Acceptance

Mindfulness encourages you to see things as they actually are in the present moment. As the present moment plays out, you practice noticing your feelings, your physical sensations and the thoughts that flit across your mind. It may well be that you do not like what you are experiencing. You may try to avoid, distract or just deny the experience.

Acceptance is the quality that allows you to be with all the difficulty, without turning away. Acceptance encourages you to turn towards the difficult experience. To sit with the feelings, sensations and thoughts, allowing them to ebb and flow and slowly, bit by bit allowing them a little space in your life.

“Just accept it,” friends may say after you have spent several days moping about after the end of a relationship, “There are plenty more fish in the sea.” Helpful? Of course not. Those wise friends know that you have to accept the situation to move on, but you are caught in the moment, trapped by the loss you are experiencing. Acceptance is part of the cycle of adjusting to loss.

This was first described by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross as the Grief Cycle and related to the stages we live through after the death of a loved one. Kübler-Ross pioneered methods in the support and counselling of personal trauma, grief and grieving, associated with death and dying. The stages she identified are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They are equally transferable to our adjustment to other losses; the end of a relationship, being made redundant or serious ill health.

I never realised that I was living through a grief cycle until more than two years after the initial acute ill health and the end of my college career. It only became clear after I had written a memoir, it had lain about for a while, and I later returned to read it and realised that I was describing myself in a depressed state. When I was living it and writing about it, I was unaware. It was only after I had experienced distance from the changes that I could look back at my behaviours and identify that I had been adjusting to great loss: the loss of my health and the loss of my career.

Mindfulness offers a practice to support living through this experience. In the secular mindfulness practice this can be described as a meditation that invokes wishing yourself and others well. This was developed from the Buddhist practice of Maitri – loving kindness or compassion for oneself and others.

This practice encourages you to be compassionate with your present experience. To accept and love yourself, in all the glory and the grime. Tara Brach (meditation teacher and psychologist) describes this as “Radical Acceptance, which means clearly recognizing what we are feeling in the present moment and regarding that experience with compassion.”

This is challenging. To regard the experience with compassion, first you have to understand, to witness what you are feeling. I don’t know about you, but I have always found this difficult.

Maybe it’s my British upbringing. What I do know is that I have had to spend many years since my loss, learning how to talk about what I feel and believing that it is OK to do so. Only with a cultivation of this ability to notice what I was feeling could I then begin to explore the possibility that I could be compassionate to myself, to recognise my feelings and not be judgemental about them. I have found this radical, maybe you will too, or maybe you find it natural.

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” – Carl Rogers (psychologist)

As applied to photography

We can practice acceptance through photography in two key ways. The primary opportunity is to use a photography practice as a method of understanding and processing your current experience. In many of my courses and books I offer mindful photography activities that encourage you to attend to your present moment experience, particularly how you are feeling and representing these experiences through photos.

This can be achieved with an understanding how of the elements of photography composition can be used to embody emotion. This includes knowledge of representational ideas for colour, shape, line and so on, as well as the use of visual metaphors and symbols to communicate ideas and feelings.

On a more instinctive level you can also practice responding photographically to your environment when you are experiencing a strong emotion, creating photographs that spring from an intuitive response. These may well include knowledge of the visual language of a photograph, as described above, or your response maybe less planned and controlled. It may run contrary to popular ideas, resting instead on how the visual experience echoed how you felt.

The second opportunity is to understand and accept the kind of photographer (and person) you are. This is partly about what it is that you like to create photographs of, and partly about what those photographs can say about you, as well as about the subject. It is a study in how the outer world can reflect your inner world.

Mindful Photography Activity – One Object

The purpose of this Mindful Photography Activity is to remind you that things are how they are. Moving towards acceptance is undermined by your dislike of how things actually are and your attachment to how you would like things to be. When the cause of this is some kind of significant change in your life, your habitual thoughts, ideas and beliefs can obscure your ability to see how things really are. 

Moving towards acceptance initially requires tuning in to your sensations: what you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste. This reality is often your anchor in a mindful practice and it provides a foundation from which to notice how you feel, think and are acting.

You will cultivate this ability by attending visually to an object that you are attracted to. I suggest that you choose something in nature, a tree, rock, bush, hill, mountain, stream, river or beach.

• Set aside at least an hour for this practice.

• Use your usual camera setting and lens, and turn off the review screen.

• Go for a walk at a favourite location and find an object you are drawn to.

• Spend time with your object.

• Sit. Have a picnic. Have a cup of tea from a flask. Settle.

• Spend time looking at your object. Notice its colours, patterns, structures, shapes, smell, feel and so on.

• Take this process slow, very slow.

• Create photos of your object that you are drawn to. Do NOT review them. Do not delete. Just be with the practice.

• When you feel the practice is finished go home. Download your photos and review on a large display.

• Notice your thoughts and feelings as you review the photos.

• Choose a few photos that best reflect how your chosen object made you feel.

• Looking at the other photos you have not chosen, consider how they make you feel and why you did not choose them.

• Repeat the activity.

I’m in the Amateur Photographer!

Last week I was fortunate enough to be featured in the UK’s oldest national photography magazine, The Amateur Photographer. In an interesting article about Mindful Photography I am one of three photographers who get to explain their take on this approach to photography.

When I first started using the term and developing my approach to Mindful Photography in 2013, I can’t say that I ever expected any degree of national recognition. The term was barely used and little understood. My development of this approach into an all encompassing way of mindfully developing your photography skills, has been 7 years in the making. It is now more than just applying mindfulness to photography.

