365 photo projects and daily well-being

I was thrilled when someone on the 365project.org community drew our attention to a recent (2018) academic article called “The daily digital practice as a form of self-care: Using photography for everyday well-being” in the journal Health (full reference at the end of the post).  The thrust of the article is that the practice of doing a 365 photo project (or a photo-a-day project as they call it) has complex benefits and can be linked to the improvement of everyday well-being. Science Daily said that the research found that taking a daily photo improved wellbeing through Self-care, community interaction and the potential for reminiscence. Taking a moment to be mindful, and looking for something different or unusual in the day were seen as positive well-being benefits of the practice.

For a long time, I’ve had my own thoughts about the benefits of these types of projects, and whilst they are not a cure-all for everyone, I certainly have had only good things to say about them. I really believe that my life has improved because of them.

1-eucalyptus leaves filmstrip

My own experience with photo-a-day projects

I’ve written so much about what I’ve gained from doing multiple 365 photography projects (see 6 reasons to do a 365 photo project or my Journey Into Photography posts as examples) and my aim for this blog is to find something extraordinary or special in the world around me, every day. It’s about being present in the now. It’s about looking for the details in the colours, light, sounds, aromas, trying to see things from a fresh or different perspective. About celebrating and enjoying the routines of every day.

According to the article I have been subconsciously improving my everyday well-being! I can get on board with that!

I started my first 365-project in January 2014 in the final stages of writing up my doctoral dissertation. I needed something that wasn’t academic to do every day, a different focus, a brain break, something creative that was for me, was about taking a moment for myself – all these things.

My thoughts on what the research says about the photo-a-day practice

The research article points out that the photo-a-day practice is extremely complex and there are many factors that make it so, especially in connection with improved well-being.

In my “day job” I am an academic, but one thing I always try to do with academic articles is to make sense of them through my own experiences, whether these are personal or work-related. These are my personal thoughts on some of their thought-provoking findings.

* It started as self-care

Like I said, my first 365-project started as something I was doing for myself – I was in my 50th year and bogged-down with academic reading, writing and editing. By self-care, I mean the non-medical approach to taking responsibility for my own physical, mental and spiritual health in my daily life, rather than relying on medical practitioners to do it for me.

I decided very early on (5 days into the thing) to join a community (I chose 365project.org) and make a public commitment to posting a photo every day. Then I had a way to be accountable to myself. After all, it would’ve been easy for the doctoral work to get in the way.

* Structure and integration into my daily routine

The world revolves around routines and structure, as humans we seem to thrive on structure (well most of us do!). The comforting structure of posting every day and learning to take my camera everywhere soon became part of my daily routine. My DSLR camera had languished in the cupboard for years and this was a reason to bring it out. It became a tool for my creativity and for being able to make the most of opportunities that arose during the day.

* Sustaining the practice

I was able to sustain my practice because 1) I wanted to be a better photographer; 2) it was a way of documenting my life (a photographic journal) and 3) my inner resolve kicks in and I like to finish things that I start. The article mentions all these things too. But as you will see if you read further, it also began to connect with my life beyond the project itself. It began to have a purpose bigger than the project.

* Social aspects: Reciprocity

Reciprocity is defined as the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit; exchange, cooperation, mutuality. 

I soon discovered that the community was active and that if I participated (by commenting, faving and engaging in other community activities), if I reciprocated, that I would get more out of my project and the experience. The daily interaction gave me a sense of connection with people around the world; I began to make virtual friends.

My 365-project was no longer individual and private. It was dynamic, social and reciprocal, facets highlighted by the research study too. We shared with each other and learnt from each other. The photographs on the site were a great resource for people like me who were trying to improve their photography – looking at other people’s work was a source of inspiration and motivation to get better. The challenges pushed me to try new things. I won my first challenge in March 2014, just three months after I’d started and my first appearance on the weekly Top Twenty was in December 2015. These were intrinsic rewards which motivated me to keep going.

I remember the day that one of my ‘friends’ threw a virtual party for me, to celebrate handing in my thesis for examination. I woke up to a thread full of joyful photos: flowers, champagne, balloons and encouraging remarks and best wishes from all over the world. That’s when I realised that this was an extraordinary community.

Yes, at times I have felt overwhelmed by the need to comment and engage. In these times, I’ve taken a “365 holiday” – I still take and post photos but don’t comment. Occasionally I’ve taken a full break and stopped posting too. But even when I am not there every day, people are still nice enough to continue to look at my project and comment. I find that very special. And I always seem to be drawn back. I miss the interaction and the structure.

* A more therapeutic experience: towards everyday well-being

In my 2nd year (2015) I participated in a 100 Happy Days Project with others on 365 – one photo a day of something that made me happy. I decided to add a textual narrative to accompany the photo. This blog grew out of that challenge.

It was also the beginning of a more “therapeutic experience” (for me, beyond self-care, towards well-being. In the article a therapeutic experience is about taking more exercise, engaging with the real world and environment and having a sense of purpose, competence or achievement. From what I’ve already said you see that the project gave me a sense of purpose and achievement.

For me though, there was more. In taking time every day to find something to take delight in, to observe, notice and engage with the real world, I became more mindful. What they call “everyday well-being” in the article.

I began to reflect on my life, to find things to be grateful for, to look for the everyday things that normally go un-noticed, became part of who I was.

2-wood grain filmstrip

Five years on…

I’m still an active member of the 365 site – I simply cannot keep away. Does my ongoing photo-a-day practice contribute to my daily well-being? Unconditionally, YES! Without it:

  • I would have no reason to continue to use my camera every day (and to buy new kit occasionally!)
  • I would not have interactions with marvellous people from around the world (some of whom I have met)
  • I would not have the opportunity to be the best photographer I can
  • I would not be able to notice the everyday delights!
  • All these things help me to be mindful, grateful and ‘in the moment’

So much of what I’ve learnt about being a photographer has come from my photo-a-day practice and my small Lego friend Dabelle (who is the heroine and sometimes author of Wacky Wednesdays) is also a product of that. She started to appear in my project in 2014 and soon became a member of a 365 Toy Group. She is still with me today.

Debbie blog sign off 2018

Journal article citation
Liz Brewster, Andrew M Cox. The daily digital practice as a form of self-care: Using photography for everyday well-being. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine, 2018; 136345931876946 DOI: 10.1177/1363459318769465

8 thoughts on “365 photo projects and daily well-being

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