Lancashire student shutterbugs embrace a different perspective with ground-breaking mental health project

The French novelist and philosopher Marcel Proust once said that the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.

By Jack Marshall
Thursday, 17th March 2022, 4:55 am
The launch of the exhibition at Our Lady's Catholic College in Lancaster with project leader, Ginny Koppenhol (second from right)
The launch of the exhibition at Our Lady's Catholic College in Lancaster with project leader, Ginny Koppenhol (second from right)

A shift in perspective can reframe everything, turning the mundane into the fascinating and the inconvenient into opportunity. Exploring the power of an altered frame of mind, a group of students at school in Lancaster have recently been embracing alternate perspectives as part of a new mental health initiative.

Experimenting with self-expression via photography to improve their mental well-being, 10 pupils from Our Lady’s Catholic College were guided by professional photographer and former Our Lady’s student Ginny Koppenhol as they tested the scientific theory that really focusing on life's positives can bring mental health benefits.

Tasked with opening their minds to the simple pleasures and capturing images on their phones, the budding shutterbugs were afforded tips and creative techniques courtesy of Ginny herself and told to take pictures every day for five weeks. They then returned to curate a collection of 170 images which will be exhibited at the college and at More Music in Morecambe until May 4th.

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Pup by Aaliyah Wright

“Whenever they noticed moments that made them smile, they created images to represent that moment," says Ginny. "The hope [was] that it’d encourage them to spend longer in that moment, helping to strengthen that feeling.

"The longer-term effect is that we can recognise these moments more easily and, during tough times, draw on these positive memories and see the bigger picture," she adds. "Each week, the group produced a whole range of beautiful and creative images, everything from pets to people, from sunsets to shadows.

"Every image represented a moment of appreciation."

From photos taken through toilet rolls and pictures of boiled eggs in dramatic lighting, the students produced an eclectic mix of work and, at each session, shared their favourites, explaining the thought behind the image.

Reflection by Jess Wallbank

Art and creative expression have been shown to positively impact mental health due to the fact that they offer individuals a unique outlet, a practical focus, and a chance to engage tactically, mentally, and emotionally. They also have the benefit of being purely self-focused acts of detachment and reflection.

What’s more, in 2010, a summary of over 100 studies exploring the effects of art on physical and mental health titled ‘The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health’ established a clear link between photography and positive life experiences, an increased sense of self-worth, and a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol.

Correspondingly, all the student participants in Ginny’s photography project reported that it had had a positive impact on their mental well-being and had made them more open to the idea that they can positively influence their mood. Picture-perfect has seldom been so powerful.

The project was specially commissioned for a cultural and creative education programme run by Lancaster District Cultural Education Partnership, Lancaster University, Curious Minds, and Lancashire Youth Challenge (LYC), which is a charity which helps young people to build confidence through personal development, arts, community projects, and cultural education.