What a joy to be asked to contribute to the article and to be seen as an authoritative voice on the topic. If you would like to know more about my approach do download the free eBook available here and maybe consider doing my 101 course – an introduction to Mindful Photography – it’s a bargain!

Pandemia

Pandemia is an exhibition of photos that I have been created to represent thoughts and feelings experienced during the Covid 19 Pandemic. As a contribution towards the final exhibition, I am hosting a free webinar to show some of my Pandemia photos and ask you to get involved by sharing how they make you feel.  

There will also be an opportunity to ask questions about the creation of the photos, and you will be able to contribute to the creation of new photos that represent some of your Covid 19 thoughts and feelings. The webinar will be recorded and will itself become part of the final exhibition. All participants will receive a copy of the recording.

The free webinar is at 2:30pm Tuesday 17th November and you can find out more and reserve your spot here. (Click on the information symbol at the top left of the page)

This work has been funded by Arts Council of Wales and The National Lottery.

PhotoBARRYthon is coming!

I am helping to organise PhotoBARRYthon, a photomarathon that takes place next month, in Barry, South Wales. The official press release about the event is below, with a web link for more information. All of our meetings to organise this, since the pandemic, have been online. So I thought I had better get myself to Barry and create some photos, just to get in the mood and possibly inspire you to join in. My favourite 12 photos from a 2 (not a 12!) hour photo walk around The Knap towards Barry Island are below. Below that is a panorama I created from 6 separate photos.

Press Release

Calling all professional and amateur photographers looking for an opportunity to capture the sights, sounds and characters of Barry.

Taking place on Saturday 10th October 2020, the inaugural PhotoBARRYthon is organised by the Barry Making Waves project and gives local people the chance to document the town on a particular day, using a variety of topics with mobile phones or digital cameras. Visitors to the town will be able to explore Barry and discover how photogenic a place it is.

Photomarathons are fun but are also competitive events. PhotoBARRYthon will be two competitive events – a 12 hour event with 12 topics, to create 12 photos, and a shorter family
friendly 6 hour event, with 6 topics, to create 6 photos. Winners will be selected in each topic category and there will be a prize for the two overall winners.

The topics will be released every three hours throughout the day, with the first 3 topics given at registration at the Memo Arts Centre. A number of cafes, shops and other locations in Barry and Barry Island will then release the topics at various times throughout the day, as well as on social media (@BarryValeofGlam).

The event is ticketed and participants will need to pre-book. It will not be possible to join on the day. Tickets will be released soon on Ticket Source – look out for further updates.

The event is being organised as part of Barry Making Waves and Mererid Velios, Place Manager at the Vale of Glamorgan Council is working with local photographers Lee Aspland and Michael Goode, in partnership with Memo Arts Centre.

For more information please visit www.barry.cymru/visit/photobarrython

Photography for Well-Being

Photography for Well-Being 1 is available for pre-order now. My new book shows you how through experiencing nature, inspiring creativity and sharing photos you can use photography to improve your artistic skills and well-being – especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

This week is Creativity and Well-Being Week in the UK. Never has the role of creativity in supporting your well-being been so relevant. These are extraordinary times. We are living through unprecedented experiences. Our little routines, our day-to-day lives, and our hopes and dreams have all been thrown in the air. How it will all land is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, we live a reduced life; staying home, maintaining social distance and trying not to shout at our kids or partner. This all puts a strain on our well-being. What is to be done?

Fortunately, there is lots of help available. Many experts have offered their keep fit routines, healthy eating ideas, games, quizzes and so on. But there is another creative experience you could try – Photography for Well-Being.

I am a photographer, so are you. If you have a camera – and we all have a smartphone now – you can use it to support your well-being and improve your photography skills along the way. How do I know?  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 more than 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 and record my experiences in a notebook; each activity illustrated with several photos. Somehow, I thought, this would become a book for others to use to support their well-being through photography. And now the book Photography for Well-Being 1 is available. Every one of the 15 photography activities in the book has been used to support my health and well-being and will support yours. These really work; I used the activities to support my recovery to full health.

Photography for Well-Being is all about doing creative, mindful photography activities and then sharing your favourite photos. Each activity has a common structure and they all include these six features:

  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 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 improve 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.

Creating personal, unique photos, out in the fresh air, learning or developing your photography skills and then sharing the photos with other people can really help to support your well-being. Why not give it a go? There is even a downloadable free eBook to give you a taster of the experience. It is called Stuck in the House and was designed especially for these times! It has four photography activities, just like the ones in Photography for Well-Being 1. It will get you into the swing of things, get you out creating great photos and give you the experience of using photography to support your well-being.

Monty was a doggy guru

Monty died at the weekend. He was a lively and occasionally very naughty Bijon Frise. White haired, curious and very friendly. He will be much missed. What you may not know is that he was also a guru, who taught me about mindfulness, consciousness and the self. Can you believe it?

Monty was a creature of the moment. His day was shaped by routine and coloured by sensations and experiences. He was a conscious creature, aware of his surroundings and stimulated by what he perceived. His sense of smell was of course, acute. At any meal time, whilst food – especially meat – was being prepared or eaten, the patter of his little feet approaching the kitchen could be heard.

His sense of hearing was (allegedly) 10 times more sensitive than ours. I could be on one floor of the house and make a cat noise and Monty, on the top floor, would come thundering down the stairs in the hope of seeing, or perhaps catching a cat.

Monty experienced emotion. He experienced fear: loud traffic noises, flying objects, fireworks and certain dogs in the park all stimulated a strong desire to run back home to safety. Something he did several times, fortunately dodging traffic as he careered across busy roads. He had more than nine lives!

