Monday, 6 October 2014

My empowering photography

Friday 30. December 2011

I started photographing as a hobby about 11 years ago when I obtained my first systems camera. But the depression, exhaustion and a general new life situation pushed photographing back for a while. After we moved to Helsinki I found that the Finnish White Ribbon Union were organising a seminar on empowering photography in spring 2009. The seminar expanded over two days and consisted of lectures and group work. By chance I spotted the advert for the seminar online and thought it could be something that could help me. Around the time I was “minding” my own medication and was left wandering from one end to the other in the health care system, as I did not really belong to any spectrum. I yearned for some connection, something with which would help me to help myself. As a continuation to the seminar there was also a course of the empowering photography, one that I eagerly participated in.

At the course we delved more in depth to the concept of empowering photography and photographed each other. At the same time we were all building our life cycle albums. As the course progressed we also began to photograph each other in groups. The photographing trips were truly productive; I learned to be photographed, to see myself in another way, see myself as good and even beautiful. Mostly the long hours of photographing were rewarding through the reconstructive conversations that took place. For me, the photographing trips were an excellent opportunity to detach myself from the stay-at-home mother routine and be the centre of attention for a while.

In the beginning it was exciting to go from behind the camera to be the one being photographed. Slowly the trust for the camera was found, I even began to enjoy being photographed. At the first photographing sessions, I “wanted to be a fairy”. I was seeking for contrast between the central park woods, from between the old trees and from among the wood anemones. Other times amidst busy traffic. At first seeing my own photos felt strange. Also exciting and strange was showing my photos to others, to explore what I saw and what another saw in my pictures. After some initial photographing trips I wanted to see if I could incorporate a feeling into the pictures, an emotion that someone else might also recognise. Somehow we managed to capture it. This gave birth to an idea of capturing the emotions and experience related to depression and exhaustion.

I suggested to my husband that he could photograph me at home. Easy self-made studio set up in the living when the children were sleeping, whole lot of white sheets and some lights. The shared photographing moments with my own husband were worth more than gold for me, for our relationship and maybe even for my husband. In the pictures I explored to capture different feelings, experiences and emotions I associated with depression; after taking the pictures I talked and talked. I spoke of the feeling and experiences that we had just captured on camera. We went through all of them again, together. At times our conversations were racking but in their own way also purifying and are quintessential part of my own recovery.

When there was a situation where I began to shut down and could not bear to talk about something, I would ask my husband to take my picture. Often he had not the slightest clue of “what to film”. I built a studio with props, I picked out my outfit, I coordinated expressions, position and directed him to film me in a particular way. When we had the pictures, I could talk again. It was unbelievable how through these images I could express myself so even others could find that particular emotion. It was inconceivable how I could speak of the things after I had first captured them into images. When the picture was ready, it somehow broke the clasp around feelings. Mostly incredible was that I got to do this project together with my husband. Each and every story and experience was turned up and open again, and talked through.

Translated by Aija Oksman

Photography by Saila Turkka & Eija

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