The camera can:
– Cure a lack of presence, attention and curiosity.
– Heal perfectionism, paralysis and ingratitude.
– Help you to accept your circumstances, learn from your mistakes and find a balance.
– Get you to rejoice in your frustrations, difficulties and worries. – Learn to appreciate contrasts and obstacles.
– Stop ruminating on heavy thoughts and focusing inwardly.
– Learn to compose your life better.
– Teach you how to develop something positive from a negative.
– Show you how to utilize fear, mistakes and doubt.
– Get you to improve your ability to defy modesty, doubt and insecurity.
– Strengthen your courage, willingness to change and power to act.
– Give you a focus, calm and balance.
– Confirm that you are already good enough as you are but can still be better.
– Push you in the direction of new habits and better health.
– Trigger your stamina, patience and perseverance.
– Help you to find out what you want and meet your own expectations.
– Reveal your blind spots, find your strengths and increase your insights into yourself. – Help you to make small things big, discover what is unique in the ordinary.
– Empower you to take responsibility and ownership of your choices.
– Adjust the need for control according to the circumstances.
– Give you the power to follow through to get what you want and follow your dreams. – Help you find enthusiasm, purpose and meaning.
– Give you a reason to play, even as an adult.
Photography works perfectly for all of this, for the way you master the moment is how you can master everything. It all starts with the first, unsure step and the first bad picture – right now.
At this point, those of you who are impatient about getting started (and maybe not so fond of theory) can go straight to page 42 and begin there. But if you have the time and energy, I recommend that you continue on and use about an hour to read about the theory behind The Camera Cure®. Self help is often a theoretical, abstract process.
You are good – and you can get better
Relax, you don’t need to perform. You have already won the lottery. We are among the extremely lucky people who have been chosen to wander on this planet for a few years. We can breathe, think, talk and see. And we are doing this in an era that has to be the most exciting one ever! Every- thing else on top of this is a bonus. There is a lot of talk about “being good enough”. I think this is a dead end. The best photographers or top people in any activity would never say they are good enough. So why should we more average people insist that we are?
Just stating that we are good enough can make us passive. As if we don’t need to keep moving further and improve our game. This becomes limiting rather than liberating. It is very healthy to work to be better and improve. The healthiest patients I meet are the ones busy improving themselves in their favourite activity.
I prefer to think that you are good. We are all good. We are directly related to one-celled beings that emerged 2.5 billion years ago and to the first animals with a spine that came about 700 million years ago. If one single link in this had failed in its task along the way, you wouldn’t have been able to read this. You have eyes, you can read and are motivated to use your camera to increase the quality of your life. You have a brain which is the world’s most advanced object and a body with an immune system that protects you every single day. You are so good that you can use mil- lions of vision cells, which are interpreted by billions of connections in the brain, to press an apparatus that can capture millions of shades of color on millions of pixels on a small memory chip.
But even though you are good, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get better. Everyone is good and everyone can get better. If I say “now you are good enough” to a workshop participant, she will be deeply disappo- inted and may respond: «Your ruin my motivation to get better». I think developing oneself is a basic human need. We need to do it just as stron- gly as we need oxygen, food and water. When we are busy getting better, there is less time to feel worse. So, say this to yourself, “I am good and I can get better.” This approach is relaxed and active. On the other hand, if you say, “I am not good and I have to get better,” it can be stressful and destructive. Even though many people have succeeded quite well with this latter mindset, the personal price for getting there may be high. Even after reaching their goals they often remain unsatisfied.
This book is not just about taking good pictures. The main goal is who you become along the way.
What makes you healthy
At medical school most of my time went towards categorizing disea- ses and medicating symptoms – it revolved around what made people sick and what the doctor could do about it. This has changed greatly in recent years. The focus now has shifted to what makes a person healthy and what the patient can do. The American psychologist Martin Selig- man has explained why this is so important: “The skills that are needed to produce positive emotions, such as engaging with people you care about, finding a meaning with your life, achieving goals and maintaining relationships, are completely different than what is needed for not being depressed, anxious or angry. These negative emotions stand in the way of well-being, but don’t make it impossible. When you remove anxiety, sadness and depression, you aren’t left with a happy, but empty, patient.”
It is much more difficult to remove anxiety and depression than to mas- ter living with them. After removing them, you will still need something meaningful to spend your time on. Therefore, The Camera Cure® is not a textbook in how to get rid of anxiety, depression, doubt and negative thoughts. Instead, my goal is to make you stronger, happier and more robust to the extent that you can endure living with these hardships. Just like an athlete has to cope with pain and a soldier has to do his job despite his fear, we should all learn how to deal with things that frustrate us.
In his book Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman points to central factors for well-being:
- Positive emotions
- Engagement (activities where you feel that time flies)
- Meaning (to belong and contribute to something you think is bigger than yourself)
- Positive relationships in your work, family and free time
The tasks in this book are made to strengthen you in these areas. We are going to use photography as art therapy. Art therapy is a part of the mental health profession that uses the creative artistic process to improve and increase the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. The therapy is based on a belief that expressing oneself in the creative process will help people to solve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, control behavior, reduce stress, increase self- confidence, receive self-knowledge and gain insight.
Photograph your way out of trauma
“I use photography as therapy.”
I have heard this sentence often from photographers I meet at workshops. And gradually, this insight dawned on me. It was obvious that photo- graphy can be used more systematically as therapy and not only by indivi- duals finding out on their own that this is an effective therapeutic activity, using it as self-medication.
Today, nearly everyone takes photographs. It makes photography one of the most accessible forms of art therapy that exist. Taking photographs is therapeutic and needs no referral from a doctor. Anyone can take photographs in their own unique way, whether you are a man or woman, young or old, concerned with inner or outer landscapes or have a mechan- ical, academic or creative approach. If you are calm and balanced, you take photos that reflect this. But if you are impatient and excitable, then you will produce different pictures. You can take photos all year round indoors and out and in almost all conditions. If you are sitting in a wheel- chair, you can photograph your immediate surroundings and create just as interesting pictures as a mountain climber on his way up Mt. Everest.
As the pictures reflect your life and interests, and at the same time express your encounters with the outside world, the process will inevitably make you better acquainted with yourself. In many ways every photo is a self-portrait. Traditional art therapy places a main emphasis on expressing what is inside a person’s head and events that date back in time. How- ever, in my view the camera’s main advantage is that it can just as easily be directed towards the outside world in this moment. Where traditio- nal art therapy is often oriented towards problems and the inner world, therapy based on photography is focused on solutions and the outer world. Perhaps we can photograph ourselves out of our traumas instead of painting ourselves into them! Hopefully we can use the Camera Cure to photograph our way out of posttraumatic stress and into post traumatic growth. Post traumatic growth is about using the experience of a trau- matic event to live more authentically, more true to ourselves. To find out what is important and meaningful, and what is not. Exactly the same goal as the Camera Cure.
