A number of years ago, I lost someone dear to me to suicide. Two years after that, I lost my dad very suddenly to leukemia. As a result of both events, I was diagnosed with PTSD a year later and fell into a period of severe depression.
I still deal with depression even now – I don’t know if it will truly go away for me. I’m definitely better than I was 15 years ago when it first started. One way to address anxiety and depression is the concept of mindfulness – the ability to be fully present in the moment, and not let our “automatic” responses (anxiety, panic, etc.) take over.
Mindfulness can be practised in a number of ways – the most obvious form is meditation. It sounds easy, but is actually quite difficult and I never really got the hang of it. The closest I come to some kind of meditation is when I work out. For me, focusing on my breath as I lift weights allows me to be in the moment.
Sadly, I haven’t worked out in months – it just hasn’t fit into my schedule. But it has occurred to me that photography is a form of meditation. At the very least, it’s a way to for me to focus on what I’m doing at that moment. This connection isn’t anything new – many people do regard photography (or almost any other hobby) as a way to cultivate good mental health.
As the linked article says, going out to make photographs involves mental discipline. As a street photographer, I’m definitely in the present moment when I’m shooting, looking for interesting shots around my environment and focusing my attention on what I’m doing. And of course, the physical benefits of going on a walk and getting fresh air are an added bonus.
Capturing very precise moments is incredibly satisfying in street photography. In the featured image at the top of this post, I had planned the shot in my mind several days before. I had taken a similar shot of people from the waist up on a crowded train, but thought it might be more interesting to show how impersonal my daily commute can be if I showed people without their faces. I tried to get this at many subway stations, but had to find just the right one where it was crowded enough to execute my idea. (All images in this post taken with Fujifilm X100F.)
One of the best things about street photography is that I can do it any time. I don’t necessarily have to plan to bring extra equipment with me, or even plan to wait for a particular time of day to shoot. If I feel restless, going out to shoot can help me channel my energy.
Depression is hard thing to manage. But in recent years, I’m encouraged that more and more people are talking/writing about their experiences. Our crazy 24/7 world where hardly a moment goes by when we’re not connected in some way to technology, and allowing stress to take over us, it’s not surprising that it’s taking a toll on our mental health.
So if photography as a hobby is a healthy thing for mental well-being, then it’s an even more worthwhile pursuit.