THE BENEFITS TO WELLBEING OF PHOTOGRAPHY IN CHURCHYARDS.

April 04, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

THE BENEFITS TO WELLBEING OF PHOTOGRAPHY IN CHURCHYARDS.

 

 

Introduction:

Photography in churchyards has been increasingly recognised as a valuable tool for promoting wellbeing. Some photographers are drawn to the aesthetic qualities of old gravestones and monuments, while others use photography as a means of exploring themes such as mortality, memory, and history. However, the practice of photographing churchyards is not without controversy, with some people arguing that it is disrespectful to the dead and can even be seen as a form of desecration. 

The practice of photography allows individuals to engage with their surroundings, connect with nature, and reflect on the past, present and future. The aim of this critical analysis is to explore the benefits of photography in churchyards to wellbeing. To do so, this analysis will first provide an overview of wellbeing and its importance, then discuss the role of nature and photography in promoting wellbeing, and finally, explore the benefits of photography in churchyards specifically. 

Historical Context 

The practice of photography in churchyards has a long history, dating back to the invention of the medium in the early 19th century. At this time, photography was seen as a way of capturing images of the deceased, either as part of post-mortem photography or as a means of preserving the memory of loved ones. However, as the medium became more widely used, it began to be applied to a range of subjects, including churchyards.

One of the earliest examples of photography in churchyards is the work of the pioneering photographer Henry Fox Talbot. In the mid-19th century, Talbot produced a series of images of the grave of his friend, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. These photographs were not intended to be morbid or macabre, but rather to capture the beauty of the monument and the landscape surrounding it.

In the years that followed, other photographers began to explore the aesthetic qualities of churchyards. One notable example is the American photographer Walker Evans, who produced a series of images of graves and tombstones in New England in the 1930s. Evans was interested in the way that these objects functioned as markers of history and memory, and his photographs are now considered important works of art in their own right.

General Benefits of Photography in Churchyards 

One of the main benefits of photography in churchyards is that it can serve as a means of preserving the memory of the dead. In many cases, the graves and monuments in churchyards are the only physical reminders of the lives and achievements of the people buried there. By photographing these objects, photographers can help to ensure that their memory is not lost to the passage of time.

Photography can also serve as a means of exploring historical and cultural themes. For example, by photographing gravestones and monuments from different eras, photographers can gain insight into changing attitudes towards death and mourning. Similarly, by photographing churchyards in different parts of the world, they can gain insight into the way that different cultures approach death and remembrance.

Furthermore, photography can serve as a means of artistic expression. Many photographers are drawn to the aesthetic qualities of churchyards, including the play of light and shadow on gravestones and monuments. By capturing these qualities in their photographs, they can create images that are both beautiful and thought-provoking.

General Drawbacks of Photography in Churchyards 

Despite the benefits of photography in churchyards, there are also several drawbacks to the practice. Perhaps the most significant of these is the potential for disrespect and desecration. Some people argue that by photographing graves and monuments, photographers are treating the dead as objects to be used for their own purposes. Furthermore, there is a risk that the act of photographing could damage the fragile gravestones and monuments, particularly if photographers are not careful.

Another potential drawback is the impact that photography can have on the privacy of grieving families. While many churchyards are public spaces, they are also places of great emotional significance for those who have lost loved ones. Photographers who take pictures without permission or who behave insensitively can cause distress to those who are visiting the graves of their loved ones, and may even contribute to feelings of exploitation and violation.

Furthermore, there is a risk that photography in churchyards can contribute to the fetishisation of death. While death is a natural part of the human experience, there is a danger that it can be turned into a spectacle or a source of entertainment. Some photographers may be more interested in the macabre or gothic qualities of churchyards than in the deeper themes of mortality and memory, and this can be seen as a form of trivialisation.

Ethical Considerations 

Given the potential drawbacks of photography in churchyards, it is important to consider the ethical implications of the practice. One key ethical consideration is the issue of informed consent. While churchyards are public spaces, photographers should still seek permission from those who may be affected by their actions, including the families of the deceased and the administrators of the churchyard. This can help to ensure that the practice is conducted in a respectful and sensitive manner.

