Photography For Teaching And Therapy

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While photography is typically thought of as a communication medium in and of itself, there are two other purposes I have used it effectively for. One is phototherapy and the other is for teaching.

Chris wrote about phototherapy in his DSLR (digital SLR) blog, about how he de-stresses by taking his camera and going out to a park to shoot a few pics. I suppose part of it is the outdoors part, smell freshing air when you’ve been cooped up in the office at work or even at home. When I lived in Ottawa (Canada’s capital) in early 1982, I used to go out regularly, early on Saturday or Sunday mornings to shoot the sun rising over the two graveyards near by. As it was winter, and Ottawa was nasty cold back then, I’d have to put on 4 or 5 layers of clothes – but you just can’t take pics with mitts or gloves on.

Nevertheless, no matter how much I was shivering, with fingers freezing, at the end of a session, I always felt good afterwards. I particular find that shooting waterfalls, rivers, and trees to be highly relaxing.

The problem for me, though, is that I have a crazy relationship with photography. I’ve always considered myself a writer, but I’d rather have been a photographer. (There’s just somthing so invigorating about communicating with photography.) It just never works out that way for me. I keep buying cameras and keep getting into situations where I either have to sell them, or end up leaving them behind. (I left 3 hard-body nikons/ pentax, 1 olympus digital, and sony digital camcorder behind in Atlanta, Georgia in September 2000. I haven’t been able to recover from here in Canada.)

I think I know why I have this problem with cameras, and it has to do with guilt. I was brought up to seek a “respectable” profession. While I can justify writing as a career via technical writing and project management, photography is always, in my guilty mind, a creative endeavour – something that is frowned up from my cultural background as far as a career goes.

But what I have done in the past to assuage myself of this guilt is to make sure that I nuture the photography bug in other people. In early 1991, I returned to my “home” town from the big smoke (Toronto) to finish my university degree that I’d skipped out on a few years previous. Later that year, I volunteered as a math tutor at my old high school.

Two male students were assigned to me. One ended up in juvie for something he did. The other one spent a bit of time with me. I could tell that he was rather intelligent, but he had trouble with math. When I met him a year ago, 13 years since I’d last seen him, he told me that he had later found out he had attention deficit disorder (ADD). But neither of us knew this back then.

Since traditional tutoring didn’t help, I asked him what he had an interest in. Way back in the 1970s (I think), there was a TV sitcom called WKRP in Cincinnati. If my memory doesn’t fail me, one of the DJs, known as Venus Flytrap, was asked to teach science to a high school kids from low-income families – kids who for obvious reasons didn’t always feel that they could learn. He used the paradigm of gangs and territories to teach them about atoms, electrons, and protons. It’s fiction, of course, but it worked.

Inspired by that, and always looking for an opportunity to teach in that manner (my father is a retired mathematics professor), I asked my young friend what interested him. For him it was photography. Fortunately, I was volunteering at the local university’s student newspaper, both as a writer and photographer. Inspiration struck me, and I took him under my wing as my photo apprentice (I’m the perpetual “amateur professional” photographer).

I taught him math via lens apertures and focal lengths. And it worked. Sort of. He still had the undiscovered ADD issue, but he did do better in class, and enjoyed doing photography work with me besides. I also managed to teach him how to process black and white film and to make prints – the latter being another application of mathematics.

So for me, photography is more than a means of communication. It is a creative outlet, a teaching tool, and a therapeutic device.

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