Photography has always been a skill that connects us: think Ansel Adams’ iconic black and white photographs capturing the beauty of the American landscape through sharp focus and full tonal range. Think Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ability to shoot the decisive moment. Think Steve McCurry’s intimate portraits, full color and riveting. Think Michael Kenna’s minimal landscapes achieved through long exposure that suggest other worlds outside the frame or Nick Brandt’s genius in creating images of African people and animals to tell a disturbing story of a vanishing world. These are personal favorites but they are a fraction of the hugely talented, creative, inspirational photographers who share their art and touch us deeply.
But what about the amateurs? People who take photographs to celebrate family, to remember a spring day, or to create something beautiful to go on the wall: people who photograph simply to feel joy. Nothing else would get me out of bed at 4am on a cold and misty English morning to tramp along the fields for the first beams of light. Photography connects me with other photographers. It makes me look outside myself and attend to whatever I am photographing. I can change lenses and get a different view – up close with a macro lens or the bigger picture with wide angle. I am always driven for the next shot, for a better picture, to learn more. Film photography along with developing and printing slows down the whole process and so amplifies the joy and the sense of accomplishment for me.
In the science of Positive Psychology well-being has five components: PERMA. Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. Each of these components are a path to well-being and photography can directly produce each one. Photography is fun, it absorbs us, it develops friendships and connections, it is deeply meaningful whether to capture your child’s first step, the Humpback whale breaching off the side of your boat, a fall morning mist or a political protest. And we all know the accomplishment we feel when we get the perfect shot.
Photography is a joy and a skill, an expression of who we are, and a connection to other people. It may be that when out shooting we can forget our worries, turn away from our insecurities, process our grief, but that is a byproduct of the process. It turns out that photography primarily builds happiness and wellbeing for us as artists. And then we get to share our art and spread the joy.