Ronnie Murphy Photography

Photography and Mental Health.

“I have been manipulated, and I have in turn manipulated others, by recording their response to suffering and misery. So there is guilt in every direction: guilt because I don’t practice religion, guilt because I was able to walk away, while this man was dying of starvation or being murdered by another man with a gun. And I am tired of guilt, tired of saying to myself: “I didn’t kill that man on that photograph, I didn’t starve that child. That’s why I want to photograph landscapes and flowers. I am sentencing myself to peace.”

Don McCullin

If you know me well enough you’ll know that this won’t have been my first effort at writing this.  If anything it has taken me months to actually get round to continuing  on with this post.  But I think it is something that is important and something that is somewhat – for me anyway- overlooked.  Because it has taken so long it has been edited, re-edited and re-drafted – and even then I probably have said it all wrong.  Apologies if this is longer than it should be.


What makes a photographer tick (or even click)?

For me a photographer sees far more than what they photograph and what they present to you, the viewer.  They see it long before they press the shutter. It might be construed as intuition but in reality it is an all-seeing eye that has been active perhaps even long before when the hand held a building block instead of a camera. 

There are many artists who have had their demons, their outlandishness, their quaint personality. When you see their work you get an idea of their mindset and what their message is.  But let us go back  a few lines.  Demons, outlandish, quaintness. Are these words an opinion and a description of how we view them? Not how they regard themselves?  A photographer is also an artist


 Everything we do, everything we say, everything we share is the camera film on which so many people capture and in turn develop their own mental image of who we are. But it is what types of ‘film’ and ‘paper’ they themselves use that decides how we turn out. In this crazy world we are all equipped with different types of film and a whole load of different types of paper!

I should start with my own mental health.

I suppose for most folk, mental health starts to matter mostly later in life and it is in looking at our history where the problems start. I think our depression has it’s foundations laid well before we eventually come to recognise that our mental health has been gradually but constantly afflicted. Less so from our own experiences but from our observance of other peoples’ experiences. It is the so called ’empathetical’ amongst us that seem to get the realisation this is the case before most others do.  We live in a world that is now full of media portraying every human action and emotion. Some of it we can understand and yet some things we simply don’t have the experience to comprehend. So we look for the answer. If we see it then it will be seen either through curiosity or our own insatiable desire to interact as a human being.

A photograph is really about human interaction – from taking it to sharing it.

So it can only really be that photography comes from a yearning to interact whether it be from viewing or taking. It is that yearning that makes us who we are today. It is our means of escape, our desire to live, to learn and to experience just something new. Something different. Somewhere different.

I will be honest and say that most days just now, the urge to pick up a camera is practically non-existent.  Considering that photography equipment can be so prohibitively expensive, many who cannot afford the best equipment will see this as a total waste.

For many photographers it is labelled “Losing your mojo.” It can happen at any time and without warning and it can set off a whole load of emotions and ideas about ability and self-worth as a photographer.   It is a crazy self-destructive path that promotes boredom and total apathy…

Very recently, with lockdown being as it is, there seems to be this prison of safety around us but for many who suffer from mental health problems, the last place you want to be is in a prison. This is especially so when you have already sentenced yourself to spending a lot of time at home and in solitude but still appreciate the freedom you have to leave and take that troubled mind elsewhere. It is this that the photographer wishes to do most, like Don McCullin.

When the viewer looks at a picture, they are the constantly unaware they are actually the passenger of the photographer, the one who is free to look out of the window.  Observing and appreciating the journey but not really knowing where the driver is going.  You will rarely look or see the same things at the same time. That is the beauty of it all and it takes a lot of convincing for a photographer to realise that.

They’ve not lost the “mojo” but the map that will take them where they want to go.

Sometimes it is better not to use the map and not think about pre-planned routes to getting back on the road.  Instead accept the chance to be the passenger for once. Look and admire the driving of others.  Take in the views and accept the chance to park up  if you need to.  It’s not a racetrack but a long, long road of self discovery. 

Ronnie Murphy Photography
A great picture by my friend and former fellow student, Pamela Gibson. From a series of pictures describing lockdown and it's effects on mental health. © Pamela Gibson.