He looked for contact. He liked to be be stroked, held and played with. Apparently, when we stroke a dog serotonin is produced not only in our body, but also their’s. Are they experiencing a feeling of well being? Like Monty we are also experiencing our life through the sensations, thoughts and feelings that arise in our consciousness. Monty though, lived solely in the present moment. That was his greatest teaching.

This doggy moment

Monty had a vocabulary of 30 – 40 words. Each of these words stimulated a response. Cat, food, sit, No, go, Bijon, sausage, wait etc. were all associated with an action. And whilst we spoke to him as though he understood, language was of course a concept too far. So when I spoke to him about a cat he saw earlier in the day, Monty would perk up and look for the cat in the room at that moment. Not only was language a concept too far, so was the past or future.

Both the past and future are concepts we have created to explain and cope with the passage of time. We are smart enough to imagine that the past actually exists. But, of course, it does not. It is a construct we have created and that we hold in our consciousness. The past is not a reality. You cannot touch it or experience it in any way, apart from in our imagination. If you attend an experience that recreates the past – a play, film, themed event – you are experiencing the present moment, albeit a present moment that is shaped to look and feel like the past.

Similarly, the future never exists. For when we reach a particular point in time it is the present!

Monty knew this. He knew that there is only this moment right now. Monty lived in the present moment. The mindful hound!

The doggy self

Monty had one other lesson for us. Another trick up his furry sleeve which helped him to be present in the moment. Monty had no concept of self.

If I held Monty up to a mirror he may have looked at himself briefly, but quickly his gaze would slip away to what was behind or next to him. There was no curiosity. No checking out how he looked. There didn’t appear to be a recognition that he was looking at a dog, or that the dog was him.

So the idea that there is such a thing as the ‘self’ did not trouble Monty. He experienced his day as a series of sensations, feelings and thoughts arising and passing. Each one was a singular moment and each one was experienced in that moment.

We though get sidetracked. Our mind has created a construct it calls ‘self’. This construct is constantly being refined, developed, coloured and shaped by our sensations, feeling and thoughts. Above all it is the thought that we are an independent self, different from the next person that separates us from this present moment awareness.

My concept of self is strong and is reinforced every moment of every day. Sitting in meditation or following any mindful practice has the potential to remind us that it is only our consciousness receiving. There is no self experiencing. The self is an illusion. An imaginary beast. A construct created and recreated by our conscious mind.

Monty was always with the experience of the moment. They are fine teachers, our canine friends. Guru Monty had much to teach me!

Exploring Multiple Exposure

A few years ago I started experimenting with multi-exposure (more about this technique here) – the art of combining several images in one exposure in camera. A year or so in to my exploration I lost interest as my camera could only combine two images as a maximum, in any one exposure, and it simply layered one on top of the other. Recently, I upgraded my camera and the new Fuji X-T4 has the ability to combine up to nine images in one exposure, and has four alternate ways of combining these images. The exploration is back on!

The key question at this point is why would you want to do this? The answer for me is that it opens up the possibility of creating images that can document a place, experience or emotion in a personal, abstract and creative manner. I am also fascinated to compare and combine this with ICM – intentional camera movement. These techniques are not hugely popular, they create photos that can be ethereal, intriguing, emotive and abstract. It is these very qualities that draw me to them and suggest to me the possibility of a personal project. Something I am considering at present.

Meanwhile, practice and experimentation are required to investigate the limitations and possibilities of the techniques. I have learnt a few things so far which I will summarise, but first I wanted to thank my teachers; Doug Chinnery, Valda Bailey and of course Chris Friel. Doug and Valda have worked together to produce some great videos that explore and explain these techniques; they are detailed and generate plenty of possibility. Chris has been producing fabulous work for many years and is worthy of your investigation.

Experimentation

The photo above was created during the springtime explosion of blooms at Clyne Gardens in Swansea. My intention was to create some photos that were inspired by nature’s colours and beauty, and also echoed how such beauty can make you feel. The techniques I used were ME in dark blend mode, creative use of white balance, creative framing investigation, defocussing the lens and three or four layered exposures. Let’s look at some of those choices.

There are four blend modes available on my Fuji, something that is replicated on some Canon and Nikon cameras; they are Additive, Average, Bright and Dark.

Additive – This mode adds each frame on top of the next, in a kind of light accumulation process. It is possible that if you used this on a sunny day that by the time you had added nine images to one exposure you would just be left with a white rectangle. I have not yet explored its creative possibilities, as the other modes have been calling to me. But maybe its limitations would be something that could create unexpected possibilities.

Average – This mode layers each image on top of the next, averaging the opacity. This is the standard mode for digital exposure and it is the mode I used when I had the Fuji X-T2, as it was the only choice. Combined with ICM, defocussing or creative use of the white balance it has possibilities.

Bright – This mode preserves the brighter elements of each image. For example, if your first image was of a silhouette or shadow, the second if brighter could layer the brighter elements over the areas of darker exposure from the first image. This is similar to how a film camera used to capture a multiple exposure. Here is an example.

Dark – This mode does the opposite to Bright mode. It preserves the darker elements of each image. Where there is light, there can be dark! This is the mode I have used most so far in combination with creative use of white balance.

