. Find out for yourself what is truth, what is real.”

 

This post was adapted from the introduction to my new book. If you would like to receive information about its availability in 2019 please subscribe to my newsletter below. 

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10 tips to slow down your photography

Mindful Photography in action

Digital Photography is fantastic. Its ability to capture what we see and allow instant review has revolutionised photography. It has changed how we create photographs and how we edit them. But perhaps the most fundamental change is that it has supercharged the creation of a photograph. Photographic creation and sharing is now like a Ferrari 812 Superfast. Back in the film days it was more like a classic mini.

Now, using a digital camera you can take eight photos per second. Take fifty of a scene, review them instantly and discard the ones you do not like. It is this that has fuelled a disconnect with the experience of what you see. You know that you can take lots of photos, at no cost and reject all the ones you don’t like. You pay less attention to what you are seeing, and crucially how you are framing the photos.

By applying mindfulness to photography you connect through the visual to the present moment. You walk with your camera – not looking for a photograph but noticing what you see – everytime you notice your busy mind, you return to what you can see in front of you. The seeing becomes your anchor, just like the breath when you meditate. This also has the potential to improve what you see and how you see.

The practice of clearly seeing everything that is in front of you is something that you can learn and develop. You can learn how you see. You can learn how you interpret light, colour, shapes, forms, textures and patterns to make sense of the world; and you can begin to understand how a camera represents the same scene. Then, with practice and contemplation of the photographs you create, you can begin to hone your ability to create photographs that represent what you see.

Maybe you still hanker for that classic mini experience. We are currently experiencing a growing interest in film photography. Perhaps there are elements of that slower pace, more engaged process and almost ritualistic nature that we are missing from the digital experience. However, there are ways of experiencing a film like experience with your digital camera, ways of slowing the process down and re-introducing some ritual.

In a desire to provide you with techniques to connect you with the creative experience, I offer you the following 10 tips to slow down your photography. This slowing down is a fundamental element of becoming more mindful with your photography, of becoming a Mindful Photographer.

10 Tips to slow down and connect with your photography

  1. Turn off your review screen or tape a small piece of card over it – Just like a film camera you can’t see what you have just created. This assumes you have a viewfinder to compose the photo. If  you don’t you could still follow this tip and shoot blind, imagining what your camera is receiving.
  2. Limit the number of photos you create – go filmic with a 12, 24 or 36 limitation
  3. Use a small packet of sweets or nuts to count/remember the number of shots you have used – Count them out before you start. As you can’t see the screen (Tip 1) use 12, 24 or 36 sweets/nuts in a little bag. After every shot eat one sweet or nut. It’s a win win!
  4. Limit your location area – Combined with 1, 2 and 3 this encourages you to really notice what is around you. Limit the area to a 100 meter square area, or less if you are feeling bold.
  5. Turn your lens into manual focus – Turn off the auto focus. It is a great art re-learning how and where to focus, and it also slows you down!
  6. Shoot from the hip – Now this one could actually speed you up. But if you hold your camera at your hip, and compose by imagining what your camera can see, you will slow down. Especially if you combine it with 1 and 2.
  7. Return to the visual – Whenever you notice your mind thinking about your next meal, tonight’s activities or some aspect of photographic skill, STOP and return to what you can see in front of you.
  8. Do not download or look at your photos for at least 2 days – Back in the film days we had to wait. Unless you were developing your own film, but even then it took time. I used to send my film off for developing and then wait a few days before looking through the returned photos, hoping at least one was a keeper. So, wait for a few days – at least 2 – before downloading. When you do look through them, pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Notice the judgement and the commentary.
  9. Set your own mini photo marathon – Randomly choose 4 words, set aside 4 hours and create 4 photos in order, to represent the words. Photos must be in the word order and you must finish with only 4 photos. You could limit and slow yourself even more by ONLY shooting 4 photos. No deleting.
  10. No deleting allowed – Closely linked to number 2, do not allow yourself to delete any photos. Knowing that you cannot delete will encourage choice: whether to photograph or not, and this will slow you down.

PS The three photos accompanying the post follow some of these tips

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Evolution

The feeling of an evolution is a constant for every artist who is pursuing the search of refinement and enlargement of his/her own means of expression.

Andrea Bocelli

Living a mindful life encourages an attention to the moment, a paying attention that inspires the development of skillful responses to difficulty rather than an habitual reaction. The wisdom that underpins this is hard won: a product of falling over many times, noticing what caused the fall and then getting back up hopeful that the next time an enlightened response will emerge.

