I have had bad stretches of time in my adult life. When I’m feeling well, I try to learn better coping techniques, always returning to cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness as my favorites. One of my biggest difficulties with meditative type exercises, is that I have trouble shutting all the parts of my brain off in order to be truly in the moment. I don’t think my preferences are that far off from normal, but there are a few examples that stand out in my mind.
I am good with non-repetitive movement. I like rock climbing because there is a problem solving component. I like dance and yoga because I can focus on virtuosity of motion and form. I like running for less than an hour. That runner’s high, zone out relaxation that some people talk about? I can’t relate, once I get into the groove, my mind can wander and suddenly I’m enumerating all of the other items on my to-do list that can’t happen while I’m wasting time running. I return in a rage; hot sweaty, and overwhelmed by everything I need to accomplish.
I have stronger focus when I have background noise, especially conversational sounds, I work better. Music is difficult because it makes me want to dance and start choreographing in my head.
In general, I still need some sort of stimulus to occupy part of my brain, the part that runs away if left to itself. While it would be nice to eventually learn to be alone in my own head, I am also always trying to find new ways to distract the runaway brain.
In the last year, I have fallen in love with “photography.” I put this in quotation marks, because it’s a means to an end, and I’m less interested in the final product than in the process of arriving there. I also put this in quotation marks because I acknowledge that most of what happens on Instagram is a bastardization of the art form. It’s like saying, “I posted a video blog on YouTube so I’m a film maker.”
There are a few ways that Instagram makes photography more accessible.
First, because Instagram updates are posted from a cell phone, you are encouraged to use a cell phone camera. Cell phone cameras are pretty simple to use, with fewer buttons and features, it’s easier to focus on composition. It’s a wonderful creative constraint.
Next, cell phone cameras, and especially Instagram make it easy to edit photos almost immediately. Once you get in the habit of looking at a photo and thinking about how you could improve it, suddenly, you’re doing this between every shot. Take a picture, look at it carefully on the screen, think about how you would crop the photo or change the contrast, and then make your next shot from a slightly different angle to integrate those improvements.
Instagram then provides a platform for feedback from other people who are interested in photography. You can learn by trial and error. If you’re taking pictures for family members and friends who ask “Wait, who’s car is that?” or “Do you even know that person?” or “It’s black and white, are you trying to be artsy?” then you will not keep taking photos for very long. Instagram is a self selecting community where fewer dissenters will be hanging around.
Finally, Instagram provides exposure to new ideas nearly endless examples to learn from. One of the reasons I didn’t like photography when I was younger was because I hadn’t been exposed to the variety of styles that I see online. I had a lot of misconceptions about photography needing to be black and white to be considered art. I thought the subject matter had to be unique or significant. It had never occurred to me that I could take pictures of everyday things, that I could focus just on color or texture for example.
Since setting up an Instagram account, I’m more aware of what makes something beautiful to me and I’m almost always open to seeing the potential for a beautiful photograph wherever I am. This gives my runaway brain a new task to focus on in the background. When I’m actively taking photographs, I’m completely in the moment, focused on every detail of the scene, brainstorming new ideas and angles, thinking about a million different factors simultaneously. It’s relaxing and a brilliant break from cubicle tedium during the day.
I’ve tried a few different challenges and small projects on Instagram, mostly about color. I have a new idea for the next few days, something that I might end up posting on here instead of on Instagram. I recently found a features hub with beautiful pictures, mostly with a slightly dark but dreamy aesthetic. After about a week, I realized that most of the accounts in that social circle all belonged to girls still in school, some still in middle school. I felt ridiculously old. In response to one girl’s comment, I explained that adults go to Starbucks because it makes being a cubicle slave tolerable, not because we intend to waste tons of money on sugary junk food in liquid form. I’ve decided to try and do a photo essay about my daily life. To try and capture what my daily life feels like, and a little of how it looks with photographs and minimal text. We’ll see how it goes…