Last Updated on 10/24/2018 by Mark Beckenbach
During a time of complete darkness, street photography has helped me create my own light.
2018 has been an emotionally charged year for me. In a short space of time, I quit a job that made me miserable, reconnected with my Dad after 10 years apart, walked away from an emotionally abusive partner, and visited 10 countries in between. Alongside that, I have started two new careers, lived in three different cities, and got a whole new camera system! And as we approach the final quarter of the year, it has all caught up with me. In result of this, I have found myself feeling anxious and mildly depressed. As I try to unwrap and make sense of it all, street photography has been the light carrying me through.
Street Photography Is Meditation
People tend to suggest that I should turn to meditation whenever I am struggling with my mental health. Whilst I’ve found some benefits from the traditional approach of stillness, silence, and a focus on breath, it hasn’t been as useful for me as I hoped it would. Let’s for a moment look at what meditation is. In its simplest description, it is the act of bringing yourself into the present moment and clearing your mind of thoughts. Nothing makes me feel more centered and connected to my present surroundings than street photography. The act of walking through the streets, focusing on the scene, and hearing the sound of my shutter open and close is the greatest form of meditation that I have practiced. There is certainly something therapeutic about forgetting your own world as you look into the world of others.
As is common with most people when in a depressive state, I tend to lose all my energy. It can be hard doing the simplest of tasks, like making a bowl of cereal or brushing my teeth. But my near addiction to street photography drags me out of bed, dresses me, and makes me walk the streets for hours on end. Even when all I want to do is stay in bed and remain in darkness, street photography keeps me going.
Street Portraits Are Rebuilding My Confidence
I’ve never been one to speak poorly of failed relationships. I’ve always wanted to see the good in the person I was with. I aim to take something away from the time we shared together. Sadly, I am struggling to do that with my most recent romantic encounter. “You’re stupid. You’re thick. You’re useless.”, were just some of the criticisms I would receive regularly from my ex-partner. Never one to lift me up in public, she would be prone to putting me down or humiliating me in the company of others. During an 18 month relationship, which seldom gave me stability or warmth, I started to see my self-confidence reduce dramatically. For a moment, I could no longer recognize myself.
Since separating, I have been determined to find myself again. The best way for me to do this has been to start taking street portraits. These are not candid portraits; I am asking strangers on the street to spare a few moments to have their photo taken. It encourages me to introduce myself, to start a dialogue, and to have an end goal. Being able to get someone to relax, open up, and feel comfortable having their photo taken isn’t easy. I experience rejection, but when it goes well I feel as if I’m on cloud nine. It has impacted me so much. I now feel confident to speak to anyone at any time, with or without my camera.
Balancing It All
This year, through my personal blog, I put my all into writing. In January I set myself the target of becoming a full-time writer by the end of the year. I now write for the online magazine and for a creative agency in London: mission accomplished. But writing for someone else isn’t the same as writing for your own blog. There needs to be a disciplined structure, deadlines need to be met; you can’t just wake up and say ‘not today’.
To keep on top of it all, I have made a commitment to myself that I will shoot street photography for at least one hour a day. I will clear my mind from any pressures the working world can bring and dedicate that time for me. Don’t get me wrong: I feel very fortunate to be in the position that I’m in. But like everyone, I still need to make time to care for myself.
This Isn’t a Councelling Session
Whilst this isn’t a councelling session, the process of discussing my feelings and explaining how street photography supports me is very therapeutic. I know, like me, many people who practice street photography don’t just do it for something to do on a weekend. They do it because they deeply connect with the process of making photographs. And because it connects them to a world that can sometimes feel suffocating. Whilst those on the outside view it as just photographs of people walking by, those on the inside understand the relationship our fragile, creative minds have with our subjects.
Street Photography is a record of reality – it always has been and it always should be. So, it only makes sense that the artist behind the tool is real too. And, at this moment, my reality isn’t about avocados, prosecco, and hipster coffee shops. It’s about emotional growth, internal struggle, and psychological growing pains.
But in the middle of darkness, street photography is making things brighter – my camera is on hand to record the light.
Dan Ginn is a UK based street photographer and writer. Learn more about him via his website and Instagram.