White Balance – All digital cameras give you a level of control over the white balance. The default position is to be in Auto. In this setting the camera tries to produce whites that replicate how you see white light. Of course, your eyes work differently to a camera. They work with our brain to self correct what we know to be white, to look white, even if it is really carrying another hue. For example: dusk light has a blue hue. You don’t notice this, but the camera does. The white balance can then correct this to match how you see. Taking control of the white balance allows you to tell the camera what hue the whites should have, affecting every colour in the frame. Camera manufacturers have different ways of allowing you to influence this. Some require you to know the Kelvin values of each colour. Others have a map of hues that you can pick from. My Fuji has the latter, which makes it dead easy. My experimentation so far has followed Chris Friel’s advice – to use extreme choices.

I have much work to do. I am learning how my white balance choices work with the ME blend modes and the colours of the objects in the frame. I have also learnt that playing with the lens focus can produce interesting softer shapes and patterns. These combinations of blend mode, white balance and lens focus have much possibility and will, I am certain, be used along with ICM to produce an interesting body of work very soon. I the meantime, here are a few of my favourites from the visit to Clyne Gardens.

 

 

My 24 Photos Activity

Last week I posted an activity called 24 Photos that turned your digital camera into a film camera, almost. Over the weekend I completed the activity myself around Singleton Park and the deserted Swansea University Campus. My five favourite photos are below and I have to say, “It works!” Well, I would say that wouldn’t I? But it does. I pretty much followed my own advice, using a familiar prime lens in manual focus and having the camera set up in manual mode. My screen was also off, although I did forget to have anything to help with the count and lost track after 20. I ended up with 27 photos (a normal amount for a 24 exposure film!) and I will confess that the final photo here was taken in auto focus. Those bees do move about!

The aim of the activity is to slow you down, so as to improve your seeing and make the photo activity a mindful experience. It worked for me. Why don’t your try it and then post your favourite photos in our growing Photography for Well-Being Facebook group? I look forward to seeing them.

Photo Activity: 24 Photos

Back in the day, when we only had film cameras, creating a photograph was a different experience to the digital world we now live in. The most obvious difference was that you could not see the photo you had just created until the film was developed. In addition, many of the cameras and lenses were fully manual, so creating the photo was a slower process. Also you only had 24 or 36 exposures. There was no deleting; no checking which photos you liked and which you didn’t, until the film came back. This Photo Activity replicates that experience, it turns your digital camera into a film camera. Why do that you ask? These five reasons:

  1. This will slow you down.
  2. Slower photography means that you will see more.
  3. Seeing more means that your photos will be more creative.
  4. Having a limited number of photos will encourage you to pay more attention to the creation of each photo.
  5. Paying attention means that your photos will be more interesting.

It was using my Fujica ST705 which inspired this activity. I found that there was a film left in it – the camera had been packed away for a while – so I went around the house playing with possibilities. The camera is fully manual; shutter speed, aperture and ISO all have to be set. There is a basic light meter visible through the viewfinder which helps to get a balanced exposure. The lens is manual focus too. I noticed how it slowed my photo creation down and decided to revisit the idea of slowing down your digital photography practice. It will make a difference. You will pay more attention to the making of each photo, and that can only result in more interesting and creative photos.

I should mention that some of you may have cameras where some of these instructions are not possible. Do as many as you can. If you cannot do any of them even the simple act of only creating 24 photos with no deleting or reviewing will slow you down.

 

Photo Activity: 24 Photos

  1. Set aside an hour or two for this activity.
  2. Choose a location – inside or outside. Inside is more challenging!
  3. Set your camera up in Manual mode.
  4. Turn off the viewscreen, this includes for review also.
  5. If you have a lens that can be turned to manual focus use that.
  6. Set the ISO for the light. The standard guidelines are – Bright sunny day 100; bright intermittent sun 200; cloudy day 400; heavy cloud/rain 800+; inside depends upon the light in each room 400 – 800+
  7. Set your aperture to f8 – this is a mid range aperture.
  8. Set your shutter speed to 1/125 – this will guarantee no camera shake. It is a mid range start point.
  9. You are going to create 24 photos. No reviewing. No deleting.
  10. As you cannot see the screen you will need a method of keeping count. 24 nuts, seeds, stones or sweets will work. Cast one off for each photo.
  11. Each photo is precious. You only have 24.
  12. Each time you find a scene bring your camera up and review the light information.
  13. To change the exposure  – more or less light – you have control of the aperture and shutter speed.
  14. A smaller aperture number (e.g. f2.8) is a larger hole = more light and shallow Depth of Field (less of the depth of the photo in focus)
  15. A bigger aperture number (e.g. f16) is a smaller hole = less light and greater Depth of Field (more of the depth of the photo in focus)
  16. The shutter speed numbers refer to fractions of a second. The larger the number (e.g. 1000), faster shutter speed = less light. Smaller numbers (e.g. 1), slower shutter speed + more light.
  17. A slow shutter speed means if you move the camera whilst the shutter is open the scene will be blurred.
  18. Take your time with every photo. You aim is to create a balanced exposure. This is recorded as 0 on the exposure scale in your viewfinder; most look like this: 3 2 1 0 -1 -2 -3.
  19. Make creative choices about the framing and your Point of View.
  20. Decide upon an aperture and shutter speed for each photo.
  21. Release attachment to the idea that every photo will be perfect.
  22. Mistakes do not matter. This is an experiencing in slowing down and being creative.
  23. When you finish. Take a break, have a cuppa before you review your photo. Be kind to yourself. Slowing down is more important than the photos.
  24. If you have one photo you like share that with me.

Here is my favourite photo from the last time I did this activity. I’ll be doing it again very soon.

 

Urban Exploring

In preparation for a new photography activity for my new book – Photography for Well-Being – I have been experimenting with urban photography. I am using this term instead of street photography because it has more of an urban landscape approach, rather than activity of the streets. But it could perhaps be either.

