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Therapeutic Photography – The Image Symbolising A Personal Journey

Written by: Christiaan Partridge, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Christiaan Partridge

Therapeutic Photography, in its truest form, is practised in small groups led by a facilitator, with a defined goal for what the final images should represent. Of course, every image will symbolise an individual's interpretation of that brief but may evoke different feelings amongst other viewers. The quality of the image and the camera used to make it are immaterial; it is what the image represents to the creator, and sharing that experience matters.

Gray scale photo of abandon building

However, some ray artistic and important images have been made through the practice of Therapeutic Photography. Social Documentary Photographer Jo Spence created a series of images documenting her own journey through being diagnosed with breast cancer. She wanted to take ownership of her condition and its management, particularly surrounding her eventual mastectomy.


These images portray a personal journey long before the advent of smartphones. The images are so detailed and powerful that the NHS has used them in patient information leaflets. Through her own research and photography, Spence pioneered a change in practice from full mastectomy to lumpectomy for certain types of breast cancer. These self-portraits are extremely emotive and powerful but pre-date what we often refer to now as a Selfie. There is now a wealth of evidence that supports the taking of selfies, which increases self-esteem and self-confidence. However, can this also translate into a series of landscape images or even a single landscape image?


When considering the definition of Therapeutic Photography and the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, the answer to my question is yes. However, unlike the clear definition of Therapeutic Photography above, perhaps my own and Spence's interpretation is that it can be self-directed rather than facilitated. This requires the photographer's discipline to dedicate time in their regular schedule to practise these skills. It almost always requires the support of a trusted confidante to discuss any emotions uncovered by creating such images. But for me, the process doesn't stop when the photograph has been taken, and any discussion has occurred. There is another phase in the process, which is editing the original image.


I have included an example here to illustrate this opinion. I am fortunate to live in a conservation area where nature is abundant, and many photographic subjects are on my doorstep. Owning dogs and taking them out for walks also acts as a scouting mission for my local images. The attached image is such an example, sharing the rear entrance to our village churchyard. The hedgerows surrounding the gates were rather overgrown, casting darkness over the entrance, contrasting with the daylight falling on the church itself. Taken in early spring, the brambles had taken over, but only the yew trees were in full leaf.


This image was taken in colour on an iPhone, and my interpretation of how I was feeling and bringing out power in the image led me to this black-and-white rendition. I had been experiencing a difficult period at work, which had consequences on my home life too. However, changes were coming, and these would reduce a considerable amount of stress. The cricket season was fast approaching, which for me signifies the beginnings of brighter days ahead. My editing of this image represents all these feelings I had at the time. The darkened gateway and overgrown brambles represent the present feelings of stress, darkness and feeling trapped. This creates a tunnel towards the lighter parts of the image around the church. For me, high-contrast black and white highlights this and accentuates the church's architecture.


Not only is this image representative of my journey, but it is also a memory that I can revisit when life is challenging. It serves as a reminder that even in the darkest times, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and better days will come. 


This image is titled "The Path to Enlightenment," and though it is a Landscape Photography image, for me, it represents a “selfie” of my emotions at that instant.

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Christiaan Partridge Brainz Magazine

Christiaan Partridge, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Christiaan Partridge is a Family Doctor, Photographer, football coach and cricket coach. Having picked up a camera at a relatively late stage in life, Christiaan has recently achieved a First Class Honours degree in Photography via the University of Chester. For the past 7 years, he has been a youth football coach and also an ECB Core Cricket Coach. Christiaan also has vast experience in running amateur sports clubs, specializes manly in Landscape Photography, with a particular interest in Therapeutic Photography to treat minor mental illness.



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