I’ve done this before. Not the global pandemic thing, but the using photography as therapy thing. I fell in love with photography when I was 14. It was days after my mom suddenly died that I realized the power of a photograph, and how we could learn so much about not only the subject in the photo, but the person behind the camera as well.
Back then, as a high school student, I spent all of my free time in the darkroom my father built for me. Photography helped me work through the grief and loss I was experiencing in those moments. And, it does the same thing for me to this day. In fact, I’ve built a career photographing weddings so that I could help capture memories for people. My whole life — since that moment of falling in love with the art of photography — has been about this idea.
But sometimes photos can help us create and capture memories in unexpected ways. For me, the act of photography — of being creative — can, in itself, be therapeutic. Here’s how my husband, Geoff, and I have been using photography as therapy during the current pandemic.
Photography helped us shift our focus.
We are now who knows how many days into this quarantine. Right now Geoff and I should be running full force into a busy wedding photography season. However, life took a different turn and here we are at home.
The first few days of being at home, we were consumed with watching the news, reading articles and mindless scrolling through social media. After a few days of that, Geoff and I knew we needed a project. Our kids are older now, and are in a “no photos please” stage, so that left our lovable 150 pound Great Danes, Clementine and Ringo.
The two of us decided that since our younger dog Ringo loves wearing clothes, (something we learned when he was a puppy from taking him to local baseball games and Penn State tailgates) our focus would be on him. I started a list on my phone with possible characters and outfits.
Starting our funny dog photos project shifted my attention from watching the news and scrolling social media to thinking about what I could create with what I have in my home right now. Since my budget was $0, I started cleaning out my closets, rummaging through old halloween costumes in the garage, and crafting little projects that would help us set the scene.
Taking amazing photos wasn’t the point here.
Let me interject here and say that I know the photos I am taking of Ringo aren’t the best photos I have ever taken, and I know they are not historically significant. I have these moments of feeling great pressure to write the next great best seller or take a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph during this collective pause we’re in, but all of that pressure combined with anxiety from what’s going on in the world — it was too much. So, the idea of doing something light and fun won.
We used our photography as therapy.
While we brainstormed ideas for our funny dog photos with Ringo, my husband and I would find ourselves laughing. Sometimes I’d laugh so hard I almost couldn’t press the shutter button because Ringo looked so adorable and hilarious in his outfit of the day.
We started sharing the photos — one a day — on my husband’s Instagram page, @walkymcwalkerson.
The act of curating ideas and outfits, and the challenge of sharing a photograph a day, is now something I look forward to. It allows me to feel creative in a time that is overwhelming otherwise.
These photos will remind us of this moment in time.
To me, what’s most important about this photo project is that when all of this is over and we return to our new normal, I will have this collection of funny dog photos that we created. It will be a reminder that in the hard times, I figured out a way to be strong, to stay creative, to continue to laugh. This will strengthen and encourage me for the next tough season in life.
Because, that is what photography is. It is memories and reminders of moments in time. And, that’s why a photograph is so powerful — even if it is a picture of a dog in a wig, sunglasses and a leather jacket.
“…I figured out a way to be strong, to stay creative, to continue to laugh.”
I want to challenge you to use what you have at home to think outside the box and create a set of photos just for you — just for the simple act of creating.
I remember taking a photography class when I was in high school, and the assignment was finding faces in everyday things. It’s a silly idea, but what it does is force you to look at things differently. I do this all the time at weddings. At this point in my career, I’ve seen a lot of wedding prep, so I find it useful to challenge myself to see it in another way. For example, I ask myself, “how can I see cake cutting differently?” This helps me push myself. And, who doesn’t love a good challenge!
So even if it feels silly to dress up your pet or take still life photos of objects around your home, it’s a practice that will pour itself into your later photography adventures. The point here is the act of being creative with no pressure. Give yourself permission to take photos you never plan to share, just for the joy of doing it. Or share with #clickmagazine so we can all follow along! You never know who you will make smile or inspire.
Photos by Alison Conklin