Me and My Camera by Sarah Dunwood
It is not a secret that I struggle with my mental health at times. The last few years have been a struggle, with physical health and a highly stressful career impacting significantly on my general sense of well-being.
I have had a camera in my hands since my early teens, taught by my Dad and benefiting from his generous trust in letting me use his highly prized camera gear. Over many years I’ve taught myself to master the camera as a tool to help me capture people and places and I take a lot of pride in the moments I freeze in time.
For many years, I kept a ‘photo a day’ online journal on the site Blipfoto and the act of taking at least one picture a day, along with writing a journal entry, was a key part of who I was and it enabled me to share my life with others, rant about things that were getting on my wick and be supported through some tough times. However, over time, I began to lose my discipline with it because the balance of my life shifted significantly towards work and the things I loved doing took a back seat. With the benefit of hindsight, I can track my slow decline into depression back to somewhere around this time – it wasn’t that the lack of daily photography caused my mental health to deteriorate, but it was a clear symptom of my life being out of balance and should have been an alarm bell that I wasn’t giving myself time to be creative, to relax and to be me.
A few years later and my life has changed considerably. I’m still processing the changes and what they mean for me; I’m still trying to rediscover the person that’s been suppressed and to cut a new path for myself. But, one thing that I have done is reconnected with my camera on a daily basis, not just for work but also for myself.
My camera is a fairly constant companion now. It is a rare occasion that sees me without it and even then, I’ll still be using the camera on my phone if I see something that I know I have to capture. I’m regularly jumping into the car to chase down a sunset and capture it in camera, but the act of taking the photos isn’t the thing that drives me. When I’m heading off to a sunset, I’m usually going to one of my favourite places – Another Place at Crosby Beach – which is somewhere where I feel a deep connection to my grandparents and my childhood. It’s somewhere I go to when I’m feeling sad or low and it grounds me to be there. I’ll walk along the beach or the promenade and give myself time and breathing space, to process the noise in my head, whilst watching the light change moment by moment over the estuary. It’s also a place where I have discovered that people are lovely; I’ve had so many chats with random strangers about so many different things and those interactions, with people that I may never meet again, more often than not leave me feeling joyful, connected and positive. Those encounters would not happen if I were not a photographer – there is something about the camera that quite often makes me people stop and ask a question and opens the door to that human connection.
In a different way, when I’m working with people, capturing portraits or some sort of event, there’s another impact, which is less ‘in the moment’ and has a lasting impact. It makes me deeply happy and very proud to capture people in my camera and for them to share their pleasure with me that they are happy with the picture. It’s not so much about receiving praise, although that’s good for the soul too, but more about knowing that I’ve made someone happy in some small way and that feeling will keep coming back to them every time they see that photo. To know that I have had a positive impact on someone else makes me feel good too – over time, lots of small moments like these build to fill some of the gaps in my self confidence and to salve the bruises that still linger from some of ‘bad stuff’ that has happened in the last few years.
My photography motivates me to get outside, to look up and look around, to be more present and observe what’s happening around me and to see things in different ways. It is a way for me to be seen and heard that isn’t about me as a person, but me as someone who is innately creative and who has something to share with others. It ensures I’m active, physically and mentally, and beyond the camera it challenges me to continuously develop my skills in other areas, so I’m always learning.
I achieve something every day, because of my photography. It’s not driven by targets and appraisal, but by the desire to share what I see and to do what I want to do. The impact on my sense of self and purpose has been huge since I allowed myself the time and space to pick up the camera again.