PHOTOGRAPHY AS THERAPY

This month. PAUL SANDERS talks openly about his depression, and how he has used photography as a remedy About two years ago, while working at The Times I found myself in a strange situation. I didnknow whether I was coming or going. I couldn t sleep, I constantly worried about everything; I became paranoid and eventually fell apart. Basically I let my job and the massive responsibilities get on top of me and define my life and my personality. I battled with my job-struggled through the 17,000 images that came in every day, juggled the budgets and issues and somehow managed to produce visuals for one of the most well known newspapers in the world. What I ignored during these two years was my own wellbeing. After nearly two years of getting only two hours sleep a night and getting more depressed, I was signed off with depression. Depression in our field is —I was surprised to find —incredibly common. I was quite vocal about what I was suffering with and although not proud of the fact I fell apart in some style, I decided the only way I could come to terms with and get over the illness was to talk about it. But one of the most surprising things is what it did for my photography. I lost interest in everything in life —family, friends, cycling and at some points breathing, but the one thing that helped lift me was shooting pictures. It didnmatter what I was shooting or what with but photography is therapy, and as a therapy it really works. I found that by standing under the stars at night taking pictures when I couldnsleep allowed my head to gradually untangle and calm me down. I started to experiment with my images and express myself rather try and please people. I m not really known as a portrait photographer but I started shooting self portraits too. Itreally frightening when you really let yourself come through in a self portrait, it reveals so much truth about where you are as a person —Italking about the ones that we cheesily shoot of ourselves holding a big lens and mugging at our other camera as we press the cable release with our foot!  PHOTOGRAPHY AS THERAPYNo Italking about the kind that show our real personality, get up in the morning, put your tripod up and bang —somehow the images get under your skin, Inot at best in the morning but thatalways when I shoot my self portraits. The last one I did totally terrified me —and a few of my friends said I look totally mad, but it sums up beautifully where I was, and when my doctor saw it he immediately knew where I was at mentally. Amazing that photography can translate feelings I can t describe fully. Since being so vocal, and although not fully recovered by any measure, I have been contacted by dozens of photographers who are suffering in similar ways —some with severe depression others with anxiety. The amazing thing is the solidarity this illness brings to people who have suffered. It s not just a case of being told to "smile" or "chin up mate”but having someone who will listen and support, and strangely when you have depression you seem to be able to accommodate those who are suffering too. It s not easy to talk about it, really because of the stigma attached to mental illness. Some clients have seen my Twitter feed or my Facebook page where I have on occasion mentioned my depression or ranted about it-some have asked me about it others have asked me to talk to people who work for them. The biggest surprise though is the number of young photographers who are coming into our business and are suffering from depression. These talented people who will carry our craft forward should be excited by the challenges that lie ahead but many are suffering from the lack of guidance and help, not to mention the lack of work around at the minute. How many of you talk to other photographers in the area you work? Do any of you meet for a drink? Are you frightened that the wedding photographer down the road might steal a client or an idea? Does it really matter? I honestly don t think it does. I love meeting other photographers and chatting about images, gear and clients. It s therapeutic to know we all suffer in the same way. Sadly I was doing a job for a local school a week or so ago —a freebie —when another photographer turned up. I was introduced to them and the reaction I got was surprising, talk about hate filled eyes! This other photographer avoided me all evening and treated me like I was stealing their work. They weren t being paid either, after all we both have children at the school! Lifetoo short isn t it for that kind of pettiness, we should be supporting each other, feeding each other when possible with clients we can t service. To end with a funny tale of a client; I was asked to shoot a huge corporate event, nothing special in photography terms. After doing a couple of days I was approached by the organiser who politely explained to me that having seen the pictures on the screen I had shot he felt that one of his staff would be able to replicate my work, and therefore save money. Apparently my pictures were excellent but they had seen me work and learnt enough to continue alone. So I finished, sent my invoice and got paid too! Three days later: , erm how did you get the lighting right ours are all orange or green?" My answer to the client: "You are professional and an industry leader in your field, you have said that you think only people who are professionals and deliver the best should be employed to do a job because it is a false economy to use people of lesser ability.” "Yes,”replied my client? "Perhaps it s time to realise that people who take pictures for a Living are professional and that using your assistant to do my job is a false economy?" "Oh er yes, can you come back tomorrow and do the next ten days please?" Smile and kerching!

Comments are closed.