I have learnt over several years that there is a complementary, contemplative partner to this intention. Creating space and quiet to allow periods of reflection supports the embedding of my hard won wisdom. As I have mentioned in previous blogs I irregularly do this on retreat in the Brecon Hills, but recently I have also recognised that there is a simpler, more integrative version I can create in my life.

Both the retreat and the simpler version allow two things to happen. On a conscious level I can reflect and consider what I have been doing over the last few months, what has worked, what hasn’t and then look at what is emerging in the near future that may provide opportunity. On a subconscious level creating space and not thinking about the past and future, just sitting with how the day is and what is in front of me, provides opportunity for deeper understanding and connections to develop.

This simpler version is a slowing down or a stopping of all the doing: all the striving to achieve, complete and develop the next thing. The activity that is driven by the judging mind. The mind that queries whether what you are doing is enough, whether it’s good enough and whether you will have enough. In the slowing down, in paying attention to slowing down and in then moving towards doing less or actually stopping there is the potential for a freedom. Sure that voice may still be heard, but I just endeavour to notice it, breathe, attend to the space and the feelings that emerge beyond that judging mind.

This is a mindful practice itself. Choosing to honour it over the last two months has I believe allowed understanding, certainty and ideas to emerge. An evolution in my creative practice has become known to me.

Evolving Creative Practice

I first became serious about photography 11 years ago. Around the same time I also started exploring Mindfulness. In 2013 I started looking at how to combine them. Now I know what Mindful Photography is, how it can support my life and more importantly how it can support your’s.

This has been a creative evolution. I know it has not been quick and I know that it is ongoing. However, the place I find myself now is one of clarity and certainty. I now know what my creative purpose is and how to make the next step. Beyond that it is still an adventure, but that’s just as it should be.

I have over the last 4 years been writing a book about Mindful Photography. In its early drafts this was part memoir and wholly how mindfulness and photography could work together to enable you to create personal, resonant photos. I was never able to complete the book. I always felt like there was something missing. I knew that much of the content showed an original approach to photography and also started to address how to live a mindful life, supported by a creative outlet. But it just felt a little off and I couldn’t see how to finish it.

Instead, I put it to one side and created an Online Course from some of the content. That launched a year ago and I sold a few courses over Europe and North America. Although it was competent and detailed I never felt that it was quite the thing I needed to be doing. It never truly resonated.

Over the last year I also started teaching Mindful Photography to people who were recovering from Brain Injury. I did this through my two courses; ‘Foundation Skills’ and ‘Exploring Life’. It was this experience that fundamentally shifted my understanding of what I was doing and why.

Delivering learning and supporting people who were living through great change in their life helped me to realise that Mindful Photography was a fantastic resource. It has the potential to enable everyone to explore and understand what has happened in their life and then support them to move towards an acceptance of who they are now.

When any of us experience significant loss it can shake up our world and who we think we are in it. We can be attached to who we were before the loss and not realise that our world has changed so much that we are no longer quite the same person. The loss leads to grieving, whatever that loss might be. The grieving may follow the path of anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but in its early days we not even be aware what is happening.

Working with people who were living through the Grief Cycle made me realise that Mindful Photography could provide a way of exploring how life was now, of expressing through photos how they felt and therefore of supporting the processing of the massive change that they were living though.

It was only when I stopped striving, limited my creative doing, just did what was necessary and gave it all a break that this realisation dawned. I now know what my creative purpose is. Through sharing Mindful Photography I can help people live through major life change. I have a focus for my book and working life. The working title of the book is ‘Who Am I Now? – Using Mindful Photography to live authentically through major life change’. This has changed my understanding of who the book is for and of who I am working for.

This understanding has immediately born other fruit. I now have a clear appreciation of the kind of photos I want to create. I want to create photos of people who are living through major change, after a significant loss. I envision a series of diptychs, each two photos side by side. One that represents the subject’s life before the loss, and one the illustrates who and how they are now. Each photo will explore the multiple layers of self and each will reflect upon the other.

The project fits so seamlessly into my other creative work I wonder how I did not see the possibility before. Really, I know. I was too wrapped up in the world, to engaged in the doing to see the potential creative arc. Now it is visible and known, it seems like it was always there. The benefit of creating some reflective space has been cathartic and significant for me. How could it benefit you?