BOOK SUGGESTION 2: The Posttraumatic Growth Workbook by Richard Tedeschi
How you handle the moment
is how you handle everything
It can be difficult to get a grip on life. It is complex. There are so many poss- ibilities and so many difficulties. How are we going to cope with some- thing so big? It is like asking how you are supposed to eat an elephant. The answer is one bite at time. We are are going to get good at coping with life, bite by bite, picture by picture. So then we have to start with the smallest component: the moment.
The raw material of photography is the present moment right here and now. That’s why this book is about dealing with moments, making them visible to ourselves and others through photos. How you handle the moment is how you handle everything. Most of the advice in this book is age-old and proven, but it can be difficult to put the theory into practice. By doing the photography tasks you can practice mastering them. The same applies to me as I write this book. It feels scary and unfamiliar and I am not at all sure if I will be able to pull it off. This provides me with a good start-ing point for achieving something! In the role of an author I have to use the same exact coping techniques as I do when I take pictures. The most important of these is just to jump in and begin. And to realize that the small steps from nothing to something means everything.
BOOK SUGGESTION: Improv Wisdom by Particia Ryan Madson
You grow from difficulties
“It is difficult!” “It is easier said than done!” I have heard patients use these arguments often at my doctor’s office. The biggest problem that we peo- ple have is that we think that we are not supposed to have them. But we need difficulties – in order to grow stronger.
Taking a picture provides dealing with a difficulty in miniature. Our approach here can be transferred to all of the other, and often greater, challenges that we encounter. “Say thanks for all difficulties because there is always something to learn from them,” said the wise Native American medicine man Bear Heart.
In a way, life is a long series of problems that we have to solve. The more that you struggle with dealing with problems the more tiring your
life becomes. That is why it is nice to be able to practice an activity such as taking photographs where bad pictures are the worst possible outcome. If you learn to accept these kinds of problems, you will have a quality of life that is not so affected by external circumstances.
At my doctor’s office, I have seen that the ability to tolerate and deal with difficulties is the foundation for good health. The opposite leads to stress and a life characterized by anxiety, dissatisfaction and illness. I see that many people try to avoid difficulties and those are the ones who suf- fer the most. If there is something that is certain, it is that difficulties are lined up in a queue for us. So then it is important to become well trained in dealing with challenges.
Many parents have tried to shield their children from difficultites in the belief that it helps them and provides more security for them. Unfortuna- tely, it works in the opposite way. These children are more likely to feel insecure and helpless when faced with reality.
If you get used to doing difficult things, over time it will become easier. But if you only get used to doing things that are easy, after some time times you will have difficulties. The Camera Cure consists of small diffi- culties that will gradually make you stronger and more resilient, making life easier.
BOOK SUGGESTION: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Phillips
This book is about self development. Unfortunately, many people look at self-development as something selfish. However, it is important to make a distinction here. Selfishness involves exerting onself in order to gain an advantage at the expense of others. However, when you grow mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally through self-development, other people benefit. It is unselfish activity. You develop and strengthen your- self and then have more to give to others. I will go out on a limb and say that your mood and state of mind are not a private matter because they affect so many others. A person who is in harmony with themselves is eas- ier to be around for those who come in contact with them.
The purpose of this book is to develop greater emotional flexibility – to be better at accepting, dealing with and utilizing emotional states such as frustration, fear, gratitude, hope, joy, nervousness and insecurity. This benefits our surroundings
BOOK SUGGESTION: Self Matters av Phillip McGraw
Am I creative?
Yes! At all of the photography workshops that I have participated in and held myself, I have seen that everyone is creative. This even includes myself and I have a very uncreative background. Firemen, accountants, nurses, retirees, lawyers, doctors, disabled people and oil workers have been in these workshops and shown that everyone can create something unique when they pick up a camera and interpret the world as seen through their eyes. Creativity is innate. We don’t need to strive for it.
Creating something is a basic human need. Human beings have crea- ted objects, cave paintings and sculptures from the earliest times. It is a way to digest life. In creating, we create ourselves. We stem from genera- tions of creative people, it is our birth gift.
We play to learn
Although the issues in this book are real and partly serious, it is important to dive into the tasks with a lightness that is playful. We learn best through tasks with a playful lightness. Being playful is nature’s way of ensuring that we and other mammals learn what we are supposed to learn. Therefore, play is also serious. Photography in itself is a kind of game. It is something that we do for fun without thinking so much about its utility value. That is an aspect of what is therapeutic about photography. Therefore, we are going to play our way through the tasks in a serious way. Hopefully, knowledge and experience will sneak their way into our brains effortlessly. People who have an activity that involves play also live longer and healthier. The opposite of play is not work, but depression, according to Stuart Brown. Maybe we can turn that around? The opposite of depression may be play. Earlier in my medical career I could really get worn out by meeting up to 60 patients a day. This changed after I decided to think of my job as a game where the patients came in the door with new mysteries for me to solve. It was the same job, but it had become playful. And, paradoxically, I had more energy to take the patients seriously.
In hunter/gatherer cultures there is little organized learning. They know that children learn the best by following their own interests, which nor- mally coincide with what they have seen the tribe is engaged in. The adults give advice when the children ask for it. They understand that if children are forced to do something, then they will do as little as they can get away with. On the contrary, if the children get to choose what they want to do, then their eagerness is much greater. Like our ancestors, these tri- bes benefit the most from flexible, innovative individuals with a variety of knowledge and the ability to adapt themselves to new challenges.
Useful questions to ask yourself
Are you getting enough out of life?
Are your curious about new experiences? Do you see difficulties as being unpleasant?
Do you have any goals you would like to achieve?
Do you have plans for your future?
Do you feel that your days are meaningful?
Are you grateful for every day?
Are you alone a lot?
Do you make others happy?
Do you learn new things?
Are you afraid of what other
Are you afraid of failing?
Do you take responsibility for the
things that happen to you?
Do you complain easily?
Do you blame others for negative
things that happen?
Are you plagued by feelings of guilt?
Are you often lucky?
Are you present in the moment? Are you in control of your life?
Do you avoid doing difficult things? Do you often feel joy?
Are you concerned with being able to cope?
Are you able to see your strengths? Do you present a façade to your surroundings?
Are you able to let go of being in control?
Are you able to do things well? Are you generous?
Are you likeable?
Do you give up quickly?
Do you think you can improve?
Can you change?
Are you impatient?
Are you plagued by painful memories? Do you trust your gut feeling?
Do you often get bored?
Are you enthusiastic?
are forced to do something, then they will do as little as they can get away with. On the contrary, if the children get to choose what they want to do, then their eagerness is much greater. Like our ancestors, these tri- bes benefit the most from flexible, innovative individuals with a variety of knowledge and the ability to adapt themselves to new challenges.
Check the boxes above. Is there anything that you would like to change?
If so, this is good because The Camera Cure® is designed to help you with this. Don’t get down on yourself if it seems like you have many difficulties to struggle with. Identifying your issues is half the job of solving them.
What can a patient learn from a photographer?
