Feeling Images: Photography’s relationship with illness, mental health and well being symposium.

The featured image is Garden Gate by Sian Davey

This event gave space for powerful testimonies of creative interventions that spoke to and of mental health and wellbeing.

There were three themed blocks of presentations –

1.The photographer’s personal narratives.

Patrick Graham explored the creating a book, an object to look at that worked in opposition to the physical and emotional absence of his father; an absence that pervades. he presented a great film of looking at the book that I feel playfully dealt with the issues of presence, absence and absence-presence.

Heather Agyepong talked of the importance of specificity in her images, to show her experience rather than any idea of all black women. She talked of the role of the archive and he potential it has to enable different conversations to happen. I was reminded of the Poliakoff film ‘Shooting the Past’.

2. Photography and therapeutic collaboration.

Ruth Davey introduced her elegantly simple photography and mindfulness workshops; stop, look, look again, see and talked about being part of the Rising Women Rising World website.

I do wonder about the cultural notion of closure. what does closure mean and why is it the strive for ideal.

Tim A Shaw presented the growing work of the charity ‘Hospital Rooms’ I was particularly interested in ‘mural pro’ photographic quality wallpaper.

Clare Hewitt talked about viewer/viewed- watcher/watching. The grieving for a former self and a reflection of emotional responses rather than traditional documentary. The importance to talk about process and experimentation and that therapy brings new awareness of her compulsion to take particular images and repetition. She talked of being rather than doing- spending time before taking the picture standing in front of trees. I thought her definitions of ‘nature’ are interesting.

Sian Davey talked about her instinctual process- unformed in the heart and not always making sense, a partial knowledge. She said that when she was working she felt at her most well and that the camera is her transitional object. The work comes from the impact, the compulsion and that is its power.

A panel consisting of Shawn Sobers, Amanda Harman, Kathy Foote and Ameena Rojee and Tim Andrews discussed his project ‘Over the Hill’.  Shawn talked of his film Nothing Matters Everything Matters. Tim chose and initiated contact with the photographers he wanted to work with through an emotive response to their work. Tim discussed how he used the images to give himself back to himself following his Parkinson’s diagnosis. His curation role I felt expanded an idea rather than gave reductive narrative of him being identified with an illness and linked I felt to my PhD explorations of living with and alongside grief.

Photography and the idea of therapy.

Rosy Martin presented her and Jo Spence’s photo-therapy work, speaking of the co-counselling model – sitter/director, photographer/therapist and of performative re-enactment – becoming the other and exploring a multiplicity of identities whilst feeling is adequately held. How clothes can tell another star, performance of trying to look ok, of getting into the role and breaking it. She talked of how it is not a replication of distress but an opportunity to isolate a moment that sums up tensions/problematics in family discourse. Performing so many images and making an image that the other person wants. The different qualities of experience, the ease in front of the camera and the therapeutic gaze. She also talked of her project with older women libido uprising, I would love to be involved with that and the way that methodologies can be taken up and used.

I cited her in my thesis about living with the presence of absence. the images of her parents house really spoke to me of multiple absences and also the non-linear nature of grief and loss, walking with and alongside.

Tamany Baker- She spoke of a dialogue of meaning. Streams of meaning flowing among us, through us and between us – ‘On dialogue’ by Bohm, of transient beauty, White’s Narrative therapy, the re-enacting of identity following loss, Damasio. I wish I had taken, I wish I had. She talked of Freud on repetition – the smell of roses, a transitional object when dried and the book she created as a solid container for the unknown and unfathomable. I want to read her thesis and send her mine.

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