“Photography is a healing medium, methodically putting you in touch with what remains hidden.”
Photography is a powerful form of deep self-expression. If you want to use photography as a therapeutic tool, we have several suggestions to launch you in the right direction. We also do an in-depth review of the therapeutic nature of photography and personal readiness. An project example concludes the article.
Starting Your Journey – Artistic Choices for Photographers
Welcome to the first step in your personal healing journey. Photography reveals both the beauty within us, and what we do not want to experience or see. It is an exciting journey that requires some understanding of the options available to launch you in the right direction.
The method and medium you choose will help you express your mood and message. Consider the following:
- Analogue vs. Digital: You must first choose between analogue and digital camera formats. Each produces dramatically different results. In fact, this might be the most important decision you make. We prefer the analogue method due to the lack of control you have on the final image; unpredictable aberrations add to the creative process. Fainally, do not spend a ton of money when choosing the camera for your art.
- Film Type: If you are choosing the analogue method, you then must decide on the film type. You will shoot in either 120 or 35mm formats. You also have an option to shoot Polaroid. From there the speed of your film is important, ranging from 100 ISO to 3200.
- JPG vs. RAW: For the digital process, you will commit to either working with standard JPG or RAW. Shooting in RAW strips all enhancements from the image (sharpening, vibrance, etc.). The data remains in the image. In post, you use a workflow solution such as Adobe Lightroom to pull out the elements you desire. This is ultimate control of the final product. On the other hand, JPG images generally are already processed once taken. However, you can easily make changes in Lightroom if you desire.
- Screen vs. Print: In modern photography, artists produce work ready for the screen. These images are shared on Instagram, Behance, or Saatchi. We strongly suggest that you have the best of your images printed on paper. There are a multitude of services available to do this. You will experience your images in a very different way once you hold them in your hand.
The Therapeutic Nature of Photography
At this point, you have made several critical choices for expressing your personal journey. However, before you wade in too far, it is important to understand why we recommend making photos as a helpful part of emotional healing.
Therapeutic photography is easily the most effective approach for working through trauma, especially trauma experienced in childhood. Articulating complicated emotions and painful memories is healing. Photography allows us to reveal those emotional experiences throughout the picture taking process in a methodical and decisive way.
Each photo you take requires that you commit to the purpose of the image, what/who goes into the frame, the focal point, and changes in post process for maximum impact. In order to do this successfully, you must slow down in order to make creative decisions. This, ‘slowing down,’ allows for a measured form of catharsis while the subconscious is revealed in the image.
Finally, the nature of taking a photograph lends itself to the process of containment also seen in psychotherapy. The methodical nature of taking a photo is a powerful form of emotional containment. It allows the individual to experience an emotion in measured fashion without being consumed. Any therapeutic endeavour must never re-traumatize the individual.
Tickling The Dragon – Personal Readiness Assessment
You have decided to put together a photography project, and/or photo essay, for personal healing. Awesome! There is one other step to consider before the official launch – This is a good time to evaluate your sense of readiness for doing this work.
Dr. John Briere, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the Keck School of Medicine, talks about, ‘tickling the dragon,’ a period in therapy where the individual approaches childhood trauma with both curiosity and trepidation. In the end, the individual must commit to the therapeutic process.
It is important that you take personal inventory and decide if you are ready to take this important step. It is absolutely acceptable if you decide that this is a project for the future and not now. Also, regardless of your level of readiness, it is strongly advised that you see a therapist while you consider doing this work, especially if you have a history of self-harm or suicidal ideation.
Self-Monitoring (When to Pause)
Once your photo making project has launched, knowing when to step back and pause is an important skill. Your ability to monitor complicated emotions, especially those in conflict, is a skill that takes practice. We suggest that you plan regular intervals to reflect. Be able to label how you are doing. Is the work inappropriately affecting other parts of your life? If so, slow down the process. Discus how you are feeling with your therapist.
Sharing with Others – Is there Added Value?
Once your project is complete, you will decide if your work is viewable to others. The rawness of expression in any art form is difficult to explain. Will others fully understand? Do they need to? Give yourself permission to keep your images private. If there is no therapeutic value added in sharing, you don’t have to share at all.
Photo Project: Healing from Sexual Trauma
Following is a series of five images using two different analogue cameras, 120 and peel apart film, a scanner, and Adobe Lightroom for final rendering. The project committed to making a series of black and white images describing the complicated emotions associated with childhood sexual trauma.
While the project itself elicited many layers of difficult feelings, it was experienced as very healing for the author. The dark, sometimes frightening images, reveal the powerful potential of therapeutic photography.