After having worked with patients and photographers for many years, it suddenly struck me how different these groups of people were. What could be the reason that the difference was so great? What is it about the photographers that make them so characterized by their satisfaction and vitality as opposed to the patients’ despondency and negative attitude? Both groups could have had the same amount of stress in their lives but the photographers have clearly found a way to deal with it. Could the patients learn something from the photographers? This realisation was the starting point for this book. Note that the man and woman are on the same road. This is not accidental. In my experience it is the attitude towards the road and not the road itself that makes the difference.
I meet many patients whose lives can be described as a total wreck, represented by the sad person on the left in the drawing above. It is not possible to point to one cause that is responsible for the anxiety, depression and worries in a person’s life. Just like a plane crash, the cras- hing of a life is usually due to a chain of unfortunate factors. Therefore a wide ranging effort may be required on several fronts to get their lives back on track. The Camera Cure® thus contains measures in a number of areas that together can lead to a recovery of health. The most important thing is to have a means through which, like the woman in the picture, we can feel formidable even if we feel miserable every now and then.
If you feel like the man on the left, be comforted by the fact that this book is created with you in mind. Let the missions in the book slowly and steadily, picture by picture, move you towards the position of the woman in the picture.
Many of the patients that I meet daily at my office carry a certain bitterness, negativity and pessimism around with them. They give up easily, are critical towards themselves and the world, feel anxiety towards change, focus on what’s bothering them, are plagued by feelings of guilt, take little responsibility for their situation, do not listen to advice, get angry when receiving constructive criticism, are impatient and want quick results, allow themselves to be stopped from moving ahead through being insecure, are indecisive, blame others, are made passive by adversity and difficulties, are not curious about new experiences, are not keen on learning something new, often have bad luck, have no plans, are lonely, easily feel stress, have little belief that their own efforts will be of any help, seldom know what they want and move little both physically or mentally.
You probably know someone who struggles with such self-centered, destructive traits (and we all have such tendencies). When I started my career as a doctor I thought they came as a result of illness. And that is absolutely possible. However, gradually I became convinced that their illness to a great degree was a product of their attitude towards life and associated patterns of behavior. An interaction takes place between the two: The illness maintains and further strengthens their unhelpful attitude.
In my other job, as the leader of photography workshops, I meet another group of people. These people are ones I seldom see at my office except when they would sprain a foot or have the flu. The workshop participants may have had the same health or life situation objectively speaking as the patients but otherwise were not similar to them. They are open to learning new things, do not give up even if they face adversity, smile, are optimis- tic, believe that effort can make them better, are decisive, patient, listen to advice, see that small improvements produce results over time, they enjoy – and are present in – the moment, they know what they want and have plans for how they will achieve it, they accept and cope with disap- pointment and frustration, look at themselves and others with benevo- lence and trust, are grateful for constructive criticism, base themselves in what is and make the best out of it, they like to play – preferably toget- her with others – and they do not allow themselves to stop what they are doing if they feel insecure and afraid. You probably also know some peo- ple like this, right?
It is possible that these photographers have a good starting point to begin with. But regardless, I see that their doing photography maintains and strengthens this advantageous attitude, and that many people who struggle could have learned something from them.
I believe these important life skills are teachable and trainable. And this is why the Camera Cure® focuses on what is therapeutic in photography. The more time you spend in life’s lighter sides, the more you will be able to tolerante the darkness. Learning the steps that will take you to the light parts is much easier than striving to avoid the dark ones.
BOOK SUGGESTION: The Success Principles by Jack Canfield
Weaknesses become strengths
Often it is the people who start far behind that make it the furthest. So, I almost hope you’re a bad photographer. Then you will have the best start- ing point for completing this book. Since self-assured talented people have a tendency to slack off, we can pass them by through our efforts over time. I was bad at everything I tried until I was 15 – skiing, athletics, soccer, orienteering, scouting, band, piano, choir – and I always gave up before I had cracked the code. This negative situation seemed like something I could not break through. But then when I was 15-years old I began kaya- king. I learned about what a winning attitude was from my trainer who was a world champion, and I ended up on the national team.
Kayaking started a positive process that over many years gradually enabled me to go from being weak to strong. I was bullied at school, but I eventually learned to endure adversity. I was extremely shy until I became a commander in the military. I fainted from the sight of blood before I became a doctor. I took bad photos before I slowly learned how to be a good photographer. I dreaded talking at gatherings before I became a speaker. I started my own company without knowing the difference between what gross and net meant. I had almost never been kissed before I was 22 but I ended up having a wife and kids. I was a landlubber who was all thumbs before I sailed around the world with my family.
What is common to all of this? I have used the same coping techni- ques. And now I have to call them forth again so that you can benefit from The Camera Cure®.
BOOK SUGGESTION: When Walls Become Doorways by Tobi Zausner
Mastery as medicine
Lack of mastery skills can result in doubt, anger, fear, insecurity, worries, anxiety, condemnation, hostility, competitiveness, sadness, feeling guilty, shame and depression. Photographers, on the other hand, often have a toolbox full of constructive tools for handling these states, such as grati- tude, joy, love, inspiration, peace, wholeness, trust, presence, curiosity, courage, responsibility, friendliness and generosity.
In life we have to deal with many issues that are long-lasting, invisi- ble and abstract. The effects of them can appear so long after what caused them that the causal relationship is difficult to perceive. However, the challenge of taking a good photo is limited, concrete and visible and the results come so immediately that it is easy to evaluate the efforts whether they are our own or others. Therefore, photography is suited for practicing, and making visible, the process of mastery. Used as medicine, photography is completely without side effects, except for the realisation of how precious the moment is.
Even though some effort is required to master something, it is in fact much more tiring if we aren’t able to master it. What you are able to get out of your life depends heavily on your ability to cope with the bad days. Instead of letting them break you down try to learn something from them! As a doctor I often see the kind of suffering that people who don’t feel happy with themselves inflict on themselves and on their surroundings.
If you are able to appreciate the bad days in addition to the good ones, then you have come a long way.
BOOK SUGGESTION: Mind over Medicine by Lissa Rankin
Live your authentic life
A lot of people say, “I don’t know what I want.” This indicates they may have a huge problem, which demands drastic measures. As a doctor I have experienced that this is common. In order to manage to do what you want you first have to find out what you want. Research has shown that working towards getting what you want is just as healthy as getting it.
The word ‘genius’ comes from the Roman name of the spirit that was present when you were born to ensure that you were genuine or unique. At photography workshops I am occupied with participants taking authen- tic pictures that mirror their unique history and personal qualities. As a doctor, I want you to live an authentic life where you use your interests and passions to live the way you want to. With or without the camera the mindset is the same.
I seldom see people who live authentic lives at my office. I most often meet people there who live their lives on other people’s premises. This wears out their bodies and souls. And taking pictures that look like the ones other people have taken, often ones that they have seen in maga- zines, can also say something about how people adapt to other people’s premises. If you take photos you think other people will like they will be worse than if you follow your own path.
