As a cancer survivor there are many support groups around. I never went in for the therapy kind. Although it has its place, I didn’t feel I needed that. But when I heard there was a tennis group (tennis for life) and free tango lessons I was there. The beauty of this kind of support is exactly what I experience in doing my own art. “you aren’t sick while you’re creating”. Here was an hour of creating with other people. A great time to relax and do something fun and meet other people who have been through a similar journey.
When I suggested an iPhone photography class it was met with enthusiasm. I created a basic curriculum that I felt anyone could follow. Starting with some simple tricks most people don’t know about their iPhone, and then into the basics of good photography and art. My goal was to use my skills and what I had learned to help others enjoy this activity and create with as much enthusiasm as it gave me.
These programs are free to anyone impacted by cancer, whether a patient, survivor, family member etc. My class attracts those who are creative and want to do this as an art form, to those who want to take better family shots. What ties us all together is our link to cancer, and although that sounds somewhat somber, it never is. Even those still going through treatment, or those who have suffered a recent loss, are relieved from their concerns at least for the moment as we photograph a flower, a still life, hands etc. and learn the apps to enhance those photos or turn them into a painting or an abstract. This is a safe space to create. There is no criticism. All creative expression is appreciated. If the student wants it I will give suggestions of what to try or some new tool to use, but I never criticize or say anything negative about the work they do. Why would I? I make it clear they are there to express themselves. But the possibility of creating something great is as possible as anywhere else. Sometimes we talk about our illness or our loss or even the world around us, but most of the time this is about something a lot more healing.
Although I am not a psychologist or social worker, I did feel that what helped me could help others. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. A recent article tells of a Drexel University study that showed that doing 45 minutes of art can lower a person’s cortisol level. And since cortisol levels are considered somewhat connected to cancer, this is an amazing result. I could relate to this as my diagnosis came on the heels of the years I went through such extreme stress.
My feeling was although that sounds good, there are those who are ill, in pain or tired and many artforms come with a mess, and even smells that could be difficult when not feeling well. Creating digitally is a great solution to this. It can be done in bed, on a couch, or taken anywhere. Just about everyone has a smart device on them all the time. The complete art studio you already own becomes the perfect healing arts activity.
I focus my classes on getting my students to see things not as their actual purpose, but as shapes, light, texture, color. This allows them to also take away the significance and have a fresh perspective that they can hopefully take with them. And they do. We photograph people and flowers but also patterns, textures, and abstracts. And we use them to blend in with other images. I don’t get into the message or anything conceptual. Just the visual. If someone has a message or a theme that is fine but the healing approach to me is more attainable just looking at the visual and not having to think of a solution to a problem. My students surprise me with some very astute captures they bring to class, and some very creative editing choices.
The biggest thrill for me is when someone learns one of the apps and their face lights up when they see what they just did. I have plans to create exhibits of my students work and maybe even a fundraiser with their art.
One could say I teach iPhone photography and art. But I think a better explanation would be I teach people to heal themselves through photography and digital art.