Theodora Ford on Photography, Mental Health and Project365
October 10, 2021
For photographer and online AP follower Theodora Ford, committing to her photographic project, Project365, has allowed her to regain focus and creative flow. She tells us more about her experience for World Mental Health Day
As an older photographer of many years, the urge to record images has not diminished and now retired I have the (theoretical) luxury of time to indulge. In the past I worked in forensic Mental Health in secure units and have observed first hand how fragile mental health can be. I live with my very supportive and patient husband and have four children.
Following a particularly stressful period my creative flow stopped completely. After a year of no spark, I decided a focus (no pun intended) that was entirely mine was needed, in an attempt to reignite some creativity.
Project365 came to mind. I’d heard of year long photographic projects and decided to commit to one. A photograph a day for a year. To be posted on Instagram only. Kit used had to be light, small, unobtrusive and fast. I use a tiny Panasonic GM5 (mirrorless), a Lumix f1.7 20mm prime, UV filter and occasional circular polariser.
The lens will focus up to about 6 inches and as I crop, sometimes heavily, it’s possible to get reasonable macro results. I don’t use flash or a tripod unless absolutely necessary, preferring to bump up the ISO so I can handhold. I also use an iPhone SE20.
Using jpegs I shoot in colour though Black and White is my favourite medium, harking back to the days when I had an Ilford Sporti 4 camera and later, to my first SLR, an Olympus OM20 which shot in aperture priority.
I developed and printed the photos in a tiny dark room in the loft. Most photos now are lightly edited using the basic iPad editing feature. When converting colour to black and white, light and shade have to be adjusted a little because just converting does not reproduce the image you saw, it makes them rather flat and grey. I don’t really like heavily edited shots, things have to look as natural as possible for me.
It is a challenge. It’s a fag, irritating, exasperating, annoying and, just sometimes, rewarding. After the first year I was so relieved to get to 365 posts I was glad to finish with it, but after a few days missed it so much I went for a second year. The photos should be taken and posted on a daily basis though I don’t always manage it.
The discipline is really beneficial because it adds structure and purpose to the day, is motivating, the concentration on the subject does a good job of drowning out the internal chatter and at the end of the day, even if you’ve not been able to do anything else, you have achieved that.
There is a large and supportive photographic community of every style on Instagram and it has been both possible and pleasing to make Insta-friends, especially during the pandemic. I follow two people in particular who have struggled and post about it.
I was interested to see if my style altered over the year and if any themes crystallised. Having looked through the images, I do notice changes, mainly in composition which is a work in progress. The first year is I think, because I was new to it, somehow fresher although the glorious summer could have had something to do with it.
This year has been harder, again due to weather and poor light. The themes that emerge are those of pattern, light and shade, nature and machinery. Small details grab my attention and, faced with an enormous structure for which you need special kit, I will look for the tiny details which are interesting in their own right.
Several posts evoke the feel of a warm, dusty, privet scented evening in the suburbs reminiscent of a house we lived in when I was small. Other minutia include the reproductive parts of flowers, leaf patterns and colour, lichen textures, insects and spiders.
Urban decay is a favourite too, reminding me of London in the early 1950’s when there were bomb craters and demolished buildings wherever you looked.
Childhood memories seem to be a great influence, represented by the intricacies of plants, patterned pebbles, cobwebs, dewdrops, the things a child is fascinated by. I don’t have a specific influence, it’s come from many genres and I am always open to new ideas and inspiration, the important thing being to evoke something in the picture.
Though I’m not interested in copying anyone’s style, it’s really constructive to observe how other photographers use colour, light, shade, modelling and to ask yourself how they got that effect. It’s also a good excuse to look at lots of stunning pictures for research!
I have kept kit to a minimum for ease of use, fewer decisions to make, less to carry and a spur to interpretation. The benefits of the project are to have a reason to get outside most days, feelings of achievement, an increase in confidence, learning to see good shots (and save them for when the light is right), development of style, freedom to experiment, online community support, critique, and satisfaction.
The main impression I gain from Project365 is one of peaceful calm and that perhaps is what I seek in life through my camera.
You can see more from Theodora and her Project365 on Instagram @theodoraford