Through The Camera Cure® I hope to help you find precisely your way because photography is an excellent way to express our differences.
BOOK SUGGESTION: Authenticity by Stephen Joseph
The carrot and the stick
– hormones govern you
Our most important hormones were not created so that we would spend our time sitting still and feeling complacent; they exist so that together we can move towards reaching ever new, challenging goals. They were designed to ensure the survival and continuation of our genes. When we do something that increases the chances for this to occur, hormones that promote a feeling of happiness surge into our system. They belong to our mammalian brain system, which we have in common with all mammals. Fortunately, we can activate these so-called ‘happy hormones’ by taking pictures of what is going on in the world around us.
Dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin act like ‘carrot hormones. They moti- vate us towards positive actions.
Dopamine: Released by us having expectations for a reward that is within our reach. It stimulates us to engage in activities such as hunting, gather- ing and reproduction. Our expectations about eating ice cream, for exam- ple, are often stronger than the joy we get of actually eating it.
Serotonin: Released when we succeed in something that increases our status, which improves the chances of our own and our offspring’s survival. Serotonin controls the behavior of all living animals, even single-celled amoebas. When we dominate someone, serotonin is released – an impor- tant power struggle factor in both the human and animal worlds.
Oxytocin: Released when we do something that binds us to one anot- her and strengthens friendship and love. This hormone is crucial for our development of empathy and taking care of our offspring. Togetherness amongst people makes each individual stronger and strengthens every- one’s survival.
What dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin all have in common is that their activity is short-lived. We have to chase new feelings of expectation, successes and social bonding in order to keep these hormones flowing. These three happy hormones are thus not released randomly. This hap- pens when we do something that our brains perceive to advance our status, reproduction and survival. When we do something that evolution favoured, we get a positive kick.
All of this bliss has an antidote – cortisol. This is the painful ‘stick’ hor- mone that give us the necessary motivation to get out of difficult, painful, unpleasant situations. It gives off a powerful signal that something has to be done.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that increases if we don’t have something to look forward to, if we have failed at something or are lonely. Cortisol levels also increase when we feel inferior, which increases our willingness to fight back. Our brain’s interpretation of this situation is that our survival is under threat. It is a signal that we have to increase our efforts to obtain happy hormones. The heart and muscles are mobilized, ready to do a mas- sive effort, while the immune system’s energy-intensive maintenance work is put on hold.
The appearance of cortisol is intended to be a short-term alarm signal that is supposed to mobilize us quickly to get away from a threat. How- ever, many people unfortunately get caught being chronically tormented by cortisol.
Adrenalin strengthens the effects of the other motivational hormones and thus can have a negative or positive effect.
Hormones make sure that extraordinary events become fastened in our memory. This is especially true about cortisol because it is very important for preventing the repetition of threatening incidents. Dramatic, negative occurrences are fastened as if with super glue and are played again and again inwardly for us to see. Positive occurrences are also glued to our memory to remind us about how we have succeeded.
When we are out with a camera chasing a photo, dopamine is releas- ed. This hormone is increased when we catch sight of something we want to take a picture of. If we photograph other people or study pictures together with other photography enthusiasts, oxytocin is released. And if we receive positive feedback for photos we have taken, serotonin rus- hes through our brain. Unfortunately, we are not made to float on these for a long time. We can only enjoy this reward for a short time before we are propelled to go get more of it, due to how we are programmed. If
we encounter resistance and difficulties, the stress hormone cortisol will flood in. This presses us to increase our efforts.
Cortisol suppresses our immune system and inhibits it from doing its job. Our immune system is very complicated and energy-intensive – billions of hyper-advanced white blood cells are created and broken down in the course of a few days. Cancer cells and inflammatory cells therefore meet weakened resistance and illness is created. The therapeutic effect of photography can hopefully be to dampen the effect of cortisol, when we are instead filled with naturally induce dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. We were born to search and hunt, find and collect, bond and share, just as we can do when we photograph.
BOOK SUGGESTION: I, Mammal: How to Make Peace with the Animal Urge for Social Power by Loretta Breuning
A hunter/gatherer activity
Despite the fact that we live advanced, complicated lives in a modern society, the choices we make are influenced by what the human species has inherited from more primitive mammals. Our hormones do not govern us for what is best for us today, but what was in the best interests for our distant ancestors. This for a large part consist of a hormonal drive to promote foraging activities like hunting and gathering, increasing our survival and status. The modern game of hunting and gathering pictures mimics this essential, ancient activity.
Over the long term, the hunter/gatherer societies that survived were masterful at using the “new” human brain to tackle, balance and utilize the “old” mammalian brain. We can learn something from their hard-earned experiences by studying common features among these cultures, which have stretched across all continents. Our ancestors were hunters and gatherers for three million years, up until ten thousand years ago, and we have inherited their brains. Our hunter/gatherer instincts are satisfied by hunting for good pictures since our hormone system, nervous system and musculoskeletal system are set to hunting and gathering. A hunter/ gatherer mentality permeates the photos assignments in this book. The tribes that managed to survive for millions of years formed socie- ties, traditions and activities that acted in tandem with the brain. Tribal cultures were good at balancing the body’s and the brain’s constructive and destructive sides. And the way I see it, each element that removes us from this way of living has the potential to make us ill and dissatisfied.
The cultures of ancient and contemporary hunter/gatherer societies share some common features. Obviously, they hunt and gather. They create ornaments and articles for daily use. They celebrate often. They create tones and rhythms. They dance, which happens to be a pleasurable form of natural exercise. They are cheerful. Their children learn through trial and error, and they only receive guidance when they ask for it. They play well into old age. They get plenty of sun and sleep. They participate in engaging activities that keep heavy thoughts away. They use all of the body’s senses in everyday life. The knowledge and experience of the elders is passed on to the children while their parents are busy with the tasks of the tribe. Through the telling of stories they pass on the capacity to have empathy. They focus strongly on sharing and gratitude. They have a democratic, equal societal structure where everyone’s vote counts. They are extremely watchful about whether someone considers themself to be more important than the rest of the group, which can have a destabilizing effect and more than anything else can be a threat to the tribe.
At a photography workshop, the camera is a hunting and gathering instrument. The participants go out on a hunt for photos and decide for them- selves what they want to catch. We share photos we have taken in plenary and everyone’s input is equal. Reviewing the photos takes the form of a game. The most experienced of us share knowledge with the less expe- rienced participants. We spend time together, with our focus on solving challenges, and we enjoy it. We use curiosity and playfulness as a means for learning. We are engaged in an activity that keeps heavy thoughts at bay. Through taking photographs we stimulate our senses and at the same time get to move our bodies, just like hunter/gatherer societies which were in moderate motion a couple of hours a day. The body’s organs and immune system are made for this amount of daily movement. If we sit too much, the circulation to our brain (that creates our photos) and other vital organs becomes poor.
