Photograph by Erica
by CJ Stone
Lockdown has been weird.
I mean that in both senses of the word. “Weird” meaning “odd, strange, disturbingly different”; but also in its older sense, from the Old English “wyrd”, meaning “fate, chance, fortune, destiny;” from the Indo-European root “wer”, “to turn, to become”. I’ll explain this later.
I’m sure I’m not the only one to have suffered feelings of loss and anxiety during this period of enforced isolation. Sometimes those feelings have got on top of me. There have been many days, particularly during the second lockdown, when I have been entirely unable to take hold of my day, to do anything useful or even pleasant with it.
A number of evenings have found me still sitting in my dressing gown, eating snacks instead of a proper meal, searching Netflix or the Beeb for something to take my mind off my frustration.
The problem is motivation, isn’t it? How do you find the energy to get up and get dressed, when every day is the same? The same bad news on TV. The same four walls closing in on you. The same grey clouds in the same deadened sky. The same repetitive thoughts chasing themselves through your brain.
But there have been good days too.
Three things that have kept me steady throughout this whole strange year have been walking, nature, and meditation, so I’m pleased to have discovered a workshop that combines all three. With one additional element too: photography.
Gerry has a background in photojournalism, documentary photography and social and community work.
One Frame at a Time describes itself as a mindful photography workshop. As it says in the blurb: “Mindful photography is creating a space, allowing you with your camera/phone to live in the moment, slow down, take notice and capture small details.”
People will probably know the mindfulness movement as the secular wing of Buddhism. It is Buddhist practice without having to understand the philosophy. You don’t have to believe in the religion to be mindful, you just have to meditate. And you don’t have to sit still to meditate either: you can walk, you can look, you can take photographs. All that is required is that you remain fully conscious of what you are doing as you are doing it.
A measure of the health benefits of mindfulness is that the NHS website devotes a page to it. As it says: “It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. Paying more attention to the present moment — to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you — can improve your mental wellbeing.”
That means being aware in the moment: stopping, taking time, breathing, listening to your own heartbeat, and then taking in what the world has to offer, right now, as the present moment unfolds before your wondering eyes.
With mindful photography, you use the camera as an aid to that task.
As mindful photography practitioner Ruth Davey says: “Mindful photography is using our sight and the lens of a camera or smartphone as an anchor to help us become more consciously aware of the present moment. It is experiencing the process of creating photographs in a non-judgmental, compassionate way.” It can help us to “slow down, look, and look again… learn to see your life, your work and your world with fresh eyes. Everything can be seen from a different perspective.”
Of course, you can do this by yourself. What the workshops do is to provide you with a framework, a support group, a structure and a goal for this process.
There will be an exhibition in June where the photographs will be displayed.
As Gerry says, the workshop is “designed to give you creative support, to build resilience in times of uncertainty and change.”
The workshops are a positive way to help deal with the stress and challenges of lockdown.
You don’t have to be a photographer to join. You don’t even need to own a camera. Your smartphone or tablet will do. The only other equipment you will need is a notebook and a pen.
Following are a set of photographs from the first workshop:
The workshops run for four weeks, with activities and weekly creative tasks set out for the participants. Email: email@example.com for more information. The next workshop starts Sat 5th June 2021 10am-12pm. Funded places available for CT5 residents wanting wellbeing support. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. All workshops take place on Zoom. Details will be sent to you once you are enrolled on the course.
12 places are available. Six will be funded through Cafe Revival’s Ways to Wellbeing campaign. The rest will cost £120 (£60 concessions).
The course is available to local residents interested in exploring mindful photography as a new or different way to support their wellbeing. This will allow Revival to assess the impact and evaluate the course with a view to securing future funding for the programme.
If you would like to be part of the campaign and participate in the course, please write to this email: email@example.com. Please include a little information about yourself and where you heard about the course.
As I said at the start: lockdown has been weird. It’s been like a test, of our resilience and our reserves. In this sense, it is like fate. Fate may be inevitable, but our reaction to it is not. We can choose to be conscious. We can choose to be aware. By being fully aware in the moment, we can alter our behaviour. In this way we can change our fate.
The world is not an object. Life is not a thing. We are not passive spectators in an abstract endeavour, we are participants in an adventure.
As the Grateful Dead put it all those years ago:
Wake up to find out That you are the eyes of the world The heart has its beaches Its homeland and thoughts of its own Wake now, discover that you Are the song that the morning brings The heart has its seasons Its evenings and songs of its own
“Spotted some interesting things on today’s walk which I might have missed prior to the course.”
“Really enjoyed the session.”
“I’m noticing small details now.”
“The course is fantastic and has taught me to slow down in life and be more aware of what’s around me in the now.”
“I just wanted to say how much I am enjoying this course. I’m learning so much from everybody. It’s very inspiring and really makes me think before I press that button. I will really miss the group.”
Training as a photojournalist, I started recording political protests in London in the 1990’s. I spent 18 months volunteering with CWERC, an NGO in the Philippines, recording the lives of indigenous women for an audio-visual ‘Weaving our own Dreams’. I moved on to New Zealand for 4 years working for newspapers. On returning to London I organised a collaborative project with people with mental health problems to produce ‘Through the Lens’ documentary photography exhibition.
My MA research in 2010 resulted in a book ‘Shades of Other Lives’, a series of windows at night, developed in reference to Labour Party comments that “We are all middle class now”. In 2011-2012, I spent 10 months in Greece, Cape Town and New Zealand working on documentary projects. Recent community projects are ‘Our Work of Art 2018-2019’. I have an NUJ Photojournalist Press Card and am currently discussing new ideas and collaborations.
I studied at Leicester University, the London College of Communication and the University for the Creative Arts.
I have extensive solo and group exhibition experience including the British Museums landmark exhibition “Rice and Life in the Philippines”. My work has been published in newspapers, books and magazines and is held in private collections.
Photo by Glen London
To see more of Gerry’s work, please go to: https://www.gerryatkinson.com/
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