The photography activity is called going to be called ‘urban love’ and centres upon scenes from your favourite urban environment. So that could be a town, city, village or hamlet. I’m separating it from industrial photography, as that is more landscape related and maybe a separate activity.

My first practice was in Swansea, where I have lived for over 30 years. I chose a sunny day and had in my intention a desire to create photographs of elements of the city that I love. I struggled. Maybe it was the day, the light or the lens choice, or all three. Obviously, more practice was required.

So a couple of days ago I went walkabout in my girlfriend’s home town of Porth. Porth is a small Rhondda valleys town, in fact it is known as the gateway to the Rhondda Valley. Like many South Wales towns and villages it has struggled over the last 2 or 3 decades. The closure of local coal mines and more recent austerity impact has left its mark.

However, despite it being a gloomy, dull day and the challenge of the urban environment, I enjoyed the practice and created a few photos I liked. Which is all that is required. A key feature of the difference is that I went with an open mind, no overarching intention, just to create interesting photos from what I saw. I shall be taking this approach back to Swansea and the new activity. Anyway here are my favourites.

 

 

Favourite Photos 2019

What a year 2019 has been. A year of difficulty, fun, my mother’s death, the celebration of her life, creativity, exhibitions, work, invention, lots of travel, family, throat reconstruction, a campervan and love, lots of love. This year’s favourite photos are shared in chronological order, and as such they act as a visual diary of my year.

 

Weather or not

On a murky, wild day the nagging thought that I needed to leave the house was insistent. That I could combine it with photo creation was obviously a foolish idea. Who goes outside with their camera on a bad weather day? And yet…… photo creation, plus violently fresh park air, plus gentle exercise seemed like it would be a boost to my somewhat low mood. In fact, during this photo activity I realised that is was at the heart of why I do this and how this combination of creativity, physical movement and the outdoors is the foundation of photography for well-being. Not a bad return: from gloomy stasis to an epiphanous moment.

The actual photo activity experience was quite simple. I combined it with a purpose – which in hindsight was helpful, if not essential. I didn’t need to visit the hospital for blood tests that day, I could have done it any day of the week. However, the walk to the phlebotomy clinic is through my local park – Singleton – a green oasis, even in the howling drizzle, and that meant I could experience nature at almost full force.

Before leaving I prepared myself; appropriate clothing to protect myself and my camera. I have been known to use a plastic bag and elastic band to protect my camera from heavy rain, but this wind driven drizzle led to a decision for a large, warm raincoat that I could fit my camera inside when it was not being used. I set the camera up in my usual 50mm lens, aperture priority, f7.1 and higher than usual ISO of 1600 – it was very gloomy. Before I set off I was assessing the weather through the front window and realised my first photo was right in front of me. The myriad rain droplets racing to the bottom, a salutary reminder that it was wild out there, and off I set.

The walk to the hospital is through a couple of areas of the park – the main drag to Uni, frequented by umbrella wielding, inadequately clad students – and the ‘Ornamental Gardens’, an attractive, defined area with a larger variety of trees, shrubs and plants. However, on the walk I was drawn to the impact of the wind and rain, its raging though the trees, bushes and paths, and its creation of new rivulets tumbling into growing streams.

Whilst I was giving blood the nurse, spying my camera asked, “What are you taking photos of in this weather?”

“Oh, the rain, puddles, rain in puddles, wild trees, people dodging through the rain. The usual.”

However, creating photos in bad weather is challenging. Not only are you trying to protect your camera, it is a reminder that every photo must be technically correct, and in the gloomy light, and even darker wooded areas this is tricky. Each potential photo had to be checked for shutter speed, rather than take for granted that the camera would sort it out. This led to slower photography, (something I advocate), thoughtful composition and wise technical choices, all laced with the desire not to get too wet.

That I noticed all this is the point. Paying attention to the creative process doesn’t just result in your desired outcome, it charges the practice with positive energy. The act of engaged creativity is enlivening, an essence of life. Taking elements and shaping them into something else is beneficial fuel for the soul. In the face of such positivity and surviving the sodden, windswept traverse, I returned home, refreshed, alive and engaged.

 

Mindful Practices

I have begun to get back into a routine. Re-establishing my normal mindful practices has taken a while, and I am not sure that they are settled yet. Prior to hospital I had a morning 20 minute practice of yoga and meditation. This evaporated in hospital and I took up the daily practice that led to my ‘Tales from a hospital bed’. Now I am back home I am back doing my daily mindful practice each morning, but other practices are still settling.

It’s the photography that is changing. I still have an intention to complete a mindful photography walk once a week. If I am honest I would say that this has slipped this year. Earlier this week I reviewed my photos for the year, there were less than a dozen from mindful photography practices. Most related to work or leisure. I am now trying to get back into this weekly practice and the photos that accompany this post are from last week’s practice in the Rhondda.

The main change is that I have started developing and trying out my photography activities for the book, ‘Photography for Well-Being’. This week I started with ‘Seeing the Music’. This is a mindful photography practice really, where you chose some music to listen to whilst you walk through a particular location, creating photos. There is a little more to it than that, but that is the heart of it. What I am uncertain about is not the practice. I am quite certain that each one of the 22 activities is a mindful practice and that each will support my well-being and yours. I am uncertain about how much to share here. It is a balancing act. I like sharing, but I also need to develop the content for the book. Do I complete all the activities and not share anything? Do I share a few? Do I share them all? What do you think?

