No Street Photography for Four Months. My Mental Health Is Struggling

Street photography was my crux for happiness, now it has been completely taken away.

Earlier this year I wrote an article that covered my journey through depression. Street photography played a major (possibly the most significant) role in helping me come out of the darkness. The article was published on March 7th, three days after I arrived in Medellin, Colombia. Two weeks later a four-day quarantine started: four months later and it still hasn’t ended. I’ve not practiced street photography once in all that time, and the impact on my mental health is starting to show.

So, four months into this whole ordeal, with zero street photography – what impact has it had on my mental health?

Colombia has had one of the world’s longest lockdowns. What began on March 20th is currently running until September 1st. There have been eight extensions and there will likely be more. Restaurants are closed, and many bars have gone out of business. At present, we’re only allowed to go grocery shopping once a week – something that’s tracked by the final number of our identification cards.

Medellin, a city known for its beautiful nature and exciting nightlife, is almost fully dependent on tourism. Because of the pandemic, most tourists have returned to their home countries. That means many Colombians have no work and receive little to no support from the government.

Things are tough in Colombia during the best times. During a crisis, people are more desperate than ever. But, how does all this impact me?

The Streets Have No Soul

Even if I wanted to, I’ve been advised by locals and police not to walk around with my camera. I’ve heard stories of foreigners allegedly being robbed at both gun and knifepoint.

It would be inaccurate for me to say the streets are always empty. However, that is the case from Friday to Monday: nobody is authorized to leave their home. It’s so strict in fact, I had an armed police guard at the front of my apartment block ensuring that no one tried to leave. But from Monday to Thursday, people are outside. They’re not out conversing, expressing emotion, and doing as they please. They walk, almost chillingly, with their face masks on, going to the supermarket and then back home. Those who are authorized can walk to their workplace, but again, it’s all very lifeless. The streets have lost their soul, and street photography has evaporated with it.

Even if I wanted to, I’ve been advised by locals and police not to walk around with my camera. I’ve heard stories of foreigners allegedly being robbed at both gun and knifepoint. Photographers have expensive belongings, the kind of items that could feed a family for months. South America isn’t the kind of place where you want to risk getting into a confrontation. What may end up as a bloodied face in London, for example, could end up with the loss of your life here in Colombia. No photo, and no certainly no camera, is worth your life.

That’s not to say I haven’t taken any photos. One weekend, when restrictions were relaxed, I was able to get out into nature and take photos with my Palm phone. It was a wonderful, rewarding experience, but it wasn’t me. I wasn’t in my element: that’s only reserved for shooting on the streets.

Shot on Palm

The Impact on My Mental Health

So, four months into this whole ordeal, with zero street photography – what impact has it had on my mental health?

Street photography for me (and I know many others) is a form of meditation. It is a way to escape my overactive mind, zone in on the moment, and just forget (if only for a little while). It became my new drug. But unlike cocaine and ecstasy, it didn’t have all the terrible side effects that come with drugs. Street photography allowed me to express anger in a healthy way, it enabled me to daydream and turn the world into my theatre. And above all that, street photography gave me purpose – it gave me an identity.

Shot on Palm

With all that taken away, life is tough right now. Am I depressed? I wouldn’t say so. But my anxiety is peaking again for the first time in years. I’m struggling to focus, I have no energy for most things, and I just feel lost and in an unstable state of mind right now.

Am I worse off than anybody else? Hardly. In fact, I would suggest I’m in a better position than most, especially those worrying about how to pay rent and feed themselves and their families. But that doesn’t lessen the blow of the impact this whole situation is having on me – and many others like me.

I’m Not Alone

Why am I writing this? For one, it allows me to express myself. But more importantly, it is so I can tell the people reading this, resonating with every word, that you are not alone. For many, street photography is more than just a hobby, it’s the foundation of who we are. People may mock it and talk down its credibility, but the reality is it offers so much more than the photos people get to see.

Shot on Palm

Right now I can’t offer many solutions. We have to be strong. Seek support when we struggle, and find other ways to settle our minds and keep active (making music has been my saving grace).

I know one thing; this time will pass. The streets will one day be full of characters, as they play their part on a stage they don’t know exists. And we, as street photographers, will be there to bring their scripts to life.

Be strong everyone.

For many, street photography is more than just a hobby, it’s the foundation of who we are. People may mock it and talk down its credibility, but the reality is it offers so much more than the photos people get to see.