Therapeutic Photography

What and why Therapeutic Photography

While I was researching about the therapeutic benefits of photography I came across a lot of information online. I’ve discovered that in 2018, researcher at Lancaster University found that taking a daily photo improved wellbeing through: 

  • self-care
  • community, group interaction
  • the potential for reminiscing about past events

The act of taking a moment to be mindful while looking for something unusual or different in the day to photograph were also seen as positive well-being benefits of this practice. 

There are more and more community groups around the world that are focusing on using art therapy and now specifically photography to overcome, emotional and physical traumas, and mental health issues.

  • Art, no matter what form we use, allows to express our feelings in a symbolic manner
  • Helps to bring focus to positive life experiences, relieving the preoccupation with illness
  • It offers the opportunity to demonstrate continuity and achievement. It challenges and enhances our self-worth
  • Art reduces stress by lowering levels of the cortisol, the stress hormone
  • It helps to escape intense emotions by shifting the focus of our mind into the act of doing something creative that requires attention
  • Creative self-expression can contribute in reconstructing a more positive identity of ourself   

Photography can be a form of presence (present state awareness) very similar to meditation. Often when you’re taking photos, you can find yourself in the “flow”and totally focused in the moment, which is calming for the mind and provides relief from stress.

Art helps people to express experiences that are too difficult or painful to put into words. 

Creating beautiful photos, sharing them and getting positive feed-back from others all contribute in building confidence in ourselves, and with time, puts you in touch with your own inner power which helps you become more comfortable expressing your thoughts and stories with others.

A person’s perspective on themselves and the world can be gradually explored and changed through the process of taking photographs, analysing them and discussing with others. 

These days, Neuroplasticity is showing us that our brain has the ability to change constantly throughout our lives and grow new connections between neurones the whole time. This means that we can change the old neuropaths of behaviour by adopting new behaviours, yes as simple as that!

People are now using therapeutic photography techniques to help themselves and others overcome depression, anxiety, chronic pain and much more. 

I have use it unconsciously at first but as soon as I noticed the powerful healing effects that generated in me, this creative passion became one of the healing tools  I practice every time I feel the need for it because it has helped me so much and in so many ways. 

I now would love to share it with you during our very special Metamorphosis Retreat. 

The Prison in my Mind

How I found freedom from my own prison

Who would have thought at age fourteen that photography would have become not only a passion I would have carried with me for the rest of my life, but also a profound healing  tool that would have helped me to get through the tough times!

My upbringing was lacking of love and understanding and I was living a very sad life in my family home, childhood and youth were all frustrating years were I felt totally misunderstood and oppressed. 

It is not surprising that discovering photography was liberating!  It was something that allowed me to focus externally instead of feeling trapped in a life I did not like; it gave me the opportunity to see and create worlds that nobody else in my family was able to notice or appreciate. My journey started the moment I picked up the first camera, a cheap model that my parents had used to take photos at birthdays, holidays and other special occasions. I wasn’t allowed to use it much because being a working class family we didn’t have lots of money to spend in things that were not a necessity like photographs.

Nothing or nobody could stop though my growing interest in this medium and eventually the first camera I bought with my own saving became my best friend and the faithful companion that never let me down and was always with me whenever I needed it, always ready to join me in all my life adventures at home and around the world. 

The realisation of the healing effects that photography had on me came about only two and a half years ago. A painful marriage break up and a passionate almost obsessive story with a new lover, having to start all over on my own with almost nothing were the major catalysts for the biggest changes to unfold on both personal and creative levels.

The strong emotions I was experiencing, ecstatic moments followed by deep misery and the beautiful and the ugly that life was forcing me to confront helped me to grow stronger and bolder, filling me with the courage to explore my photographic work and style in a different way. I shifted from simply taking pretty pictures to actually telling stories of my real life trough the photos I was creating. These new way of working was open, real, bold, and yet beautiful, sensual and feminine and intimate like it has never been before even though the visual stories were expressing my pain and struggles. I am fundamentally someone who likes to find the beauty in everything, because I know it is always there, no matter what our mind tell us or what kind of experiences we are facing every moment. 

I began to create images that were true to myself not for others to like but for me to express what was going on in my body and mind. It was the beginning of a magical visual journal a beautiful collection of stories depicting my emotional, physical  and mental struggles.

While doing so I began to realise the positive benefits that such process was having on me. It was helping to release whatever was going on inside my head and body transforming my suffering into a valuable learning experience and a tremendous growth as a spiritual and emotional being. It helped me overcome physical illness, despair, depression, anger and especially FEAR!!

The more I did it, the better I got.

This way of working has taught  me that all my struggles can be positively transformed the moment I start thinking how to express them in a picture. 

The process of writing it down, using my mind in a creative way to visualise, sketch and plan how I am going to translate that story visually is always followed by a self-portrait session. Placing myself in front of a camera, acting out my feelings, is also an essential part of the healing for me. These creative activities seem to dissipate the initial intensity of pain, discomfort and any other negative energy attached to each particular experience. 

The second stage happens during the editing process. Here I get another opportunity to further explore the emotions that I may still feel inside and breath them out onto the photo, adding all the final touches that turn each picture in what I see as a piece of “healing art”.  The different layers of emotional or physical disturbances are transferred into the many layers added to the image during post-process work.

This is never quick and sometime can take months to be completed. It cannot be hurried as it has its own natural flow and each issue needs its own time to heal and be shifted but nevertheless it works wonders for me. 

After realising the healing effects photographing in this way had on me, I began searching online for more information on this topic  but at that particular time I couldn’t find anything that was answering my questions and so forgot about it for a while.

A few weeks ago, in preparation for a retreat I am organising, in which I want to use photography as a form of supportive therapy with women in Menopause, I finally came across a lot more information. I discovered and watched Bryce Evans’s video on Ted talks, where he tells how photography saved his life. The video lead me to “The One Project” website and before I knew it I was in it with heart and soul. The One Project is now giving me the opportunity to find lots of the answers I was searching for together with the opportunity to explore areas of therapeutic photography I didn’t before along my personal self-discovery journey.

So thank you Bryce, for creating such a precious community space where lots of people can find healing and support along their journeys.

AMA a short film by Julie Gautier

A friend sent me the link for this short film on you tube.

So after a long and challenging working weekend, this morning I watched it.

It is so BEAUTIFUL, so touching that I felt my heart opening, love flowing around my body and before I knew it, tears were running down my cheeks. 

It was not sadness, it was pure joy for the beauty, the emotions and the feelings that the film stirred in me.

It is a tribute to all women around the world and a very personal project of film maker Julie Gautier.

With this film, as she says in an interview, she wanted to put an emotion, an ordeal, a story that would have acted as a trigger for sharing emotions.

She wanted the audience to identify with the movie by transposing their own stories, that is why she used dance and didn’t want to use words.

Each time I come across a stunning creative project such as this one, I know in the depth of my heart and soul that I want to do the same. I want to be part of beautiful, meaningful and heartfelt creative projects together with lots of other people.

Art is something that help us to connect directly and quickly with our hearts. 

This connection will help us grow into more loving and compassionate beings. Love and compassion are healing tools for us on an individual level and consequently for the world. 

This is what I want to offer with the Metamorphosis Retreat. I would like to share my own creative story and inspire you to find and create yours, without words, just using a visual language, a photo.

No, I won’t make you dance under water holding your breath…… we will be on dry land, in the beautiful atmosphere that Space108 offers. 

I look forward to see you at the Metamorphosis Retreat and witness you in the process of creating your story!

Creative blessings

Hanisa Valentino

(yours Holistic Fine Art Photographer)

Using Format