Landscape and nature photography workshops with a triple purpose. We will share photography skills for sure but we also talk about two things that are very near and dear to me; mental health and mentorship.
Above: The Guiding Light of Umhlanga; A metaphor for mentorship. I shot this on the day I received my old Sigma 120-400mm DS OS HSM It was shot handheld from the Umhlanga pier on a whim. Like a kid with his Christmas present, I could not wait to try it out, so I snapped a few unplanned shots. The unusual redness in the sky was intriguing, so I edited the glow from the lighthouse to look painterly to compliment the sky.
For a while now, I have been trying to combine things that I am good at with those that are important to me. I started a company a while back called Evolve; The Neo-Mentorship Space (which has since been renamed CreativeAnalytic), where I bring together the analytical power of the left brain with the creative power of the right brain to create a new ('Neo-') form of mentorship. The approach aims to bridge gaps between generations and enable growth. I stopped trying to make the organisation commercial because I realised that it was detracting from the very reason I love mentorship...to help people grow and grow myself. So I mentor a few UKZN varsity students on a voluntary basis. Their stories, and just being a part of their lives was more rewarding than anything money can give. So I have been trying to figure out how I can combine mentorship with my love for photography, and it dawned upon me; why did I start photography in the first place?
Escapism. Catharsis. Therapy.
I was always a proponent for mental health and holistic living. Career and money were never the primary drivers for the things I did, but in reality, it is a necessary evil in our society. When I was an engineer-in-training at an Eskom power station, the nature of the environment drove me to undertake a Master's degree that focussed on bridging the gap between Generation X and Millenial Engineers. It was borne out of my passion for mentorship and growth. Fast forward 10 years, and I made my way back to Durban, where my ultimate goal was coming to fruition; our daughter was able to grow up around her grandparents and family. A luxury that was not worth the rat race in Gauteng. I had been back about a year and working in a less-than-wonderful environment as an operations and engineering manager just before I was diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder. Prior to that, it was suspected adult ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder), and GAD (general anxiety disorder) before that. Sidebar: This is what inspired the name Bipolaroid Photo.
I want to give you a snapshot of bipolar. It is very similar to ADHD, and I will be talking a lot more about each of these in future articles. First, understand that ADHD is not just a kid bouncing around a room. It is hyperactivity of the mind. You will look at me standing dead still, not knowing that my mind is in 1000 different places in that instant. It's like having the TV on, but jumping between 10 shows every second. The upside, when you are hypomanic/manic, you grasp concepts very quickly, your mind functions at a high level, and you can get twice things done in half the time as you normally might. The downside...and there always is one; for every reaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction. You struggle to remember and recall things, and when you come down, you come down hard, often into depression. For me, this cycle repeats weekly on average but can fluctuate multiple times during a single day.
So in April of 2022, reeling from this diagnosis at the age of 33, and not believing it was real, I walked into a Cash Crusaders on the Bluff (a local used goods store) and picked up a Canon Powershot SX540 point-and-shoot. I am not sure what compelled me, but I am grateful it did. I soon found myself seeing the world through the lens. When things got difficult in my mind, when panic set in or the world got too loud and overwhelming...taking that camera out to the beach, the local park or even just down the road was my escape. When I am looking through the lens, it is just me and the shot being framed. A calm that I had so fleetingly experienced in my life.
I was obsessed. I could not leave home without my camera. I used it to learn to shoot on manual and was soon seeing the improvement in my photography as a result. I learned a lot from the internet and youtube; I mean, the info is all out there for free. I don't listen to the radio in the car most of the time; instead, when I drive anywhere, I have a tutorial playing on my phone, and even though I cannot see the images, I mentally picture what the likes of YouTubers Nigel Danson, William Patino and Mark Denny are trying to explain. I eventually reached the 'limit' of the non-interchangeable lens camera around the time a credit note from a defective TV gave me the opportunity to get a Nikon D3500 starter kit with the 18-55mm and 70-300mm kit lenses, without having to spend much extra. What impeccable timing, right? And thus, the trip down the rabbit hole began. I am still falling.
For some reason, I was initially very taken by close-up flower photography. Not exactly macro, but close enough to see details that I didn't really pay attention to before. I think the palette of colours and, of course, the need to be out in nature was what attracted me to it. At the same time, my love for landscapes developed in parallel.
I experience a calming catharsis from being out hiking to capture landscapes, and when I look back at them, I want to be transported to the feeling of that moment. I hate editing, but when doing the necessary evil that it is, I edit with the intention of replicating the atmosphere and invoking the feeling of the moment. I prefer to accentuate light, with haze and glow, at the expense of sharpness because, for me, it makes the scene more painterly and artistic. These may not be to everyone's taste, and certainly may not be the best for competitions, but art is about subjectivity that elicits emotions in the individual, I believe.
In April of 2023, I think it was, I joined the Westville Camera Club. My photography skills have improved tenfold since, and the members of the club are so friendly and welcoming. They have helped me move from strength to strength, and as a result, I am enjoying my photography more and more every day.
A big influence on my approach to photography was a book I stumbled upon called Capturing the Moment: The Essence of Photography by Michael Freeman. More than technical perfection, I was influenced toward freezing moments in time. Though the book taught me a lot about composition and other aspects of good storytelling through imagery, it did not drive the need for expensive gear and super-sharp lenses. It was also from this book that I made the choice to (most of the time) be very intentional with a shot by visualizing the end result and shooting as few frames as possible to achieve it. The only exception to this is focus stacking and birds in flight! The latter of which, as much as I try to take as few shots as I can, most often requires the 'fireman' approach. Hose! Ratatatatatata!
As you may have noticed, as I have in my profession (engineering), very little growth happens without guidance and positive influence. This is the mentorship aspect of the work I intend to do with photography, as I have with engineering. Now here is where my interpretation of mentorship comes in. Mentorship is an exchange that flows both ways. I have only been 'a photographer' for just over 18 months, so what could I possibly have to offer someone who has been doing it for 20 years? I asked the same question in engineering. I explain it to my mentees like this...I have over 11 years of experience in the field, and you are just about to leave university. I may have more industry experience than you, but you have experienced life and learning in your own unique way, which I cannot possibly have experienced myself in exactly the same way. So in every conversation that I have with my mentees, I learn from them as much, if not more, than they do from me.
This is the concept that I plan on transposing to photography but including my experiences in mental health as well.
The workshops are aimed not only at learning photography skills. My vision for the workshops is to assemble groups of like-minded people, experience the outdoors (and sometimes indoors) together, learn from each other and discuss experiences that we have had, particularly regarding mental health and photography, but life in general too. We will happen to capture some great images in the process, and that is just a bonus!
When I began my mental health journey, I struggled to find resources to learn to help me cope. The internet basically always tells you that you're dying, or that you might have 'x', but also it could be 'y' and 'z' and so on. That doesn't help much. Support groups exist, as does therapy, but it is not cheap and sometimes not available when you need them. Nature is always there, and my camera is with me almost all the time. I have used these as my therapy and want to share that with people who may benefit. Everyone has a smartphone these days, so essentially, everyone has the gear to participate. Learning to see and experience the world does not require specialist camera gear. Although, if you do have specialist camera gear and we could learn from each other's techniques, that is great too!
I look forward to getting this going soon.
Your Bipolaroid Photographer, Neo.
Top: A few images from the very beginning of my journey shot on the Canon Powershot SX540.
Middle: Images shot on the Nikon D3500, and you may notice the evolution of my editing style as well.
Bottom: Some of my most recent images were shot on my Nikon Z6ii. This encompasses 18 months of photography progress.