Have you ever wondered why the images you created a few years ago look very different from the pictures you are taking now? Chances are you became a better photographer. You trained your eye and you got better at post-processing. But I am not talking about the craft. I am talking about the art behind photography. The art that feeds off your emotions.
How was your life a few years ago? Maybe it was better. Maybe it was worse. Most certainly it was different. You probably had a different job, maybe lived in a different city and your personal relationships were different, too. You were in a different place in life and therefore your emotions were different, too.
Although there has been extensive research on this matter in the field of psychology of art, I want to illustrate how our emotions mold the art we create by my personal experience.
Depression hit me in late 2016 due to stress and drug abuse, and it led to me eventually stopping my pursuit of photography as a whole. Along the way, I would lose interest in all of my other passions like music and cycling, too. I was cold, passionless, emotionally detached, lethargic, sought isolation and everyday life was a burden at times.
I set out to leave for an open-ended journey through South America in late 2017 after finishing studying to get away from everything and hopefully get better. That didn’t happen — at least not straight away. For months I would get into depressive moods that made me question if I was actually okay and if I would need professional help.
But with the stress and drugs gone, and surrounded by a new language, new people, and new environments, I slowly started to develop an interest in photography again. I hadn’t brought a camera with me, so my first 6 months consisted of iPhone shots until I bought myself a Fujifilm X-T20.
Traveling while recovering from depression is definitely not an easy thing to do — it was a time with many ups and downs. But despite this, I always carried a camera with me and I would shoot everything in sight.
On good days my photographs would turn out quite bright, it incorporated people, and I would even give color a go (I shoot almost exclusively in black and white). On bad days the images I created turned out very dark and gloomy and pictured people — if at all incorporated — in a lonely fashion.
My emotional state ended up having a major impact on the quality of my work. Eight months into my journey I hit a low point. My girlfriend at that time and I had been house-sitting for a couple of weeks in Quito, Ecuador. All I did was watch the Football World Cup, work on my photographs, barely leaving the house, and spend nights browsing YouTube. I hated the city, was lethargic, missed friends and family and was at a point where I didn’t really want to travel anymore.
Thankfully, my girlfriend dragged me out to do and see things. I particularly remember our trip to the Cotopaxi Volcano. All my feelings and the mood I was in molded the images I took on that day. Emotionally, they are some of the strongest I have ever taken. Looking at them now makes me understand why I shot and edited them the way I did.
I left Latin America for New Zealand after 13 months and decided to retouch some of the images I shot during my time on the continent since I got better at doing so. Strangely enough, I struggled to recreate the exact mood that I had created initially with almost every image. This fascinated me and led to me gathering some of the photographs that would tell the story of my emotional journey during this period in order to put together my first publication: DARK CORNERS.
If I look back at the images from my trip now it feels like flipping through an emotional journal.
The next time you are out photographing pay close attention to how you feel. Look at your emotions from an observer perspective without questioning it. And then try to integrate it into your images. As Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden once said: “That’s the trick in photography: You put who you are in the photography.”
Depression and anxiety are at an all-time high in the (western) world and there is no change to that trend in sight. With my art, I hope to give people a sense of not being alone because for a long time this is what I felt: loneliness.
In addition to this I want to share some of the things that helped me battle my depression:
Meditation: I still meditate on a daily basis and it made me understand my emotions a lot better and helps me to not identify with them too much. The book Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhate Henepola Gunaratana taught me everything I know about meditation and changed the way I look at it.
Don’t try to be happy: Instead try to give your life meaning: You don’t understand what I mean by that? Read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. One of the best books I have ever read — it changed my life.
Commitment: Commit yourself to something. It could be anything: your relationship, your job, your hobby or even the city you live in. These things give your life stability and you get a particular satisfaction out of having committed to something over a long period of time.
Talk about your emotions: I found that sharing my emotions and feelings with people who are close to me had something therapeutic apart from the fact that a lot of people will tell you that they feel or have felt the same way in the past. Hearing this diminishes the feeling of loneliness.
Cut social media, porn, and drugs: Writing this feels like it’s a no-brainer but I know how hard it can be. There are various studies that show a correlation between these activities and depression & anxiety.
About the author: Dariush Bohlmann is a photographer currently based in Auckland, New Zealand. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Bohlmann’s work on his website and Instagram. You can purchase his zine here. This article was also published here.