 

 

 

Down to earth

I have landed. Four weeks ago today I had my throat reconstruction surgery in London. I feel that I have now come back down to earth, landed solidly back in my world. As I type this I am sat in my lounge, thoughts have turned towards photography and writing. I am ready to get back into my work, still taking it slowly, but ready to get creative.

In this space I have been reflecting on my photographic year to date, looking at the photos I have created this year and wondering about the future. I notice a difference in my photos from previous years. There are less mindful photography practice photos and more work related and leisure photos. It would seem that I have been busier both with work and fun, and have had less time for practice. Hmm.

My immediate plans are to complete my ‘Who Am I Now?’ Photography Project and start work on my new book, ‘Photography for Well-Being. More of the same it would appear. However, the work for the book will initially be mindful photography practices, as I intend to create, write and complete each photography activity for the book over the next few months. Each practice will become a written activity for the book, be beneficial for my recovery and create something meaningful for others.

It’s a plan. But you know what happens to plans – Life. In the meantime I have a list of 23 photography activity titles. Each one has a little bit of life in my mind, but nothing is written down. For each title I need to create the focus for the activity, decide upon the photographic skill being honed, do the activity take notes and obviously create photos.

I have bought a high quality notebook, to use as an ongoing workbook for all thoughts about well-being and how photography can help. Each activity will be developed in this notebook with initial ideas, notes about what happens, the actual practice followed and at least one Fuji Instax (like a Polaroid) to illustrate. I am following this format because I believe that the book needs to be a kind of workbook for you. How I get from my workbook to yours is the challenge.

The 23 activities fall into four categories. These are Green Space, Blue Space, Love and Urban. Reasonably self explanatory? I have looked thought the activities and I reckon that half of them can be completed during the Winter and early Spring, so that is where I’m going to start. Look out for ongoing reports, although anything could change, it is a creative process!

The Photos

The photos accompanying this post are from last Winter, in early January. I went down to Langland to experiment with my ‘big stopper’ lens filter and use Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) to create some slightly abstract photos of the beach. These are my three favourites.

 

 

Your thoughts about well-being

A couple of days ago I asked you, ‘What contributes to your well-being?’ I have had a great response. Many thanks to Sue, Nicky, Kath, Toby, Inge, Kate, Janet, Priscilla, Noelle, Maz and Caryn. I have collated their responses below. It makes a enriching list. The more of these you bring into your life the more you will thrive!

Gardening, the beach, helping others, having a loving family, good friends, walking, healthy food, wine, fun, excitement, my husband snoring next to me in bed, the wonder of darkness, doing something new, knowing that my family are safe and well, healthy and happy, singing along with favourite songs, listening to the waves roll ashore – dragging pebbles with them (eyes closed), smiles on the faces of loved ones – especially my daughter, 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, enjoying the countryside and caravanning, classical music, glorious food shared with friends and loved ones, contact from old friends, helping someone out, rediscovered favourite music and a spectacular view.

What is Well-Being?

I have done some reading around the topic. There are various viewpoints. Some look at the concept holistically, some focus on the workplace. Some have a psychological focus, others consider its broadest possible definition.

There are however some common themes and every item on the list of things that contribute to your well-being (above) falls into at least one of them. These are the categories I will use to focus and create my Photography Activities for the new book, each activity will fall into at least one of these categories of well-being.

  • Emotional/psychological well-being
  • Physical well-being
  • Social/relationships well-being
  • Work/purpose/finance well-being
  • Societal/community well-being
  • Spiritual well-being

Perhaps each of us has a kind priority list of these categories. Some may not be so important to you. Others maybe essential. What do you think? Is the list of categories comprehensive? Anything missing?

Photographing Well-Being

I thought that I would contribute to this discussion photographically. So here are a few photos – many of which are on my walls at home – that reflect aspects of well-being for me. The header image reflects our role and part we hold within nature, and reminds me of a moment when I connected with unspoken knowing to another creature.

 

Staying Grounded

The practice of living mindfully is obviously challenging when life is difficult. During these phases when life is not as we would like it be, we can become overwhelmed and imagine that life will always be this way. We may not be able to see a way through the current difficulty. Our fears may swamp all possibility of redemption.

Somehow though, often just after it was darkest, something changes. These deep and unexpected changes may be sparked by an acceptance of how it is, or something external to our control may happen which allows some daylight to filter into our endless night. Then, as the situation softens, we breathe, allow life to move on and our fear slowly dissolves.

However, the ability to remain grounded can also be a challenge when life is fabulous. In those moments, when everything appears to be lit with golden light and we are invincible, we can be deluded into imagining that life will always be this way. We are flooded with happy hormones and life is spectacular.

Not only is this also an impermanent season, it is also one that we might chase, when life is simply bumbling along. We are so attached to the positive vibes and those warming hormones, we may seek to repeat the conditions. Of course life is not like that. As John Lennon reminded us, “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.”

The trick is to develop equanimity with “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. To develop a deep knowing that every condition of life is passing through. Appreciate the golden moments. Breathe gently through the darkest times. Know that they are all ephemeral and everything passes.

Red Van Man

As you know I have just lived through a challenging 3 weeks. Sometimes it was very uncomfortable and I was swamped with fear. Fortunately, I had outlets to help process my fears and feelings; using this blog and my photography allowed me to breathe through each day and soften with the fear coursing through my being.

Now, though I feel pretty damn good. Not only does the operation seem to have gone very well, I am in a quiet and relaxing space to recover. And then to top all that I have taken delivery of my new campervan.

