Mental health is incredibly important for photographers.
All humans face adversity in life. But some people go through times so difficult that it leaves them living with trauma and PTSD. It’s a long path to healing for these people, and they have to find ways to survive and then overcome the experience they had. Amongst the many methods of healing is photography. The process of creating has allowed certain photographers to explore their trauma, understand it, and then move forward. In this piece, we look at six of our favorite stories of creatives overcoming trauma through making photographs.
1. Ian McDonald
Before photography, Ian McDonald spent 20 years working as a paramedic. Working in health care, he’s been exposed to some heartbreaking situations. Over time, having to respond to calls that involved major traumas, sexual assaults, and pediatric deaths, the mental toll became too much, and McDonald began experiencing PTSD. In terms of photography, it was the street that helped him come out of his darkness. Observing people and creating street photography helped him build himself back up. McDonald now works full time as a creative and is able to look at his mental struggles as a thing of the past.
2. Maren Klemp
When Maren Klemp and her family came face to face with family trauma, it sent her into a spiral of anxiety and PTSD. Her daughter became sick, having a febrile seizure that lasted over an hour. From that point on, Klemp would be in a constant state of worry, ruminating over the idea of it happening again. She began to create the series, SCENARIOS, as a way of creatively documenting the thoughts that existed in her mind. On how the series helped her on her path to recover, Klemp told The Phoblographer, “I did get a form of closure. The PTSD is still there, and I occasionally have bad days, but it made me able to control my anxiety better after I addressed it.”
3. Annie Flanagan
Annie Flanagan fell victim to one of the worst crimes a human has to endure: rape. It happened during college, and, of course, the experience impacted her future – leaving her having to struggle and overcome. But it also helped shape her photographic voice. Flanagan started creating a long term series called Deafening Sound. As part of the work, she followed several women – including a close friend – as they embarked on a journey of overcoming abuse and violence. Flanagan is the perfect example of a person using photography to help raise awareness of the pain people have endured at the hands of others.
4. Michael A. McCoy
Michael A. McCoy is a US veteran, having served two tours in Iraq. Knowing first hand the impact serving for your country has on your mental health, McCoy used his experience to start a photo project. The goal was simple: to raise awareness for veterans living with PTSD. When asked what the ultimate goal was for the work, he told us, “In the future, I hope that this project can be used to educate people about PTSD.”
5. Saiful Huq Omi
Saiful Huq Omi spent 12 years documenting the oppression and genocide of the Rohingyas. He told us he saw things that were so traumatic that he could not speak about them. But despite being diagnosed with PTSD, Omi still continues to do his project and raise awareness for those who are suffering. He’s a fine example of the sacrifices photographers make in order to tell the world’s most important stories.
6. Danielle Hark
Danielle Hark is the founder of the Broken Light Collective. She started the group after realizing how powerful photography was in relation to treating mental health. Hark has struggled with mental illness and it was photography that really helped her work through her traumatic times. In a conversation back in 2014, she told us, “I use photography as a tool that I can pull out during difficult times, no matter where I am.”
Photography May Help Your PTSD
While different things work for different people, photography may be a good option for you if you’re going through a difficult time. Art has been known to be therapeutic and help people focus their energy in a more positive manner. If you’re suffering right now, and getting the appropriate support, it may be worth your time picking up a camera.
All images used with permission from the photographers in our interviews.