We can compare participants at a photography course to a bunch of hunters and gathers out on assignment. Even if each individual is out on their own, the knowledge that the others are also striving to take good photos inspires everyone to make extra efforts. The photos are clearly better in such a setting than when people only photograph entirely for themselves. And even if only two or three participants really hit the bullseye – just like only two or three of the hunters would capture prey in the past – neither the photographers nor the hunters would have managed to do this without the collective efforts of everyone. Everyone at a photo course enjoys studying photos together. They try to learn from how others have succeeded and think that perhaps it will be them that hits a bullseye the next day!
BOOK SUGGESTION: The Depression Cure by Steve Ilardi Our autonomic nervous system
Our autonomic nervous system
“Wow, that’s interesting!”, a participant at a workshop nodded apprecia- tively when I talked about my theory about our autonomic nervous system. “I actually have a strong phobia when it comes to spiders but when I photograph, I can lay down in the grass when I take pictures even if I know that there are spiders there.” My theory is that when the auto- nomic nervous system is engaged in helping us find what we want, the capacity for fearing what we don’t want diminishes.
I often go around with a gauge that registers the activity in my autonomic (self-governed) nervous system. It registers whether I am in sympathetic (activated) or parasympathetic (relaxed) mode. It does this by measur- ing the variation of the heart rate in relation to the breath. It is called heart rate variability (HRV). I was used to hearing about the sympathetic nervous system in medical school only as a fear-based system that triggers a ‘fight-flight-freeze’ reaction. It is a mode that makes people sick because of stress mainly through an elevated level of cortisol. I am almost never stressed out and I expected to be in a continuous parasym- pathetic state. It was such a surprise, therefore, when I read from the measurements that I was in the sympathetic mode almost the entire day. The reason for that was that the sympathetic nervous system is also in use during pleasurable activities. I call this ‘fun-focus-fulfillment’. The brain’s attention center makes us aware of both unwanted threats and attractive goals. Therefore, the same system is involved when we are hunting for something as when we are fleeing from something.
When I search for the sympathetic nervous system’s pleasurable effect on the Internet, I find almost no results. This is probably because medical science has been more concerned with what makes people sick than what makes them healthy. My clinical experience tells me clearly that those people who activate the same activating system in a positive way are healthier than the people who activate it in a negative way. Put simply, when you are engaged in hunting something, there is less capacity present to be scared or to flee from something, and vice versa.
The other side of the autonomic nervous system is the parasympa- thetic mode. It kicks in when we are relaxed, and then digestion and the body’s restitution increase. Being in this mode regularly and sufficiently is necessary for the body and brain to function optimally. We don’t get into this mode necessarily when we photograph, which is an activity where the brain and the body are most often activated as if we are going to go on a hunt. My experience with the HRV gauge is that meditation, inter- mittent fasting, using breathing techniques and sleep put the body into the parasympathetic mode most efficiently. These are active ways to be calm and recuperate our strength. This is important because with even the most positive activating activity we would burn out without rest. And with constant negative activity we become exhausted rapidly.
In conclusion, my undocumented claim is that much of the health effects of photography consist in utilizing the sympathetic nervous system in a positive way. In addition, we should seek to spend the most time in a balance between the positive sympathetic activation and parasympa- thetic restitution, and the least amount of time in the sympathetic fear- based mode. The Camera Cure® revolves around exercising a flexibility in our nervous systems. We learn to cope with a high level of sympathetic pressure when there is a need for it and focus on finding rest and peace in everyday life.
BOOK SUGGESTION: The Upside of Stress by Kelly McGonigal. Also look at ted.com.
Activity is medicine
ou already have the most advanced medicine inside of you – a highly advanced immune system developed through millions of years of fighting diseases. But no matter how advanced it is, the immune system can fail if you are overweight, underslept, malnourished, stressed or in bad physi- cal condition. In addition to infections being inflicted from without, we get inflammations that arise from within. Our body enters an inflamma- tory state, facilitating a range of lifestyle diseases. Our immune system, developed through the eons fighting infections and physical damage falls short against these modern diseases.
The immune system requires regular care in the form of constructive physical and mental activity. A lack of physical capacity for activity combined with psychic stress will cause a chronic inflammatory state in the body. This leads to a network of diseases that are termed ‘civilization diseases’, such as asthma, atherosclerosis, reflux, sleep apnea, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, depression, heart disease, cancer, infec- tions, general fatigue, autoimmune diseases and muscle disorders. They are rarely found in traditional societies but abound in modern ones. The modern diseases often act in concert, adding up through the years of unhealthy living, forcing your doctor to prescribe a cocktail of medicines with interacting side-effects. This is not what you want.
The immune system is constructed so as to be able to benefit from during regular movement while the cortisol that is released by stress seems to suppress the immune system. The Camera Cure® therefore con- tains healthy habits that will increase your physical abilities and balance your state of stress. Muscle work produces proteins that improves brain function. Endurance training releases healthy endocannabinoids and endorphins. Enough sleep and rest lowers cortisol to boost the immune system.
Our physical health has an effect on our capacity to take pictures and on our creativity in the here and now. In addition, in recent years we have become more aware of how important movement is for psychic health. When you strengthen your body, you strengthen your psyche at the same time. If you keep yourself in good physical shape, you will also live longer, so that you can take more pictures.
Despite being a doctor, I gave little attention to my own health for many years. But when my father died at age 73, and I could see with a quick calculation that I could count on having 28 more years of life. I understood that I had to change my lifestyle. I was overweight and out of shape. I used snuff, smoked in periods and drank a little too much alcohol. Gradually I turned myself around and now I exercise half an hour a day, watch what I eat and the spare tire around my gut has gradually moved upwards and out to my arms. My brain is sharper without alcohol. Statistically, I have increased my chances considerably for living another 50 years.
As a doctor I have been able to observe patients my own age for over 20 years. When we were around 30, I seldom perceived a difference between us in lifestyle and morbidity. At 40 the difference started to become a little clearer, but it was not until now as we have turned 50 that the small everyday lifestyle choices have become visible. The same, life-threatening sedentary body which I used to have is draining them.
Couch potatoes in their fifties often suffer from medical afflictions on the same level as 80-year old people who are active.
Using our muscles frees a number of substances that maintain our health. Fitness strengthens our brain and improves our memory. Abdom- inal fat, on the other hand, releases inflammatory and carcinogenic sub- stances. As a doctor I see that many people are caught in a negative circle where they sit so much at work during the day that they become tired and feel that they have to relax in the evening. This is how they become weaker and weaker, until they reach a point where the diseases take over.
We get tired when we have overworked our brains without compensa- ting for it with adequate movement. Many people compensate the appa- rent loss of energy by ingesting sugars and fast carbohydrates, but, what a person needs is a more powerful supply of blood. There is only one recipe for this: increase you heart rate.
Exercise makes you feel better, less sensitive to stress, more creative and improves your memory and concentration. The risk of heart disease, cancer and a number of other diseases are reduced. Obviously, it seems humbling for us doctors to admit that everything we can offer pales in comparison with a half hour of jogging. However, what ensures a blood supply to all of our vital organs is the quality of the heart and blood ves- sels. When this works optimally, the aging process is delayed.