I bought the van in October and got it delivered to New Wave Custom Conversions in Pontyclun. It wasn’t due there until November, but it Mike (the owner) kindly agreed to take it early to fit in with my hospital visit. What a delight it was to hear back from them that it would be ready for collection on the same day as I was released from hospital. Two reconstructions completed on one day!

We picked the van up on Monday and it is a delight. Mike and team have done a fabulous job. I recommend them wholeheartedly. But now, of course, I have to stay grounded. To pay attention to the joy coursing through my veins and breathe. It is something new to attend to. I smile and get behind the seat, and then pay attention to the way before me. I know that there may be bumps in the road, unexpected turns and other foolish drivers who may distract me. I just need to feel my hands on the wheel, see the road rising before me, smile and keep seeing all that is there.

 

Birthday Gratefulness

I have a practice that has lapsed during the hospital days. Every night I share 5 things I am grateful for with my sister, Kim in Canada. I haven’t done this regularly over the last 3 weeks, but starting here I am beginning all my supportive practices again.

In addition to my Gratitude practice I have a morning mindful practice that involves 10 minutes of yoga and 10 minutes of meditation. I returned to this grounding practice this morning. The stand out feature of the experience was that I can get so much breath in. Each breath feels something like a normal breath. I say, ‘feels like’ because it is 14 years since I had normal breath. My memory is vague! But I am breathing quietly and well. What a relief.

Yesterday was my birthday. I had a lovely day thanks to Dinah’s organisation skills and the generosity of friends. Instead of sharing a blow by blow account I thought that I would share my Birthday Grats (as Kim and I call them) with you.

  • The second consecutive night of 10 hours sleep
  • Perfectly poached eggs on Marmite toast
  • A gentle walk, breathing deeply
  • Massive slice of Ginger and Salted Caramel cake
  • Thoughtful presents from friends
  • Love and care of friends
  • Unexpected visit of old Swansea mates
  • A donation from Simon’s young son from his pocket money
  • Lots of lovely FB birthday messages
  • Playing with my new photography toy – Fuji Instax camera
  • Lovely Skype chat with Kim
  • The love, support and care from Dinah

And so on to my 60th year. In 2020 I will be 60. There is much I hope to do and much that will happen. The first part of that is at 4.00pm today, when we pick up my new camper van. Exciting. More on that tomorrow.

 

 

Long stay hospital reflections

After landing in ‘God’s own country’ (thanks for the line Si), reacquainting myself with fine wine and food, reconnecting and sleeping for 10 hours, I feel that this is the day to reflect back upon what a long, challenging hospital stay is like. Particularly to share some survival ideas and thoughts on the recovery process: the physical and the psychological. Before it all becomes even more blurred than it is already.

My hospital visit had two distinct stages, ones that I imagine are common to all major surgery events. First up is the surgery and its physical impact. No matter what the surgery, being anaesthetised for any length of time is debilitating. It throws your whole system out. Particularly, it leads to food and gas retention. I felt bloated, I looked 6 months pregnant. I was stuffed up for several days and probably did not regain normal bowel function (without intervention) for a week. By which stage I was put under for another op and it all started again – though not for so long.

More than this, the physical shock of the surgery to the body, is exhausting. Rest is essential, obviously. I was not very tuned in to anything for 3 days. This I know because that was when I started the ‘Tales for a hospital bed’, when I first went walkabout with my camera and started the process of daily reflection. Looking back now, without reading my blog posts, I remember very little of the first week. I know I was well cared for physically, my medications helped, the regular monitoring made sure I was stable and I was always asked, ” Are you in any pain?”

The second week was different. By this stage I was physically stable, off the feed tube, eating hospital food and able to walk around Ward 10 and just outside on a regular basis. My pain levels were receding and the main focus was in occupying the time. The support team often used the word ‘boring’ to describe this time. Certainly, that is a potential hazard. Having positive outlets is essential. I can recommend having a daily focus that provides you the opportunity to share how you are feeling and what your day is like.

My regular blog posts and photos both illustrated my thoughts and feelings about each of the two stages of a long hospital visit. By openly discussing and sharing these ideas it allowed me to get out what was in my head and through that process what I was living though. The insight I had during this period, that this was way of being was simply an extension of how I had been working, and that I could continue the process as a mindful blogging/photography practice from then on, seems obvious now. When the penny dropped it was a revelation.

The truth is that caring for our own wellbeing in hospital benefits from an outlet. That could be simply a regular visit from a loved one who can hold your thoughts and feelings with love and compassion. I know that I had this too, but that having the personal written and visual outlet as well, hugely supported my wellbeing.

As I have mentioned, it is this that I am going to continue. Not only with daily blogs (or as close to that as I can manage) but also creating a ‘Photography for Wellbeing’ Workbook for others that will support my own immediate recovery and help others. We all need to talk and sometimes the words cannot be found. Sometimes a photo can say everything we need to say, more profoundly.

I know that some of the thoughts and feelings I have shared in this blog series have been a surprise to some of the medical professionals that have supported me. There are always going to be moments, hours and sometimes days when it all appears too much. The nurses and doctors necessarily focus on the physical difference they can make, and that is essential. However, patient wellbeing includes the psychological as well as the physical. Imagine a situation where there was also that type of support available for patients. How much quicker would recovery and adjustment to the change of life be then?

I feel that it is in this area that my future work will develop. I already have plans for this blog and a book. I have my on going photography project ‘Who Am I Now?’ that complete with an exhibition in 2020. All of that will take 6 months, then I will see where I am and what opportunities have arisen from that work. Most of all though, I like the synthesis between my life and work. They are almost one and the same and that seems like a perfect recipe for patient wellbeing.