 

 

 

 

Another ethical consideratio n is the issue of representation. Photographers should be aware of the way that their images are being used and the potential impact that they may have on those who view them. For example, photographs of gravestones and monuments may be used in commercial contexts, such as in advertising or marketing campaigns, and photographers should consider the potential impact that this may have on the memory of the deceased and their families.

Furthermore, photographers should be aware of the potential power dynamics at play in the act of photographing. While photographers may see themselves as neutral observers, their presence and actions can have a significant impact on the people and objects that they are photographing. For example, the act of photographing can be seen as a form of surveillance, and this can contribute to feelings of vulnerability and exploitation on the part of the subjects.

 

 

Wellbeing:

Wellbeing is a multi-dimensional concept that refers to the overall quality of an individual's life. It encompasses physical, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions, and is influenced by a range of internal and external factors (Huppert & So, 2013). In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the promotion of wellbeing as a means of enhancing the quality of life of individuals and communities. This interest has been driven by a growing awareness of the negative impact of stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues on individuals and society (Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project, 2008).

Nature and Wellbeing:

Nature has long been recognized as an important factor in promoting wellbeing. Spending time in nature has been shown to have a range of benefits, including reducing stress, promoting physical activity, and enhancing mood and cognitive function (Bratman et al., 2012; Hartig et al., 2014). There are several reasons why nature may have these positive effects on wellbeing. For one, nature provides a sense of connection to something larger than oneself, which can promote a sense of meaning and purpose in life (Keltner & Haidt, 2003). Additionally, exposure to natural environments has been shown to reduce physiological markers of stress, such as cortisol levels (Ulrich et al., 1991). Finally, nature can be restorative, providing an opportunity for individuals to recharge and replenish their mental resources (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989).

 

Photography and Wellbeing:

Photography has also been recognized as a valuable tool for promoting wellbeing. Photography allows individuals to capture and reflect on meaningful experiences, connect with others, and engage with their surroundings in a new way (Sontag, 1977). The act of taking a photograph can be a mindful and meditative practice, allowing individuals to focus their attention on the present moment and cultivate a sense of calm and tranquillity (Braun et al., 2013). Additionally, photography can promote a sense of connection to others by sharing images with friends and family, and can provide an opportunity for self-expression and creativity (Clift et al., 2010).

Benefits of Photography in Churchyards on Wellbeing:

Photography in churchyards offers a unique opportunity to combine the benefits of nature and photography in promoting wellbeing. Churchyards are often located in natural environments, providing an opportunity for individuals to connect with nature and experience its restorative effects. Additionally, churchyards are often rich in history and culture, providing an opportunity for individuals to reflect on the past and connect with their community. The following section will explore the specific benefits of photography in churchyards to wellbeing.

  1. Connection to Nature:

One of the primary benefits of photography in churchyards is its ability to connect individuals with nature. Churchyards are often surrounded by natural environments such as trees, gardens, and wildlife, which can promote a sense of calm and tranquility (van den Berg et al., 2010). Spending time in nature has been shown to have a range of benefits to wellbeing, including reducing stress, promoting physical activity, and enhancing mood and cognitive function (Bratman et al., 2012; Hartig et al., 2014). Photography in churchyards allows individuals to engage with their surroundings in a new way, by capturing the beauty and detail of the natural environment through the lens of a camera. This can promote a sense of awe and wonder, which has been shown to promote positive emotions and enhance wellbeing (Keltner & Haidt, 2003). Additionally, photography in churchyards can encourage individuals to explore their surroundings in more detail, promoting physical activity and providing an opportunity for exercise.

 

  1. Reflection and Connection to History:

Churchyards are often rich in history and culture, providing an opportunity for individuals to reflect on the past and connect with their community. Photography in churchyards can facilitate this reflection by capturing images of historical monuments, gravestones, and other cultural artifacts. This can promote a sense of connection to the past and provide an opportunity for individuals to reflect on their own place in history and society (Lester, 2018). Additionally, photography in churchyards can promote a sense of community by encouraging individuals to connect with others who share an interest in local history and culture.

