In April, I was thrilled to receive my copy of PhotoEd Magazine in the mail. Not only was one of my photographs featured on their contents page, but my photography was featured on a two page spread in the magazine. This is such a special issue, as it deals with mental health and using photography to heal. I feel humbled and honoured to have my Stroke of Emotions project included.
On May 1st, PhotoEd released the digital version of the magazine. Imagine my surprise and delight to discover that an expanded version of my article was included...six pages!
You can read their digital magazine at this link. I have linked it to start at my article, which is on page 80, but you can page through the whole magazine. You can change the view to full screen, and zoom in to make your reading easier.
Or, if you don't want to click away to another site, here is my written article in full:
"Sometimes I cry so hard
I think the tears will never stop. Sometimes I feel so tired I want
to lay my head down and sleep forever. Sometimes I feel absolutely
nothing and wonder if I will ever feel happy again."
I wrote those words when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and
vulnerable a few weeks after a devastating event in my family.
We all face challenges in life.
Sometimes life throws you a hard ball and knocks you off your feet.
Whether it's a health crisis, the loss of a job, the loss of a loved
one, or any other unpleasant surprise, we all have things we need to
cope with that stretch us beyond what we think we can bear. And if
you haven't face a serious problem yet, you will. Because life is
My husband had a major stroke in
2017 and his health crisis became my health story as well. He had
huge physical and mental challenges to overcome, and, as his life
partner and sole caregiver, I experienced a roller coaster of
feelings throughout his months of hospitalization and rehabilitation.
During those terrible weeks immediately after my husband's stroke, I
needed an outlet to deal with my emotions. I am an introvert at heart
and am not one to talk about my innermost thoughts with other people.
My "go to" hobby is
photography, but I had no time or inclination to head out with my
camera after a long day at the hospital. However, my hobby did become
a healing tool for me. In order to calm my mind and "voice"
my thoughts, I decided to use my library of photographs to create a
series of composited self portraits to portray my various feelings
Many people have heard of the
stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
My approach was to make a photo catalogue depicting my own stages and
feelings. The process I used was to photograph myself in the privacy
of my home, and then use images from my own library to create a world
from my imagination. Putting myself into the image made it more real
to me and helped me express my feelings visually.
There was one word uppermost in my
mind in the early weeks of our crisis and I sat down at my computer
one evening to try to put together an image that depicted that
feeling. I searched through my photographs for things that shouted
"devastation" to me. I decided to use an image of a clear
cut forest as the base. I purchased a "grain sack" type of
dress at our local second hand clothing store and got to work taking
self portraits in my bedroom.
My first composition was not pretty
but it helped me and throughout the months to come I continued the
process to create 14 images, refining things along the way. They were
all based on words that were personal to me and my experience -
"overwhelm", "denial", "depression",
"support", and "hope" to name a few. Ranging from
devastation to rejuvenation, they told my story and visually
described my healing journey.
This project helped me in different
ways. First, I acknowledged my own feelings and I had a way to
express them without having to put them into words. Second,
concentrating on learning the new-to-me skill of using layers and
masks forced me to concentrate on something other than feeling
completely helpless and overwhelmed.
Wikipedia describes journal therapy
as a writing therapy focusing on the writer's internal experiences,
thoughts and feelings. Somehow, using self portraits to express
myself seemed easier than trying to put my feelings into words. In my
experience, pictorialization was therapeutic and was much more
meaningful for me because I am a visual person.
During the creation of these
images, a project that I called "Stroke of Emotions", I
never intended to show them to anyone else. They were personal and
private, a visual representation of my own emotional journey.
However, the world works in mysterious ways and when I was wrapping
up my series a call came out for submissions to an exhibit called
Picturing Health, developed in partnership between ViewPoint Gallery
in Halifax and the Robert Pope Foundation. The project offered an
opportunity to use photographic imagery to explore the complex
relationship between wellness and creativity.
It seemed a sign to me that I was
meant to share my project and my experience. In a giant leap of
faith, I submitted the maximum images allowed, and all five were
selected for inclusion in the exhibit.
At the same time, I was contacted
by our local library and was asked to mount a solo exhibit. I
believed so strongly in the power of healing through art that I
decided to continue with the theme. Two of my favourite things to
photograph are birds and trees, so I created a new series of
composited images called "Roots + Wings". I believe trees
represent growth and strength, with roots to ground us in our
traditions. I see birds in flight as symbols of freedom, with the
power of dreams and life renewed. The images I created portrayed the
stages of emotional healing, from tragedy through restoration. This
time, I wrote verse to correspond with each image.
Dealing with devastating challenges
is life's equalizer. Terrible loss does
not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, national origin,
sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental ability, or any
other label. No matter who we
are, the healing process is not an easy road, nor is it a quick
straight line. It's a pilgrimage, sometimes rewarding, and often
difficult. I have had times of terrible grief and feelings of
complete helplessness, combined with a sense of guilt that I should
be a better person. There have been moments when my sadness has been
so great that it was a physical thing, squeezing my heart and
stealing my breath. I have had periods of self doubt so overwhelming
that I didn't think I could cope with the future. I didn't think I
would have the patience or ability to do what I needed to do, or be
who I needed to be.
Through it all, I have used
photography to help me cope.
I do still create self portraits
from time to time, but I have also trained myself to search for "real
life" scenes that speak to my soul. A solo robin singing on a
bare tree limb becomes "Song of Joy". An ant crawling up a
flower stem says "Journey". A boat hull with a red stripe
and black lines dripping with rain sparks a reference to anger and
sadness. Layers of sand represents the sands of time and a complex
life. The possibilities and photo opportunities are endless, even for
a person like me whose only photographic excursion is a daily dog
I continue to create images
inspired by emotions, but it is no longer my sole focus. I still feel
lost and afraid at times, and I probably always will. But I am
learning that other people feel that way too. I am also learning that
sharing is one of the most important tools in healing. As a visual
person, I share through my photography.
Mental Health, Photography + Healing