Reflecting on a long hospital stay

 

 

Tales from a hospital bed 13

The training wheels are off. An almost completely normal nights sleep, only a dressing change over my neck hole required at 4.40am. Otherwise a full night’s sleep. What a novelty. In fact when I was woken up for my breakfast order I thought it was 6.45am, it was only 15 mins later when the Doctors appeared that I realised it was 8am.

I haven’t talked much about the donor sections of my body that have contributed to my throat reconstruction. A small section of skin (half of its full thickness) was removed from my thigh. This was used to cover a small section of rib cartilage that was inserted to widen my airway. Pretty amazing huh?

The donor sites are healing well. As you can see above, most of the thigh donor site has healed over and I have a trendy patch. This will take about 18 months to fade and may remain slightly darker in colour than my normal pale skin tone. The scar on my chest has healed and looks neat. Press ups are still a little out of bounds, but otherwise it feels good.

Rib Cartilage Donor Site

Whilst I am on the subject of scars I would be remiss not to give you a sight of the main work. Look away now if you are squeamish. This was the look of the trachi hole and the main operation scar this morning. It is healing OK. Obviously there is still a hole for a while, and during the closing phase it will need a dressing on it. I have to press on this when I wish to talk, sneeze or cough. You can guess what happens when I forget.

Trachi hole and operation scar just above

My overall feeling, now I am out of the medication and post op fog, is one of gratitude. I am grateful for the skilled surgeons who developed and delivered this operation. I am grateful for the skilled and caring support I have received from Doctors, Nurses, Student Nurses and HCAs on Ward 10 South and beyond. They have also been supported by great catering and cleaning staff. Many of these staff go the extra mile to check on me and provide whatever it is I need. They know who they are. Thank you.

I am also grateful for the support I have received from you. My very wide circle of friends who read this blog. Thank you for your fabulous comments and kind words. They all mean so much to me. Then of course huge thanks to my nearest and dearest. For the food snacks, the messages, the Skype ‘chats’, the live chats, and the company. All of these have kept me going through the darker days and nights.

Most of all thanks to my lover, my girlfriend and partner (that’s just one person!) Thanks for your smile, your attentiveness, thoughtfulness, foodie treats, scrabble and love. You have made this challenging period pass quickly and gently. I couldn’t have done it without you.

And so onto the second day of my probationary period. A little trip out! Today is the first day I have put shoes on and walked outside for 17 days. It’s cold out huh? Because I have been confined for over two weeks, everything outside took on a novel gleam. It all looked fascinating, the people, the traffic, the buildings and the general busy-ness.

I’m back out later for a late lunch with the lovely Dinah at our favourite local caff. They do provide the best Eggs Benedict, and I haven’t had an egg for a long time! Yum. In the meantime here are a few of my favourite street photos from this morning. Freedom tomorrow!

 

Tales from a hospital bed 12

The Probation Edition. When I awoke this morning at 6 I just laid there for a while coming to. After a while I noticed a warm glow coming from beneath the blind. I slid out of bed, raised the blind and revealed the day. It felt like a positive omen for the day to come and so it has been proved.

Spectacular Start

Great news, the trachi is out, swallow test is all OK (although beer may be a couple of days yet) cannula is out and I will be out Friday morning. Hoo-bloody-ray. So in preparation for release I’m calling this my probationary period. A couple of days where I initially escape the confines of Ward 10 and explore more of the hospital, building stamina back up and reminding myself there’s a big old world out there.

I am relieved and a little elated, not only to have the trachi out and be healing well, but also to feel some normal energy returning. My excitement and high adrenaline actually meant that it wasn’t until after 12 that I fell asleep last night. But boy did I sleep. The great nurse on duty kindly agreed to minimise the medical checks and I slept deeply for 6 hours, horizontally. The first time for 2 weeks.

The way out

This morning I have had the trachi removed, seen all the Doctors, had a temporary dressing put in place and tested out my new voice. Breathing is much improved. It feels easier than it has for years. The voice is croaky and whispery at present, but this will improve over the next 3 weeks as the swelling goes down and my new throat get used to it all.

During the swallow test we were discussing how swallowing water requires greater concentration than anything else with more viscosity. I was advised that I needed to take this attentive approach to every swallow. Mindful eating is required. Oh, the irony. This is because the gap between my vocal chords is now wider, meaning that it is easier for food to slip into my windpipe. Paying attention to every swallow, means that food is carried over this risk. That implies that eating, drinking and talking need to be separate activities. A second or two is enough. Each swallow needs to be consciously attended to.

I should also mention the trachi and talking. Now the tube is out there is a hole. I have been told that this heals quite quickly internally, but the hole in the skin takes up to 2 weeks to close up. In the meantime I have a dressing on with a button I can press on to close the hole when I need to talk. It’s all a little strange at present, but will soon be but a distant memory!

Morning release

Eventually, after all the tests, removal of medical interventions and more tests I was allowed out. I initially headed for the staircase to walk down a few flights of the staircase I shot earlier in my stay. My idea was to create a shot looking up. The only way is up. Here it is.

Upwards

I got as far as this and then remembered that in this modern world means of payment is required for purchases. I’ve been in a protected bubble. So back to the lift, the ward and collection of cards. I returned again, this time to the ground floor and went on a wander to see what I could see. Here are a few of my favourites. Tea and cookie followed. What will follow tomorrow?

Lovebirds

Reflecting on Charing Cross Hospital

Winter is here

Art Break

Great Exhibition

Happy Probationer