Photographer, Trainer, Facilitator, Coach, Project manager, Creative thinker, Collaborator, Founder of Look Again, Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts and Mother.
So Ruth, in the age of the selfie and dare we say it – a little self absorption with social media – how can photography help with mindfulness?
Mindfulness helps people become more self-aware, feel calmer and less stressed and be kinder towards oneself. The most commonly used definition of mindfulness is by Jon Kabat Zinn who in 1994 wrote: “Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. Mindful photography is a practice that brings together mindfulness and photography, that involves consciously creating photographs to help you:
- Slow down
- Improve your mindset, mental health and wellbeing
- Change your perspective
- Connect with yourself, with others, and with the world around you
- Become more focused and creative
- Increase motivation, resilience, creativity and productivity
How did you become a photographer?
My journey with photography started when my father gave me a camera, aged 11. At 21, while researching sustainable tourism in Kenya for my degree, my beloved analogue SLR camera was stolen at gunpoint by Somali bandits! It’s a tale involving malaria, no money, drunken policemen, crazy driving… but that’s a story for another time!
I spent 20 years’ working in international, community and business development in London, Africa and the South West, and it wasn’t until 2000, while travelling in Mali with a sculptor and a photographer, exploring the relationship between belief systems and the arts, that I realised I wanted to be a photographer – and it’s there my journey began.
I was made redundant from my job in Bristol in 2004, when my son was one and set up a freelance business offering training and project management to the creative industries. Needing more greenery and trees in my life I moved to Stroud in 2006. It was hard to get work here so I looked again at my life and knew I had to be more creative. I attended an ‘Artist’s Way’ course at Hawkwood College for 12 weeks and at the end of it called myself a photographer, and have been one ever since! I started to exhibit, take on commissions and ran a few workshops.
Tell us about Look Again – what was the reason behind starting it?
In 2012, I founded Look Again with the vision to use photography to improve the health and wellbeing of people and planet. I decided to put my past work experience to good use, and to build the next phase of my career collaborating with clients who share my vision for a greener, fairer and healthier world.
Then four years ago I had a breakdown (I now refer to this a my breakthrough!) and I used photography, mindfulness and walking in nature in my own recovery from mental health difficulties. Look Again now blends photography, mindfulness and nature in workshops, courses, training, and talks. I am a Fellow fo the Royal Society of the Arts, and am currently working with Canon on a European wide mindful photography PR campaign for Stress Awareness Week.
What’s a fairly typical morning and afternoon for you?
Every day is different and its hard to have a typical work routine. So I start my day going out into my garden to feel the fresh air on my skin and to stretch. In the summer I then do a 10-20 minutes mindfulness meditation in my shed. In the winter I do this in my bedroom, which looks out to the woods. This helps to ground me and help me stay calm and focused throughout the day. I usually deliver 2-3 workshops or training sessions a week. The rest of the time I spend time developing Look Again (I have a very big vision for it!), as well as trying to keep up with emails, admin and marketing. At least once a week I go on a mindful photography walk, to help keep me balanced and to keep developing my own practice.
What made you move to the Cotswolds and has it helped with work/life balance at all?
My son’s dad lives in Bristol and I wanted to be within an hours drive so that they could see each other easily. Stroud was perfect – I love the beautiful landscape of the Five Valleys, the creativity, quirkiness and aliveness of the town. I have developed beautiful friendships and business collaborations with many wonderful people around the Cotswolds. I have always been a real grafter and I am now ‘living my life’s work’. Living in the Cotswolds has enabled me simply ‘be’ in nature more easily and to live the life I want to live.
Where would you recommend to grab a bite to eat during lunch in and around Stroud?
I love going to Star Anise Arts Café in Stroud, as well as the Canteen in Nailsworth. I’ve recently discovered the beautiful Painswick Hotel and Restaurant, and go there for a treat. I hope to be running workshops in 2019.
Do you have any particular favourite places in the Cotswolds that inspire you?
I love Standish Woods near where I live. Every time I go there my experience is different. I find them inspiring and nurturing at the same time. I also love Rodborough, and Selsley commons on the edge of Stroud – the views of the valleys and over the Severn Vale across to the Forest of Dean and Wales are spectacular. I go there when I feel I need to look again at my life or work in some way – to gain a fresh perspective.
What’s been the most challenging and rewarding part of your job so far?
Keeping regular work coming around the year can be tricky. The winter can be very quiet and in some ways this is good as it gives me a breather to dream, plan and develop relationships with people I’d love to work with. Most of my work is very rewarding, but it’s particularly so when clients tell me how practicing mindful photography has made a big difference to increasing their confidence, self-esteem, mental health and how it’s helped them become more focused, creative and motivated. I love my job!
We see lots of people holding up squares with holes cut out in your sessions….how does that help with mindfulness?
In my workshops, we usually do some very basic mindfulness exercises that enable participants to become calmer and get into a different, more creative, mindset. We then use the small viewfinders to learn to see in a different way – to slow down, look, look again and see what is literally in front of us. We do this before getting the cameras out.
How do you vary the workshops that you run for different sectors such as business, charities, universities?
I have a basic model and structure that I use for all the sectors that I work with. As part of my preparation I will meet with the client and discuss their specific needs and interests and adapt the workshop accordingly. Some clients are more interested in the wellbeing and mental health side of things, and how their staff or clients can use mindful photography to reduce stress or anxiety. Other clients want me to focus on using photography to help them clarify their vision, represent it visually, and tell their story more authentically. I run taster sessions, half or full day workshops, 6-8 week courses, training days. They are all adapted to suit the client.
What three things would you say to encourage anyone looking take photos but without a clue where to start?
- Slow down – give yourself time to look and really see – look at colours, textures, shapes and patterns. Look at the detail as well as the bigger picture.
- Spend time creating photographs in nature and use the cycle of the seasons to help you express how you feel about your life. You may want to consider the themes of growth, change and transition.
- Don’t get hung up by the technical side of photography. You can improve your technical photography skills by looking at videos, reading manuals, going on courses, and experimenting – that’s what I did!
How do you unwind after a busy day?
This is something I still struggle with at times! My work and the rest of my life are so connected that evenings are often spent reading, meeting people, and yes, responding to emails… I do however love gardening, even if only for 15 minutes or so. I go to regular fitness and NIA dance classes and watch too many films and drama series. I have been known to enjoy drinking the odd glass of wine (or two) …
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