 

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Cefn Coed Hospital Heritage Project

Over the last couple of months I have been supporting ‘A Mental Picture’ an ABMU Health Board Heritage Project in Partnership with Swansea University & Swansea Museum. My role has been to provide photography guidance and support to the people who come on our tours of Cefn Coed Hospital in Swansea.

Cefn Coed Hospital building work began in 1928, utilising Unemployment Relief schemes. The hospital was opened in December 1932 by the Princess Royal (the daughter of King George V). At its peak it provided care for up to 600 patients with mental health issues and was almost self sufficient.

The hospital is due to close and its role in the Swansea Community is being curated and celebrated in an exhibition at Swansea Museum in 2019. The photography tours I have been involved in have been provided to enable interested members of the public the opportunity to create photographs that capture something of the hospital’s history and place.

My Photographs

When I have been on site and had the opportunity to create photos I have taken a particular approach. My intention has been to create a representation of a living, working building. This challenge in an empty closed building has been to integrate the passage of those exploring the site, but to throw their detail into distortion. This represents an echo of the buildings’ previous occupants, in an ethereal light.

The three photos that accompany this post represent my most successful outcomes of this intention to date. I would be interested to hear what you think.

 

 

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I’m a Square Peg

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Steve Jobs

Let me be honest here. I do believe that I can change the world. There I have said it. I don’t see this bold statement as egotistical, the belief comes from a deeper place than that. It is something I have felt for many years. It predates my major change of life several years ago. I felt it when I imagined I could do it from inside the machine. It was only being spat out that provided the circumstances and the experience for the basis of this work. Now many years down the line, after several slow steps along the way to an understanding, I find myself at a place where I know what I need to do.

Many of you will know that this exploration of Mindful Photography I have been living this past five years is more than just a means of self expression, it has also been the practice that has supported my positive acceptance of the new world that has become my life post acute health crisis. It is this knowing that forms the basis of how I would like to change the world.

Change the world

You may be familiar with the Mindful Photography work I have been doing with Brain Injury patients over the last 7 years. Most recently this has included two 8 week courses with one group that culminated in the Course “Who Am I Now“.

This latter course specifically supports people who have experienced significant loss or great change to understand what they are living through and move towards a positive acceptance of who they are after this momentous life event. The courses have been particularly well received by patients and staff and we have three more scheduled.

During the last course we were also visited by staff from the Welsh Burns Unit, who see how the course could benefit their patients. They are currently considering how they could fund the work.

Delivering this course made me realise that this is the work I was born to do. I have the experience of living through great loss, finding the adjustment to the new version of myself to be close to impossible, and then finding a way that I could combine Mindfulness and Photography to live through, process and move towards a positive new life.

That I can now share methods to do this with others brings me great joy and significantly adds to my own wellbeing. Not only is the work to continue to deliver further courses, it has finally given shape to my desires to write a Mindful Photography book; the book I have had partly written for 4 drafts and 3 years now has a clear purpose and audience.

The work will also form the basis of a collaborative Photography Project with others who are working though the same process after their own significant loss.

How do I know I can change the world? I already have. Don’t just take my word for it, here’s feedback from a student on my last course.

“The course has helped me to begin to accept what has happened – it’s not bad, but a challenge. To open up to others, my thoughts and feelings through the photographs I have created.

I have learnt that I am not alone. I am in a group where I feel safe and secure. That I can relax, breathe and create beautiful, meaningful photographs. That I find peace and mindfulness in the little things.”

NB. The photo is from one of my favourite cafés in Swansea called Square Peg! It’s where I first saw the Steve Job’s quote at the top of the page.  They serve great tea.

 

Creating Space

In my efforts to live a more mindful life I have noticed (and the noticing is a fundamental part of this practice) that sometimes I reach a place when I am uncertain what is next. As a guy who is quite focussed and keen to develop my work in line with the way I am living, I get a little uncomfortable when I find myself adrift like this.

I have been in such a place for a while now. To some extent this was masked by busy-ness. Isn’t that always the way? Whilst we are busy and active we think all is OK. The activity, the action and the achieving all contribute to our sense of purposefulness. Underneath this drive to do there may well be an absence. It is only when we stop that we begin to notice that all is not as it appeared.

Actually, I had an inkling of this and I had noticed that I had not written a blog like this (mindfully reflective/thoughtful!) for sometime. My posts had been either reports on courses delivered or activities experienced.

Now my work has slowed I have noticed this and more. I have also noticed that I haven’t written a newsletter for 2 months. The last post I wrote that was about living mindfully (not course related) was in April. The question now I have noticed is, ‘What does this all mean?’

