Photography and mental health / by Ian Clark

St Margaret's Bay near Dover. Growing up in Dover, the cliffs become an evocative reminder of home.

St Margaret's Bay near Dover. Growing up in Dover, the cliffs become an evocative reminder of home.

2018 has been a difficult year. Back in February, my mother passed away following years of decline. She was diagnosed with a rare condition known as Multiple System Atrophy (MSA). Once MSA sets in, the body rapidly declines. Within six years my mother went from relatively healthy to being unable to move virtually a single muscle in her body. She went from difficulties walking, to being incapable of getting out of bed unaided to being unable to feed herself to barely being able to speak. My sister and I saw her the weekend before she passed away and it was a very distressing sight. We knew that she didn't have long left.

Our mother passed on to both of us a love of photography. Both my sister and I have a long had an interest in it. I've had cameras for long as I can remember. Mainly point and click auto focus cameras, I have particular fond memories of an Olympus Mju II that I fell in love with many years ago. I was never a "serious" photographer, but I was always interested in experimenting with different composures, trying to get photos that are a little different than the usual. Eventually, after dipping my toes in the water with a couple of digital compact cameras (an Olympus digital followed by a Lumix with a Leica lens), I decided to get an entry level DSLR (which I still use now) - a Nikon D3200

It took me a little while to take full control, sticking rigidly to taking photos in automatic mode, always intending to learn, but never quite finding the time. Then, eventually, a free online course cropped up, a signed up and here I am, still learning, but also confidently taking images in full manual mode. I got there.

I used to play football on a regular basis until I was no longer able to due to change in jobs making it too difficult to get from work to home to football on a week night. Football was a great stress reliever for me. It helped to keep me balanced, to provide an outlet for my frustrations. Since putting the football shoes away, I've lacked that certain something. I threw myself into a lot of things, got involved in way too many things, and didn't have an outlet to release the building pressure. Photography has given me an excuse to go out and about, forcing me to put on a pair of shoes and go out into the countryside for some relaxation and quiet reflection. Never has this been more important than during the past seven months.

These last two weeks I've been signed off from work due to my mental health. And over those two weeks I honestly don't know what I would have done without my camera. There were days I stayed in bed all morning, unable to get up. But there were days where I resolved to get up earlier, go out and enjoy nature at sunrise. In a way the camera gave me the motivation to do something. To go out. To get fresh air. Even to talk to people. Funnily enough, as I was mulling over writing this post, I watched this video by Simon Baxter which really, for me, encapsulates the impact photography has on me (although I'm a long way off going professional - if that's ever even something I'd be interested in doing).

So yeah, photography has been a massive help in terms of my mental health. Regardless of the quality of the photos I take, I certainly feel that going out with my camera, getting out in nature and spending some time alone to reflect, has made a big difference in terms of my mental wellbeing. I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to realise how important that is.