It is obvious that physical and psychic health are related. We see that mental states can affect a whole range of physical diseases and that our physical condition can influence a whole range of mental illnesses. You can think your way into being sick and you can think your way into health. You can sit until you are sick or make a move towards recovery. And in order to get into good enough shape, we don’t need a gym or personal trainer. Nelson Mandela kept in good shape in an isolation cell by shadowboxing and pretending he was jumping rope. So, we must also be able to get in shape whatever our situation is. The strength that is built up in the body is transmitted to the mind.
Live longer to take more pictures
A particularly educational part of my work as a doctor has been to write death certificates. I can observe who dies early and who dies later in life, and from what causes. I have been particularly interested in, and envious of, patients who lived free of diseases and medications until their mid-90s. So I interrogate the family for advice. These are the typical answers: They were often in a good mood and smiling. They were tolerant and accepting of difficulties. They were physically active, enjoying a meaningful job or hobby. They were generous and likeable, often surrounded by family and grandchildren. On the walls of their homes were hung photographs filled with family members who spent a lot of time with them because they liked them and not out of duty or because of a guilty conscience.
These descriptions fit in well with the lifestyle of the societies in the world where people live the longest. When National Geographic writer Dan Buettner studied such societies, he pointed out five so-called ‘Blue Zones’ – Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Ikaria (Greece), Nicoya (Costa Rica) and Loma Linda (California) – he identified some common traits: Among these were that the people had an activity that they looked for- ward to getting up to do the next day. They were slim and they engaged regularly in moderate, natural movement. They were social and well liked. They ate a mainly vegetarian diet with not much meat. They were cautious with alcohol and got plenty of sleep.
I try to weave these findings into The Camera Cure® since lifestyle and outlook on life have a lot to say for the optimal functioning of our brain and body, not least when we photograph.
BOOK SUGGESTION: Bluezones by Dan Buettner. Also see ted.com
Sleep for recovery
In modern times, we get up to two hours less sleep than what our body needs. This is disastrous and creates illness and reduces our functioning in everyday life. In order to be able to sort through and integrate new memories into our memory, most of us need at least eight hours of sleep a night. This is also necessary for our immune system to work their best. It is therefore important to sleep well and for a long time to get the most out of this book. If you regularly feel that you aren’t rested after sleeping, you should ask your doctor about a referral for sleep registration.
BOOK SUGGESTION: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. Also see ted.com
The victim role
Being in the role of victim is characterized by being bitter, a feeling of injustice, complaining, a guilty conscience and shame. A feeling of guilt paralyzes us and prevents us from having a productive sense of respon- sibility. It is understandable how someone can end up in this role, but the outlook connected to it makes recovery difficult. The victim role is similar to the defeat response found in every social species. It is a kind of evolutionary reflex, when you feel weak and defeated, to pull out of the community to avoid draining the common resources. This behaviour that was useful for the survival of our distant ancestors is now in our way of happiness.
It is easy to fall into the role of being the victim. Hormones facilitate the process: We feel important when we fight against perceived injustice (serotonin). We feel togetherness with others who share the same feeling (oxytocin). We feel excitement when we look for, and find evidence of, us being denied our share of happiness (dopamine). And we get a rush of endorphins from the physical pain that often occurs as a consequence of muscle/skeletal ailments related to the feeling of being a victim. The hormones have lured us into this role, but science has now found out what can give us control over these hormones so that we can be free of them.
Problem-oriented people unfortunately don’t like solutions. If I sug- gest measures to patients who are in the role of being a victim, they often react negatively. I have heard the following accusation innumer- able times: “When you say I could do something to get better, you make me feel even worse!”. They would often react by doing more of the unde- sired action.
If someone is problem-oriented, it is also difficult for them to take good pictures. Photography is a great antidote. After all, it is an activity built on solving one problem: how to capture an interesting subject in a good light.
The victim role must be replaced with something else. And that can be difficult to do if one’s thoughts have been so preoccupied with illness, tragedy and injustice for so long that it has become a part of the person’s personality. What is someone supposed to spend their time on if they aren’t ruminating on what is wrong anymore? What are you supposed to talk about with other people? Many of the people who live in the role of the victim can’t, or won’t, admit it to themselves. Is it possible that you are one of them? If you are, and yet you still continue to read this book, then I really applaud your courage. I know how difficult it can be. There are a lot of challenges here that will stretch your mindset. Try not to be defensive. Instead, test the different strategies with an open mind. You can always fall back on your usual way of thinking if you end up still preferring it.
The self-pity often associated with the victim role is in my mind one of the biggest obstacles to personal
growth. It can be better to practice some self-forgetfulness and direct the attention to life outside ourselves. As we can easily do in photography.
Photography’s built-in focus
As a photographer, you become solution-oriented automatically. If a picture doesn’t end up as planned, you will instinctively think about how you can still make it work. A number of possible solutions will appear, such as moving a little, changing perspective, tidying up the picture, asking people to help out, coming back another day, etc. Eventually, you can take another picture instead. Through photography workshops I have held or participated in, I have observed how extremely solution-oriented photo- graphers can be. The contrast between them and my patients who are less solution-oriented was so remarkable that it gave birth to the idea behind this book.@
You see your world
“I’d prefer to photograph dogs.” Veterinarian Marianne was a partici-
pant at the first workshop I held in Perpignan, France. “That’s a shame, because I walked around town and there are no dogs there,” I said. And then I learned my first lesson as a workshop instructor.
Marianne’s pictures showed that Perpignan was jam-packed with dogs in all varieties. They had just passed under my radar due to my lack of interest in them. We thus only notice the things we are occupied with, and which the unconscious part of our brain steers our eyes towards. That’s why all participants take completely different pictures at the same place.
The human attention center is in the brainstem. It is a part of the sym- pathetic, autonomic nervous system that makes us aware of both threats and things that attract us. We use our attention center subconsciously when we photograph. It alerts us to interesting subjects that we can take pictures of, based on our previous search history.
People receive millions of possible sense impression continuously. We consciously manage only to take in a few of these at any one time. The exact impressions that you take in are unique to you because no one per- ceives a situation, a place or an atmosphere completely alike. You portray reality as you see it, only according to how you have filtered it. The pic- tures that you take are the ones that only you can take.
What you see is not a coincidence. What you have seen before will control how you look at things. There are ten times as many nerve fibers going from the brain to the eyes as there are going in the opposite direction. Our unique brains control what we find, making the pictures inevitably an expression of who we are. Who you have become will appear in your photos (unless you try to have yours look like ones that other peo- ple have taken). We tend to look for what we have already experienced as important rather than wasting our attention on anything else. That’s why I seldom notice dogs before they actually bark at me. And that’s why the plants in our apartment never get watered while my wife is away.