The answer is not completely clear yet. My intention is for my work and life to be as integrated and harmonious as possible, whilst still providing income. Over the last two months I have been delivering my new course, ‘Who Am I Now?” – which supports people to explore who they are after experiencing great loss or change in their life. Whilst I have been delivering this I have been aware that this is the work that I want to do more of. I relate directly to it, I have lived it and found a way of using photography to support myself to explore and accept it. Sharing this with others is what I want to do more of. That much is clear.

How I do this and what I focus on are the parts I am now working on. I have some ideas, but as they are not completely clear I have created some space for them to develop and solidify. You may have noticed that the website has changed. I have removed my online course, Start Here page and videos. Whilst these things were relevant they always felt like aspects I was trying to do because others were, rather than what my deeper knowing was telling me to do. By getting rid of those services and information I have created space for something to flourish.

My experience of creating, promoting and providing an online course has proved to me that whilst I can do this it is not the medium that I feel most at home with and I think that this affects the quality of my work. The online course is still live and supported for those who purchased it but it is no longer open for enrollments.

My strengths are in teaching – face to face where possible – in writing and of course in creating photographs. I am going to focus on those things. My inclination at present is two fold. Firstly, to further hone the “Who Am I Now Course”, and to offer that to other groups who would benefit from the skills shared.

Secondly, to develop the ideas and materials into book form. I am not certain how this would be offered, but I am currently considering the traditional publication route, self publication, and even a mobile friendly PDF version.

There you have it. Into the space are ideas and intentions. There is also the possibility that something else might emerge. I am going to attend to this wholeheartedly for the next month and then do something that I haven’t done for 30+ years, take August off! If you have any ideas for me please let me know, otherwise stay tuned for future developments.

I shall leave you with a recent photo. This was shot in Cardiff a month ago and will be exhibited as part of Disability Arts Cymru Annual Exhibition at Celf O Gwmpas, Llandrindod Wells next month (more news soon).

On the Edge of Summer Loving

 

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Who Am I Now? – Week 8

Last Friday was a momentous day for our group. The last session of “Who Am I Now?”, the last one of 16 weeks together. For this course was the follow up the “Developing Mindfulness through Photography” Course. Two 8 week courses where much has been learnt, shared and experienced.

For our last week, in true teacher style, I led the group through a review of everything that we had covered and that they have learnt (hopefully!). This is worth sharing for those of you who may be curious.

This is what we cover in the “Who Am I Now” Course which focuses on using mindfulness and photography to explore who we are and how we are living after major change in our life.

  • Becoming Present – Mindfulness and Mindful Photography
  • Experiencing your thoughts and feelings – Creating photographs that express how we are
  • How is it now? – Exploring change and loss
  • Who are you now? – Learning to love and accept who you are now

We explore these areas through a variety of shared photos, thoughts, quotes, meditations and mindful photography practices. All of these lead the students to hopefully learn the following.

  • How to create photos of invisible things
  • Abstract photography
  • Using visual metaphors and symbols
  • Creating photos intuitively
  • How to face the fear (that accompanies the significant loss and change in life)
  • Loving yourself now (moving towards accepting how life is now )

The Final Week

After our review of the course I set the group a challenge. This particular mindful photography practice was one that was used by the innovative photographer Minor White. He favoured using this particular practice as a beginning for his students and sent them out with only this instruction (below) and their cameras. It is quite a challenging task, requiring self awareness and honesty. Ideal for the finishing group I felt, but challenging for Mr White’s new students!

Photographing your essence

“Venture into the landscape without expectations. Let your subject find you. When you approach it, you will feel a resonance, a sense of recognition. Sit with your subject and wait for your presence to be acknowledged. Do not try to make a photograph, but let your intuition indicate the right moment to release the shutter. Continue photographing until you feel the process is complete”

Minor White

Why not try it out for yourself? In the meantime here are the photos (below) from our group, minus the honest explanations that were shared in the room.

This has been a fantastic experience and I feel honoured to have shared it with the group. I would like to leave you with the thoughts of one of the students when asked to share something about how the course had helped and explain what had been learnt.

“The course has helped me to begin to accept what has happened – it’s not bad, but a challenge. To open up to others, my thoughts and feelings through the photographs I have created.

I have learnt that I am not alone. I am in a group where I feel safe and secure. That I can relax, breathe and create beautiful, meaningful photographs. That I find peace and mindfulness in the little things.”