Photography as Self-Therapy

Photos document a timeline, are a snapshot of body and mind at certain times along our lives. Photos allow for time travel. Looking at an image from the past might explain moods and things and connections that were not obvious at the time. This might have a therapeutic effect. Looking for clues in how I looked in the past as compared to today, well this might be very helpful, especially during times of loss, pain and distress.

Writer and filmmaker Olivia Clement did exactly this. In the Sydney Morning Herald she published an essay, I took a photo of myself every day after my marriage ended. The morning she left her husband, at a friend’s place, she caught a glimpse of herself in her mirror. Intuitively, she took out her camera, set it on timer, and took a picture.

From the crisis’ first photo… | Olivia Clement / Sydney Morning Herald

She wrote:

When I look at that photo now, more than two years later, it haunts me. The woman in the picture is exhausted, face pale, body hunched, and eyes swollen. Her hair is Einstein-like and she looks a little crazed, her gaze unfocused. She can think of nothing else but to sit and be still. She’s heartbroken.

Even in her desperation, she recognized the chance for recovery, and so every day she continued to take the photos. Olivia Clement’s journey goes on. For some time she thought she looked devastated, and slowly she started processing what happened:

I continued to take the photos, and in these, it’s the small details that are comforting. I get a manicure. I make breakfast. I exercise. I put flowers on the kitchen counter. Each photograph bares the smallest hint that I am finding a routine again.

As if she sensed this was the beginning of something:

The photos from this time reveal something else. In some, I am naked. I lie on the bed, or lean against a wall, arching my back and playing with my curves against the light. There’s a flirtatiousness in these images that is laced with desperation. I look determined to rediscover something.

She realized the captured moments had served as a reminder that life was not static, no experience or pain permanent, but now she simply had to live it.

In this last picture, taken in spring, she’s so much more determined, concluding:

… to the last one. Time heals. | Olivia Clement / Sydney Morning Herald

Outside, the trees were blossoming, but I was feeling like I’d shed something. I’m so intensely proud of the woman in this picture. She’s not only healing, she’s something else entirely. She’s strong, she’s learning, and she’s genuinely excited.

I hadn’t realised how much of a weight I’d been carrying until my marriage ended, and in this photograph, there is so much lightness. In my gaze are endless possibilities.

The intimate, documented process of moving on and healing. You don’t need a fancy camera for it. Just a feel for the humble certainty that there is so much more to photography than photos only.

via SMH

  • danielpicasso

    insightful piece Dan. I often to refer to my journey with my camera as a meditation… Thank you for sharing… Dan

  • Wish there was more of this kind of reflective photography to report on. Personally my iPhone’s Photo folder serves a similar cause. Scrolling through the archive can be as emotional as inspiring and explanatory.

  • I do not know, if this OT, it is no Self-Therapy for me,
    but when I read this, I have to remember the last picture, that I could take of my wife in 2002.
    Last week I heard her whisper something to me, after two years of silence. The last word from her was two years ago. And now silence again.

    you write:
    “Photos document a timeline, are a snapshot of body and mind at certain times along our lives. Photos allow for time travel. Looking at an image from the past might explain moods and things and connections that were not obvious at the time.”

    In 2002 life was wonderful for us – no idea, what fate was waiting for us.
    Many regards to you, Dan!

  • Thank you for sharing this Dierk. Your wife looks like such a strong and determined, yet fragile woman. It is beyond imagination what pains and sorrows this causes, and no one will find the right comforting words. You are left alone. The photographic memory might make the pain even stronger, yet does time really matter? What happened back then is it less real than what’s right now? There is comfort in the visual beauties of the past. Sometimes even those memories shown on Facebook are too much, everything looked freer and better in the past. Yet it’s real. Difficult and testing times are no different than carefree times. Because in the end time doesn’t matter and each episode of pleasure and happiness and sorrow and pain is part of the same one consciousness we call life. In thoughts with you two – D

  • thanks very much for your kind words, Dan!!

    “The photographic memory might make the pain even stronger”

    That has been and very often is still true for me. My wife has been my
    model almost for decades and now most of the time it is very hard to
    look at these pictures. Very seldom I can enjoy the pictures and the
    memory of that time. That time ended 12 years ago.

    I recall Eckhart Tolle (the author of “The power of Now”) saying, that a
    situation in a life-threatening disease forces you into the “Now”. This
    is my experience too. We have and can only live Now, there is no idea
    of any future in my mind.

    “Photography as Self-Therapy ”

    in my case photography is a different self-therapy. I love photography
    since decades and now I use it to really exist Now and forget all the
    problems around me – for a few hours.

    Looking at the first photo of Olivia, I see a very young woman with sad
    eyes. Loosing your love will always be a severe cut in the life, but
    time will help to come over it. If you open yourself for the future you
    will have all the chances for a new luck.

    I love my wife, but this love is a very much different love than it has been almost 50 years ago.


  • Almost 50 years, you’re one and the same by now Dierk.