Taking photographs is an interactive process. You leave your mark on the pictures that you take, but the pictures also leave their mark on you. I have become a different person as a consequence of the pictures I have taken. The photos give me the opportunity to do some soul searching and self-monitoring. In this way we can get a different perspective on ourselves.
BOOK SUGGESTION: On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz
Let loose on the obstacles
A good technique for solving a problem or fulfilling a dream is mental contrasting. That is, we don’t just see our goals and dreams, but identify what hinders us in achieving them and then make a plan to force the situa- tion. What do you want? What is hindering you? How can you overcome this obstacle? This can be used on problems of all sizes.
Desire: Obstacle: Plan:
Formulate what you want.
Identify what hinders you from achieving it.
Find a method for either removing or putting pressure on what hinders you.
Here is an example that can be useful for you:
Complete The Camera Cure®.
Not much free time to do it, don’t like doing things alone, don’t want to spend time away from my children.
Photograph on the way to work or during lunchtime, photograph every Sunday, buy a book for a friend and do it together, use the children as subjects for the pictures.
Now it is your turn:
Desire: Obstacle: Plan:
Complete The Camera Cure®
Only dreaming or having a desire to do something won’t lead your for- ward. On the contrary, it can lead to a mental satisfaction that impedes action. It is not until you identify the obstacle and begin to break free from it that you can move towards your goal. Making the contrast only takes a minute or two to do, but it seems incredibly effective. This can be used for both daily and long-term goals.
BOOK SUGGESTION: Rethinking Positive Thinking by Gabriele Oettingen
This can be a good time to think about what kind of person you wish to be in the future. Also think about what kind of positive impact you want to have on the people around you and society in general.
The structure of The Camera Cure®
The 55 photographic challenges in the Camera Cure are divided into 5 categories.
In the first part we use the camera to improve well-being and a state of presence – and to accept and appreciate the moment as it is.
We increase our ability to be.
In the second part we improve our decisiveness to become better at dealing with obstacles and at grabbing the possibilities we encounter.
We increase our ability to act.
In the third part we will use the camera to reflect upon how we are and live.
We increase our ability to learn.
In the fourth part we will practice changing what we have assessed to be worth changing.
We increase our adaptability.
In the fifth and final part we will use the techniques that are needed to become really good at what we are doing.
We increase our ability to perform.
About the progression
You can adjust your progress through it according to your circum- stances and motivation. You don’t have to do all of the tasks, but the more of them that you do the better you will get. If you think some of the tasks seem pointless, skip them. But remember, often it is the tasks that we have the greatest resistance toward that we can get the most out of. It shouldn’t take any more than 10 to 15 minutes to read a task and you might spend 15 to 20 minutes taking the photographs. In addition, if you take a particular interest in something, I have provided recommendations about books or YouTube videos that you could benefit from.
It would be smart to establish a routine for the days that you photo- graph. You could read the tasks in the morning, take photos in the afternoon and then write your notes at night. That way your mind will automatically go over the tasks during the day, consciously or uncon- sciously, and help you move ahead. Establishing schedules, like designa- ting one or two days of the week to do the tasks, will make it easier to complete the exciting photographic journey of the Camera Cure.
What’s needed here are consistent, simple efforts. Adjust how much you put into it according to what you have available of time and energy.
It would be extremely advantageous if you could look at your pictu- res together with another photo enthusiast who is also going through the book. The process of giving each other feedback and looking at your pictures through someone else’s eyes is extremely valuable. Often, others will find qualities in your work that is difficult to discover by yourself. Also, it is always interesting to see what others have found who are also doing the task.
You’re not going to take brilliant pictures every day you try. What’s worth doing, however, is also worth doing badly. Be firm with yourself and make sure you get going and take pictures. Be kind to yourself and pat yourself on the back when you have completed a task!
Doing the photography in this book can be done in two ways. The easiest way to take pictures is with a smart phone, but you can of course also use a dedicated camera. Of course such a camera offers the best possibilities. However, a smart phone also has its advantages. It is always accessible, easy to use and everyone is familiar with it.
Easy variant: Take ten pictures with your phone. Feel free to put them into a separate folder in your computer or create one on your phone. Before you start photographing, your phone should be put into flight mode. Just knowing that you could be disturbed will reduce your ability to be present. Are you having a bad day? At least take one picture. Taking one is much better than taking nothing!
Advanced variant: Take the number of photos you want and upload them into your computer. Go through all of them and choose the five that you like the best. Put these into a folder named A. Then pick out the ten photos that you like second best and put them into folder B. This is how you can get practice evaluating your own pictures and you can also discuss the selection in the A and B folder with your photographic partner.
We also use this method in ordinary workshops.
Your most important tool
By walking around with a camera, you can train your ability to stay focused. Your concentration is your most important tool. Focus your attention like a brain surgeon and be patient. As soon as you lose your concentration, your pictures will suffer.
The advantage of digital photography is that it is easy to experiment, make mistakes and take chances since each photo doesn’t cost anything. In addition, you can find out quickly the results of your decisions so you can more easily learn from them.
Practice together in groups
The activities in this book can be completed on your own or, preferably, with one or several other partners. The more people that do the exercises together, the more effective they are. The ideal size of the group consists of six to ten people. People learn much more in groups, and much more quickly, than they do by themselves. When I hold workshops, I see how the participants push each forward. They get feedback about their own processes and give suggestions back to the others. The knowledge that other people are out there photographing as well as they can stimu- lates their own drive and concentration. In addition, workshops also have a social dimension that boosts oxytocin. Towards the end of this book there is more information about the guidance of groups and group work.
Feel free to share your pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #thecameracure. Maybe you will get some useful feedback!
How to do the tasks
First you should really try to get a friend, or preferably several, who can work on the book with you at the same time. This will increase your moti- vation and your chance of succeeding, just as it is with quitting smoking or losing weight. You will benefit from having someone to discuss the exerci- ses with, but you don’t have to do the same tasks at the same time.
Some of the tasks will be quite similar to each other and yet approach each issue from slightly different angles. Some of the tasks will suit you better than others. You will not succeed with many of them as well as you would like. Accept it when it happens and move on.
Each task starts with an illustrative picture and a short text. The picture has been taken either by me or one of the participants at a workshop that I have held. On the following page there is a description of the problem or challenge and on the page after that is the solution and a photo assign- ment for you to do. You are encouraged.
Some would think that it seems unbelievable that an effort of half an hour a day is going to make a big change. Altogether, this may take about 30 hours of work, a little less than a normal working week. But also take into account that doing The Camera Cure® will get your brain to work on the tasks both consciously and subconsciously. Your subconsciousness even works at night. It is like having an extra person on your team. Try to get eight hours of sleep a night to maximize what you will learn from the work you put in.
If you feel that some of the advice you get contradicts its purpose, don’t let that irritate or stop you. Just move on, remembering that what feels useless to you could be useful for someone else. You choose how much time and energy you want to put into each task. You can even skip some of them if you feel like it. Or just read through them and act as if you have done them. Maybe you would like to do some of the tasks a few times before moving on? This is your book and your time, so you decide what works for you. But if you really want to get as good as you possibly can, I advise you to do them all.
