Camera Therapy

February 27, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Camera Therapy is an essential part of my health routine.

I first became aware of the therapeutic effects of photography when I was traveling the West along the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition. I had drafted a novel about the expedition and was revising it as I drove back roads along the Missouri and Columbia Rivers, trying to see at least some of the landscape as the explorers had seen it. I was also taking a lot of photos.

Photography was an important but rarely indulged hobby at the time. It was the stage of my career when I was working at unpleasant and non-photographic jobs to save enough money to retire and do what I'm doing now, traveling and photographing the world I see. I had taken a leave of absence to work on the Lewis and Clark novel.

One afternoon I was walking through a campground in a meadow near Helena, Montana. Wind howled across the treeless landscape and the sun played dodge 'em with fluffy clouds, alternately lighting and shading the craggy mountaintops surrounding me. A pair of mule deer grazed at the edge of the meadow.

I was carrying my camera and trying to capture the scenery, and not doing a very good job of it, but I was suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of perfect bliss. For the first time in a long time, I felt complete, like I was who I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to do, where I was supposed to do it.

At the time, I attributed this to the whole experience I was engaged in, traveling, writing, exploring new things, learning and absorbing all of this experience into my core existence. Photography was just part of it. The last time I had felt that way was when I was hiking the Appalachian Trail with my camera in 1982.

It didn't occur to me until later that the camera was the reason for that bliss. When I began to approach retirement a few years ago and knew that I would soon have the opportunity to fulfill this long time photography dream, I began spending as much of my free time as I could out shooting or toiling away at the computer trying to perfect my images. It was a stressful time. Big changes were happening in my life -- divorce, kids leaving the nest, and the stress of continuing to work in a job that grew more boring and less fulfilling day by day.

And that's when I realized that the time I was putting in with the camera was more than just practice. The process of finding and photographing local birds and wildlife was exposing something else: me. The person who had to hide in someone else at work came out jubilantly when I picked up the camera and went walking. I was fully me again.

Then a few months ago, I discovered why it works like that, when I came across Carl Jung's explanation for the difference between the conscious and the unconscious minds. The conscious mind, he said, can be trained. The untrainable unconscious mind belongs to the collective unconscious, which Jung felt was the same in everyone. Much of Jungian psychology revolves around finding one's unconscious.

And there it was. My conscious mind deals with all the technical aspects of photography, which have always been easy for me for some reason. Camera controls, exposure, focal lengths, white balance, all those numbers things I get because I trained myself to get them.

The rest of it, from pre-visualizing the image to finally presenting it, come from the unconscious. Art works when it comes authentically from the unconscious. The receptive viewer sees a work of art not only consciously, but also unconsciously, and in that moment connects with the artist's unconscious and feels the collective unconscious.

At least that's how I think Jung would explain it.

I explain it this way: In order to make photographs, my conscious and subconscious minds have to get along. They have to communicate, collaborate and cooperate. There has to be harmony within the space between my ears and between the head and the heart.

And photography is one of the few activities where this happens. The rest of the time the conscious and unconscious are fighting like little children, and sometimes all you can do is put them in time out and shut the door. But when I can, I gather the cameras and the backpack and the tripod and head to the nearest refuge for fresh air and communion with true nature -- both the world's and my own.

That's camera therapy. Maybe I can get my health insurance to cover the cost of my next big lens.







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