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CREDIT: Claire Sheppard

One Photographer’s View of Photography and Mental Health

An interview with RPS member, Claire Sheppard

Those of you who know me or have seen me give a presentation will know how amazing I think photography can be for our mental wellbeing. Not only can photography provide us with a sense of focus and achievement, but it also affords us the opportunity to switch off from the pressures of daily life.

So, I thought it would be interesting to see how other photographers view the relationship between photography and mental health.

Recently I came across a photographer from the New Forest called Claire Sheppard who is not only a keen photographer but who is also a strong advocate of the benefits of photography for our mental health. I was bowled over by Claire’s passion, enthusiasm and positive outlook and I would like to share with you what she had to say.

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“Photography is so much more than taking a picture. It’s being captivated by the moment and then capturing it, that’s mindfulness. When I researched mindfulness, as someone who has struggled with their mental fitness for years, my impression was that you needed to sit on a yoga mat, stare into space and clear your mind.  Needless to say I’m a busy chick and that just didn’t work for me.  The more I tried to clear my mind, the more cluttered it became, and the whole ‘why can’t I do this’ thing reared its head once again.

During lockdown I just knew I had to get out with my camera more.  Before I knew it, this was the best therapy I’d ever had without even trying.  I was concentrating and enjoying what I was doing in that very moment; creating a frame, changing apertures, reading the light, etc.  And bang, I was ‘in the moment’, forgetting everything else.  It’s the same when I go running, when my body and eyes are busy my head starts to clear and neurons start to fire.”

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“I have two teenage boys and a pre-teen girl, my hubbie and I run a business and life is hectic.  I guess my own battle with mental health became truly apparent after the birth of my first child who is now nearly 18. I went from being at the top of my career to feeling very much alone, not wanting to ask for help and thinking I was constantly getting it wrong.  It’s a long story but running helped and over the years I dabbled with photography, but of course never had enough time to devote to it. 

I set up Bramble and Beach just after lockdown which was a massive step as I think I was far too worried about being judged.  However, I took some encouragement from a friend and haven’t looked back. I studied the Open University course on Digital Photography and loved it. I realised it was all about the feedback and I was feeling like I was nearly ready to take my Licentiate distinction.  I still have so much to learn but that’s part of the challenge which keeps me on my feet. “

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“Recently, I’ve realised it’s something I NEED to do as it is part of how I look after myself.   It’s now at a point where I want to give back. I want to spread the message to as many people as I can that being out in nature and capturing it on camera can really make you feel better. 

Having kids myself, and seeing the pressures they, without really knowing, come under from social media is also something I’m passionate about and want to help change. Social media for youngsters, be that Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok, is all about the approval, the ‘likes’, based on looks in the majority of cases.  Wouldn’t it be good if we could get into their heads that there’s another way to express yourself.  Taking a photo of something cool and sharing that for the likes.  No ‘face smoothing’ filters but instead ‘here’s a pic of me drenched to the bone walking my dog and looking like absolute rubbish’ type of thing.  A new reality.

Photography really should be for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be about tech and fancy cameras, it’s always there on your phone and kids can then get really creative. There are so many benefits for them, being in the fresh air away from screens, getting exercise, learning a little about nature, capturing it in a creative way, and then sharing it and encouraging others.

I’ve only just started this journey and I’ve no idea where it will take me. I just know that I want to help in some way.  I’m a massive advocate of the ‘Photography for Everyone’ message and I’m excited to see what the future holds…”

 

I hope you enjoyed reading Claire’s insight into photography and mental health as much as I did.