Monday, April 21, 2008

Head shot

It's not just about the pictures.

Certainly cameras and photography are often simply tools and processes to get needed or desired pictures.

Camera shop eavesdropping suggests that for some, the pictures are just excuse and proof-of-function for the wonderful gadgets.

But sometimes photography can be about the process, the pictures mostly just proof-of-function and diagnostic tool for that process.

Particularly if one has a moderate to severe case of Dysfunctional Brain Syndrome*, as I do.

My psychiatrist is fond of saying, "Don't pathologize everything." Not every difference is a flaw. ("Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.") But that doesn't mean it can't be beneficial to examine some nonpathological behaviors and attitudes.

A fondness for taking pictures of rocks or dried grass need not represent a pathological interest in dead things. But perhaps examining that fondness might help extract the most benefit from rocks or from dried grass or from photography. It might suggest other beneficial activities.

Applying my DBS head to the my potential DBS benefits from photography, I come up with the following:
  • Assisted seeing - A camera helps one focus what is seen. The resultant picture a record nut just of what was seen, but also of the process of seeing. In times of sensory overload, using a camera can help narrow ones visual input to be more manageable.
  • Active versus passive - Many of us tend towards more passive. Even walking and enjoying what is to be seen, our brains are not fully engaged. Photography can engage the brain in an interactive process.
  • Deceleration - Too often I get someplace, look around, perhaps walk briefly or perhaps not, then hurry away. Looking for photo opportunities and photographing slows things down, allows me to get more value from having gone there.
  • Purpose - An additional activity, with small scale focus, can vastly increase the number of destinations closer to home, especially when physical mobility is restricted (I have variably reduced walking range, variably reduced driving range). Having a purpose can also make it easier to be someone where there are other people, and often deflect unwanted social interaction.
  • Control - Our lives and surroundings are beyond our control, which can distress and frustrate. Expanding certain types of choices may compensate. By occupying myself with taking a picture of a rock or clump of dried grass, I may be less frustrated with my inability to hike further. By having a camera with a variety of automatic and manual modes, I may choose each of the camera settings, or choose to let the camera control all or some of them while I make other choices. An option rarely taken can still have significant hidden value in reassuring that the more common option was chosen, not forced.
  • Communication - Some parts of my head may not be communicating well with other parts of my head, perhaps unusual only in degree. Communication with others is even more problematic. The photographs I make may provide useful insight into some of the more obscure and abstruse parts of my brain.
Potential DBS problem areas in photography include:
  • Keeping track - We have variable ability to keep track of multiple things, whether "hardware" or "software." When we pass our limit, we lose hats, keys, lenses. We fumble procedural steps. Hence a noninterchangeable-lens camera, with automation options. Feedback is important - if a setting is changed, that must be clearly indicated so that it gets changed back.
  • Transitions - Change requires a period of adjustment. Changing a camera from one automatic or semi-automatic mode to another makes the camera harder to use for a while. This can be reduced by a mental model that reduces the scale of change, e.g. a perception that my brain and the camera's brain share well defined tasks, and trade off on who does what. An automated task that does not fit that model, perhaps because it is inadequately explained, can be more difficult than doing the same thing by manual choices. Good feedback of both automated and manual choices is vital.
  • Overdoing things - Whether called Obsessive-Compulsive or Autistic Perseveration, we often persist in something beyond our physical or mental stamina. We may then no longer readily transition to another activity, and almost certainly will have problems keeping track of the stuff we have with us, and of "finish up" tasks. Finishing and picking up must be straightforward.
Subject to the latter concerns, photography clearly has significant potential for therapeutic value, and more subtly, for "feedback" or "diagnostic" purposes.

However fun it is, worthwhile in itself, however useful or enjoyable the resulting pictures might be, for me the ranking of cameras, the significance of various features, and the justification for purchasing a camera, should be primarily based on mental health factors, and only secondarily on picture potential or "geek factors."

And as with so many things, including my block play, potholders, and probably eBay, I should remember that my photography is more about the process than the product.

*DBS is not my actual diagnosis, but is used here in lieu of a dog's breakfast of various neurological and psychiatric diagnoses.

[I am not finished, please consider this a work-in-progress.]

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