Analog [dis?]ability: photography as a tool for healing – by Scott Hays
Every time we pick up our cameras we probably take them for granted. We throw that camera bag over our shoulder, hop in the car, or hit the streets and when we get to our destination we focus on our subject (literally and figuratively), before starting to shoot. At the end of the day, we return home and either process our negatives or download our images.
Take a couple of minutes to go to your camera gear and get it ready with one hand.
Come on, don’t cheat.
Just use one hand, maybe squint your eyes to the point you can’t focus anymore and then go out and shoot. Maybe not being able to use your legs at all is a test you can put yourself through while you’re at it.
Ability as a given
What we do as photographers, professional, amateur or just everyday-shoot-for-the-fun-of-it-folks, what we do is taken for granted. A lot of us don’t realize how therapeutic it is both mentally and physically. Our biggest challenge is finding that perfect location to get that perfect shot.
About 20 years ago: through no fault of my own, I started to lose the nerve function in a large portion of all four of my limbs. Since that time, it has made it extremely difficult to walk to where I would like to and at times, even holding a camera is challenging.
I still shoot film and as ironic as it may sound, with the lack of feeling I have in my fingers I somehow still manage to load sheet film and not screw up…well, not too many times.
Photography has been a major part of my life for 40 years now. When I got to the point where I felt I was going to have to give it up the depression I was already experiencing just dropped me through the floor. I won’t go into details, but there was another Veteran of the Armed Forces who helped me see how much photography had done for me in life.; how there were so many ways I could adapt and still shoot. This was in 2001 when support for Veterans was pretty much non-existent. It was Vet helping Vet.
Today I am fortunate enough to know what my limitations are but there are very few things that stop me from getting out and shooting.
Photography as a therapeutic tool
Photography has the ability to provide therapy to anyone, not just veterans but anyone who suffers from PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the loss of a limb, different levels of blindness; and those who find themselves in wheelchairs – I’ve checked a couple of boxes on that list myself.
A person who has suddenly found themselves entering a new chapter in their life; or someone who has never known anything different, anyone can benefit. While we tend to often think of people with physical challenges there are so many others that can benefit as well.
Here is a very short list of photographers that have found themselves with challenges:
Most of us know Dorothea Lange from the Depression Era Photography had Polio as a child. It deformed her leg and made walking extremely painful. If you just look at her work, she did just a bit of walking in her career. She was self-conscious about it her entire life and was even angry about it. However, she did not let it stop her from pursuing her passion.
Josef an architect before World War I started. By the end of the war he had lost his arm. When he came back he took up one of his passions, photography. Remember that at that time it was pretty much all large format film. Sudek more or less worked alone. Loading his own film, shooting, developing… Remember, large format and just one arm.
Jaleel a current photographer, who at the age of 8 was shot in the back with a shotgun. Now around the age of 40 he is an incredibly successful wedding/street/still life photographer. He didn’t know what he was going to do with his life until at about the age of 18, someone handed him a camera and said, “here, give this a try…” He started with film.
Mikel is partially sighted but is still considered legally blind. His vision is impaired to the point where he would not be able to see the expression on your face if you were standing in front of him. Yet you can find him on the street shooting images of skateboarders that would just blow you away. He also photographs dancers with movement involved.
There are other photographers without any sight at all that use all their other senses to help them. Not being blind myself, this ability just blows my mind. I understand the theory but I am just in awe. They are able to hear the sounds bouncing off of buildings or other structures to have an idea of where to point their lens.
Yes: they need assistance with post-processing and getting to their location, but think of the ultimate freedom photography is giving them.
I have seen a gentleman who has lost complete control of his hands and ability to walk. Photography was and still is his love. However the disease he has completely took away his ability to hold a camera. His occupational therapist helped rig his wheelchair so his iPad fits between his legs and his iPhone fits into a specially designed holder that fits onto the arm of his wheelchair.
He points his iPhone at the object to be photographed and then he uses his iPad to take the picture where it saves the file. With Wi-Fi the images can be transferred to his laptop or desktop immediately. Because of the way it is designed, even with the limited use of his hands he can still set it up and work it on his own.
There is not a reason that someone cannot enjoy photography as a hobby or for therapy. As photographers, I almost feel we have an obligation to help others experience this wonderful world we so often take for granted. (Did you know that a lot of people with Traumatic Brain Injury cannot recall where they have been with their children or families? Imagine giving them that little bit of knowledge so they can take those pictures to help them remember certain events).
I hope to write more on the subject as to how we can help other people. How photography helps, how different challenges can be overcome. Folks: there isn’t a reason almost everyone can’t be out shooting and creating their own memories.
You might be amazed at how much your own photography will improve when you start sharing your knowledge with someone that might benefit in more ways than one.
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