Teaching Mindful Photography Paralleled My Own Path

Students at the Mindful Photography class. All identities remained anonymous.

When I was selected to teach a Mindful photography class at San Francisco General Hospital’s Mental Rehabilitation Center I was both excited and intrigued.

The students were at all different levels of rehabilitation. Some were right off the streets of being homeless and enduring all kinds of addictions. I held the space, along with a therapist, for each student to successfully participate to the best of his/her/their ability,. Whatever the obstacles, they all showed up for the class, listened and absorbed. Mostly, they were curious.

Witnessing the Light

I curated the content to center around a different element of photography, including:

  • Basic composition
  • Recognizing patterns
  • Witnessing what shadows can do with the light.

We went to the hospital’s gardens to photograph the assignments. Initially, we stood in a circle. I asked them to hold their cameras up to their eyes. Observe what was before them. We shifted directions—north, west, south and east—and each time, I asked them to note when the light caught their eyes. They were to:

  • Photograph, with the assignment in mind
  • Open hearts and eyes
  • Catch details
  • Note where the light would move them into action.

For the next class, I selected prints from each student’s memory card. I asked each student to:

  • Think about a title for each image
  • Share why they were compelled to photograph that image.

One student photograph included a chain link fence, and the sky,

“I call this one Hope,” he said. “Soon, I hope to be free to leave.”

He didn’t attend the last class and I missed him—he was such a spirited student.

“Oh, he left,” the therapist said. “He’s now living in community with others, on his own.” I smiled.

Gallery Showing Concluded the Class

For the final class, we held a gallery show in the lobby reception and invited the hospital staff.

Students’ faces were beaming as they talked about their images. I thought about my own art shows.  I would always feel so uplifted that I had created work that impacted those who viewed it.  I could feel the ripple of satisfaction from my students.

I reminded my class every week to…. just follow the light. It’s inside and outside of you. There’s no right or wrong way to do this.

Teaching Mindful Photography reminded me why I believe photography can be a meditative practice.  It can calm anxiety and trigger a curiosity that can be transformative. All you need do is open your heart and eyes and let the light guide you.

Learn more about Mindful Photography here.