Under each individual task or assignment, you can enter a score of bet- ween 1 and 6 and evaluate whether the problem was relevant for you, and if the solution was useful.
At the very end of the book you will find an overview of all of the tasks. You can write in the totals there and assess which tasks were the most rele- vant and helpful. You will benefit greatly from repeating these.
What should I take a picture of?
Photograph the subjects you find yourself around the most. Objects in or near your house. Visit your family and frends. Take your camera to work and your recreational activities. Take pictures on your way there. Prioritize places you like to stay at or are curious about, themes that you are inte- rested in or are motivated to explore. Make it as easy as possible for your- self. Choose what is fun, important and exciting, places and environments that energize your and get your heart to beat a little faster. The more engaged and interested in the subjects you are, the more you are going to mobilize your energy and courage. This will be reflected in the pictures.
Some would benefit from choosing one or two permanent locations. One of them can be calm, for tranquility and reflection, the other one can be hectic, for action and variation. With such few places you won’t have to start all over again every time. Your experience from previous sessions will help you both consciously and subconsciously.
The most difficult step in the process is getting started. You should actually begin before you are ready, while you are still doubtful, insecure and can’t really see how you are going to accomplish this. Trust that things are going to work out along the way. Accept being a total beginner.
“What is a good picture?”
I get this question often. Many people believe that there are some common features for pictures, but a good one is what works for you. The idea about there being a formula for one is just as absurd as trying to define good music, politics, the right hobby or the correct opinion.
We all have different tastes and preferences. None of us fall for the exact same partner, compose the exact same music playlists or enjoy the exact same movies.
Therefore, be humble when you express your opinion about a picture because this only reflects your point of view and not objective truth. It is defined by who you are, what you have experienced, where you come from and your unique taste. The most important thing regarding this is to have a conversation around the pictures that everyone can learn from. You don’t show your pictures to others to get their acceptance, but to learn something through other peoples eyes. While we easily overlook and misjudge our own personalities and qualities, it is often easier for others to se us as we are. Before I give advice to other people about their pictu- res, I usually say, “I would have done this if I were you, but I am not you. Use my advice only if you think it has value for you.” Ask the people who are going to look at your pictures, “Tell me what you liked and what you would like to see more of.” You can learn a lot by listening to other people, but still trust mainly in yourself.
When you try to impress someone, what you do often turns out a little strained, affected and not very original, and then does not resonate with other people. As soon as you stop trying to impress other people, what you are doing becomes effortless, genuine and personal, and this touches others. Focus on expressing yourself and not on trying to make an impres- sion on other people.
Be extra careful with giving negative criticism. For three years I was a student in an international masterclass in photography together with many talented photographers from around the world. I was able to observe there how negative feedback could kill the creative power of even merited, talented photographers. We are all vulnerable to criticism even if we pretend that we aren’t.
When we talk about pictures, we try to use words to express what we see. The problem is that pictures are received by our non-verbal part of the brain. This is the old part, sensitive to emotions, moods and feelings of pleasure or displeasure. So we try to use our wordy prefrontal cortex to explain what is received by another, more elemental part of the brain. So even with our best of efforts we will struggle to put in words what we feel and sense about a picture. It is important to acknowledge and accept these limitations. (Our non verbal part of the brain is millions of years old, but scientists think we started to talk only 200000 years ago.)
Tips for what you can look for in a photograph
- Describe the picture first of all as if you were telling someone whose eyes are closed exactly what you are seeing – shapes, colors, subject, everything you see down to the last detail..
- Is the light soft or hard (see Task 6)? Where is the light coming from?
- How would the subject have looked like at another time during the day, with different light conditions?
- What is the depth of field like?
- Where is the camera positioned?
- Why was the picture taken? What does the artist want to say? What can I learn from this picture?
- What can I learn from this picture?
- What could have made the picture better?
- What could have made the picture worse?
- Do I like the picture?
Learn from the best
We can do what we want to do if we study the mindset of people who have achieved what they set out to do. Therefore, I have filled this book with brief words of wisdom and views on life from great thinkers, authors, artists, heads of state, business leaders, athletes, philosophers, psychol- ogists and other wise people. Many of them have managed to cope with difficult living conditions and ended up succeeding exceptionally well in their fields. You can learn the most by listening to the best. After all, they are proof that their advice works. If you listen to those who didn’t quite make it to their level, it may be difficult to know what works or doesn’t in regard to their advice.
However, no one can get their life together just by listening to the hard-fought wisdom of others. We have to go out and deal with the losses and triumphs on our own!!
BOOK SUGGESTION: Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss Book suggestions
On every page in the tasks, there is an issue that could have filled an entire book. All that I have space to present are the broad strokes but if you would like more nuances about a subject, and to learn more about the relevant issue, many of the tasks include a relevant book recommendation.
Within each of the book’s five chapters I will introduce a new useful habit or practice, seemingly unrelated to photography. Test each of these and see if they are useful for you. The purpose of these good habits is to get the brain and body to work better, thereby helping us to make better pictures. A bad habit often needs to be replaced by a good one. The job of changing habits is often difficult to begin with but it quickly becomes easier. One of the most important effects of a habit is that it replaces much of the need for willpower. Willpower is like a depletable muscle, so we need to save it for challenges that cannot be solved by habits.
A good habit can replace a bad one. For example, if you are plagued by depression and anxiety and you have found ways to deal with them that alleviate them in the moment, but which over time maintain or strengthen the issue, you can grab your camera when you notice the presence of the symptoms and develop a new habit which can weaken the issue and make you stronger. The job of changing habits is often difficult to begin with, but fortunately it quickly becomes easier.
The brain loves habits. Anything that the brain can automate, it will save energy on which can instead be used to think actively about other things. After 30 days of taking photos, a new habit is incorporated. If the brain doesn’t receive something that it is used to getting, it will protest. This is unfortunately true whether the habit is destructive og constructive.
The Camera Cure® presents some good habits to you that I have experienced to be useful myself. You may find some other ones that are better for you. Use them instead, because what’s important here is to get used to setting aside at least 15 to 30 minutes a day for something that will increase your well-being and coping skills. Of the 24 hours available to us every day, we should invest at least this amount of time to get a longer, healthier and happier life in return.
BOOK SUGGESTION: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Just do it!
There are many tasks in this book. Altogether, they cover more parts than any photographer is capable of mastering. Therefore, be patient with yourself. Allow yourself to be a beginner and take some bad pictures. Don’t think, “I’m going to do the best I can. Instead, think: I am just going to do it!” Big expectations about performance only inhibit creativity. Concentrate for 15 to 20 minutes and you have done your job. Small, regular efforts over a long period of time lead to the goal.
Before embarking on today’s task, prepare yourself mentally for resis- tance and unforeseen obstacles. Remember that being frustrated is not something to be irritated by. Frustration is not in the way of the creative process; it is the process.