Getting things into focus

Local photographer and project coordinator worker Tony Wooderson is curating a very special exhibition this month. He explains how photography has helped addicts develop habits of mindfulness

    As a photographer, I know there’s a clear link between mindfulness and my craft.  

By Tony Wooderson

For many people with addictions, mental health is a major factor in their condition. They struggle with low self-worth, often experiencing a lack of confidence that locks them into harmful habits and perpetuates a downward spiral of damaging behaviour.

I saw that a huge amount in my role as a recovery worker with Supporting Treatment, Accommodation and Recovery in Suffolk (STARS), delivered by the Notting Hill Genesis Housing Association.

As a photographer, I know there’s a clear link between mindfulness and my craft. So it seemed natural that I would try to use my love of photography to address some of the challenges being faced by the people I supported.

With this in mind, I facilitated a number of Photography-with-Mindfulness workshops for STARS clients. The idea was to encourage their creativity, using only mobile phones to take photographs. They were encouraged to deploy the habits and principles of mindfulness and basic photography skills to heighten the experience and aid their recovery.

My hope was that the workshops would build confidence among participants and contribute to the overall goal, which is to consolidate recovery, enhance employability and independence.

I was grateful for the support of Suffolk Mind in Ipswich. This charity is committed to making Suffolk the best place in the world to talk about mental health and provided fantastic facilities for our workshops. I ran five sessions in the weeks before Christmas last year.

Camera Amnesty, a charity that encourages homeless people by providing them with donated photography equipment, supplied all the mobile phones we needed for the project. We cleared out their supply, so that everyone who came had a camera to use for the workshops.

All the participants said how much they enjoyed the experience. I saw a tangible improvement in their confidence levels. One person has continued taking photographs and hopes to build his skills further in the months ahead.

With the workshops proving a success, I wanted to share the photographs more widely. So I enlisted the help of my friend and fellow photographer Simon Ellingworth, who has won international awards for his innovative iPhone images. Simon agreed to critique the 10 best images from the workshops. You can see his analysis on this video.

Now, thanks to sponsorship from MetroImaging, we’re exhibiting 30 photographs at La Tour Cycle Café in Ipswich Marina from Monday, 8 April to Saturday, 20 April. The exhibition will then move to Suffolk Mind, Quay Place from Tuesday, 23 April to Friday, 26 April. Both venues are open to the public, and we’re hoping to attract a large number of visitors.

I hope very much that you’ll come and see these wonderful photos. Not only are they visually stunning, but they tell a story about recovery and the realities of living with mental illness and addiction. They’re a sign of hope, in a world that can often seem fragmented and frightening. They show the power of mindfulness and photography as a healer and restorer of meaning.

Exhibition dates:

8–20 April, La Tour Cycle Café, Ipswich

23–26 April, Suffolk Mind, Quay Place

 

About the author

Tony Wooderson is a photographer who was at the time of the workshops with homeless people, addicts and those with mental illness. He has  since, and in many ways, as a result of the project, become the lead in Work Well with Suffolk Mind, anew Lottery funded project, aimed at helping people struggling with mental wellbeing to get them ready to gain or retain employment by offering a tailored support programme.

Published: 3 April 2019

© 2019 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

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