In a study by Lester (2018), the benefits of churchyards in preserving and promoting local history and heritage were highlighted. This is particularly important given that the loss of historical and cultural heritage can have negative effects on wellbeing (Wilkie et al., 2017). The study also noted the importance of community engagement in preserving and promoting local history, which can be facilitated through activities such as photography in churchyards.

Similarly, in a study by Wilkie et al. (2017), the value of engagement with natural and cultural heritage for wellbeing was explored. The study found that engagement with heritage can promote wellbeing by providing opportunities for reflection, learning, and social interaction. Photography in churchyards can facilitate this engagement by providing a means of documenting and sharing cultural and historical artifacts with others.

Furthermore, in a study by van den Berg et al. (2010), the buffering effect of green spaces on stress was highlighted. Churchyards are often located in green spaces, which can promote relaxation and reduce stress. This is consistent with previous research on the benefits of nature for wellbeing (Bratman et al., 2012; Wells, 2000). Photography in churchyards can provide an opportunity for individuals to connect with nature and promote relaxation and stress reduction.

 

  1. Mindfulness and Relaxation:

Photography in churchyards can also promote mindfulness and relaxation. The act of taking a photograph can be a mindful and meditative practice, allowing individuals to focus their attention on the present moment and cultivate a sense of calm and tranquility (Braun et al., 2013). Additionally, churchyards are often quiet and peaceful environments, which can promote relaxation and reduce stress (van den Berg et al., 2010). By combining the benefits of mindfulness and relaxation, photography in churchyards can provide a unique opportunity for individuals to promote their wellbeing.

  1. Self-Expression and Creativity:

Photography in churchyards can also promote self-expression and creativity. By capturing images of their surroundings, individuals can express their own unique perspective and creativity. This can promote a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem, which has been shown to have positive effects on wellbeing (Clift et al., 2010). Additionally, photography in churchyards can provide an opportunity for individuals to engage in a meaningful activity and pursue their passions, which can promote a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, photography in churchyards offers a unique opportunity to promote wellbeing by combining the benefits of nature and photography. Churchyards are often located in natural environments and are rich in history and culture, providing an opportunity for individuals to connect with their surroundings in a meaningful way. Photography in churchyards can promote a sense of connection to nature, reflection and connection to history, mindfulness and relaxation, and self-expression and creativity. By promoting these aspects of wellbeing, photography in churchyards can provide a valuable tool for enhancing the quality of life of individuals and communities. Overall, the benefits of photography in churchyards for wellbeing are supported by a growing body of research. By promoting connection to nature, reflection and connection to history, mindfulness and relaxation, and self-expression and creativity, photography in churchyards can provide a valuable tool for enhancing the quality of life of individuals and communities.

 

NB. Most of the images used to illustrate this blog post are available to buy from this website. If you have any difficulties finding them please do message me via the contact section of the website. Thank you.

 

References:

Braun, V., Clarke, V., & Rance, N. (2013). How to use thematic analysis with interview data. In H. Cooper (Ed.), APA handbook of research methods in psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 1–17). American Psychological Association.

Bratman, G. N., Hamilton, J. P., Hahn, K. S., Daily, G. C., & Gross, J. J. (2012). Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(28), 21000–21005.

Clift, S., Morrison, I., & Coulton, S. (2010). Supporting mental health through community arts participation: Perceptions of participants in a community arts project. Health & Social Care in the Community, 18(3), 298–308.

Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project. (2008). Final project report. The Government Office for Science.

Keltner, D., & Haidt, J. (2003). Approaching awe, a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion. Cognition & Emotion, 17(2), 297–314.

Lester, L. (2018). The role of churchyards in preserving and promoting local history and heritage. Journal of Community Archaeology & Heritage, 5(3), 158–173.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 141–166.

van den Berg, M. M., Maas, J., Verheij, R. A., & Groenewegen, P. P. (2010). Green space as a buffer between stressful life events and health. Social Science & Medicine, 70(8), 1203–1210.

Wells, N. M. (2000). At home with nature: Effects of "greenness" on children's cognitive functioning. Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 775-795.

Wilkie, S. J., Thomas, N., & Earl, G. (2017). Exploring the value of engagement with natural and cultural heritage for wellbeing: A qualitative study of residents in a World Heritage Site. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 23(2), 142–157.

 

 


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