Simon Lowe is a photographer based in Whitley Bay. For World Photo Day, he shares some of the ways in which photography has helped his mental health.
Before photography became my profession it was my safe place.
Although I’ve been interested it since I was a boy, I first took it up as a hobby 12 years ago. Having lived with periods of low mood, mild depression and anxiety for a while, I realised I needed something to distract me, so I bought a digital SLR camera. Once I’d worked out what most of the buttons did, I started photographing nearby landscapes. Living near the coast, I had plenty of subject matter to choose from: St Mary’s Lighthouse, Tynemouth, Seaton Sluice were all within easy reach of home.
These places and the pursuit of photography effectively became a refuge, an opportunity to escape from my troubles. An hour watching the light change at sunrise or sunset and trying to capture the scene helped my state of mind greatly. Worries slipped away and tensions eased. I would stop talking to myself - often a reliable indicator of my anxiety - and I’d focus on what was in front of me.
Photography is a very mindful process. Especially landscape photography. I learned very quickly that my best photos came from becoming completely aware of my surroundings - absorbing the sounds, colours and shapes of the landscape I stood in helped me see patterns and create compositions. The way a wave washed over a rock, the lines of light and shadows through a stand of trees. Despite our best efforts, the weather and light on any given day are never predictable, so any disappointment at the results wasn’t worth mulling over. Instead of chasing some elusive concept for a photo, I learned to appreciate chance moments. The photo I’ve chosen to accompany these words is one of those chances.
I took this photo in the depths of Kielder Forest in Northumberland. At the time I had been poorly with low mood and anxiety. And after several false starts on previous days, I had finally forced myself out and into the car, knowing that the fresh air and a change of scene would do me good.
It was a bright October day and I’d been walking through rows of dark pines for a while. The path turned west and rose and the low autumn sun cut through the trees in front of me. I watched for a moment, took a couple of photos then moved on.
It was just a brief moment, but I’d been there for it. The remainder of the walk was fairly unremarkable - a muddy plodge over a moor followed by a detour around some grumpy cattle to return to the car - but that moment stayed with me.
At the time I took this photo, I’d been listening to the band Foals. Their album ‘Holy Fire’ had been on heavy rotation in the car and at home. When I looked back over the photos I’d taken and came to edit them, one track was running on repeat around my head:
It's times like these when I'm on my way out of the woods,
Never felt better than when I'm on my way out for good.
It's times like these when I'm on my way back out of the woods.
I'll never be afraid again now I'm out of here for good.
The track, its sense of liberation seemed to chime with the image in front of me and my situation. There were possibilities, opportunities, things to look forward to.
I’d be ok.
© Image and Text: Simon Lowe Photography