In November last year I was thrilled to learn I had won a PicFair Mind The Lens £2,000 award. I applied for the award because my project fitted the brief of exploring the link between photography and mental health, but I never expected to win, so I was very honoured to be among the finalists. The funding will be used to fund the research and production costs of my new book.
Through a Lens Brightly will examine the impact of photography on mood and wellbeing. It will investigate which aspects of photography convey the most significant mental health benefits, to whom, and why.
The first stage of the project was to carry out an anonymous survey of UK photographers, which consisted of a series of multiple-choice questions, followed by free text answers. The participants were asked about their own mental health and how much different photography-related activities improved their mood and wellbeing (or in a few cases, had a negative impact on it). The survey is now complete with over 600 responses from photographers of all ages and levels of skill. I also recorded a few in-depth interviews with those who kindly volunteered their time to take part.
In particular, the free text narratives are fascinating. I am very grateful to everyone who provided these detailed, honest, sometimes raw and emotional accounts of how photography helped them through times of trauma or crisis, supported meaningful life changes, or simply enhanced their existing quality of life.
The next stage is to analyse the data, which I have started to do. Since I don’t have a background in statistics, I have enlisted the help of a psychology PhD student who is helping me to make sense of the numbers and we are hoping to collaborate on a journal article based on the findings.
The book itself will present the results of the survey and will explore a series of themes relating to photography and wellbeing, supported by the individual narratives of the respondents. It will also draw on my personal experiences as an amateur photographer with a long-term mental health condition.
Taking up photography helped me to challenge my negative thoughts: that I was rubbish at art, too old to learn, and would be hopeless at anything that required technical skill. It also helped me to overcome my internalised belief that you have to excel at something in order to enjoy it. In celebration of this, I want to include my own photographs to illustrate the theme of each chapter.
I’ll look forward to updating you each month as the book progresses. In the meantime, the image above is of Llandudno Pier on a cold winter afternoon. I like the depth and darkness of the blues and the reminder that beauty is all around us regardless of the weather.