Therapeutic photography can be a useful tool in helping heal a distored self-image. In 2009, the New York Times published an article on this emerging practice of using images as a healing modality. The story, titled "Behind the Scenes: A Camera as Therapy", was written by professional photojournalist Alexandra Avakian. Since Avakian's article, other photographers have also written of similar experiences using the lense to heal the psyche while capturing the physical appearance of a subject. San Francisco-based photographer Katrina Davenport explores this photographic phenomenon as a therapeutic method in the following Q&A.
How do you see photography as a tool for healing people who struggle with body image or a distorted sense of their appearance?
Many times professional photographers can take compelling pictures of people that help them see their true beauty. Every single person is beautiful, and the right photographer can highlight that. In addition, people can learn simple techniques to help them take pictures of themselves that they will like. Photography can be an excellent tool to add to people's healing strategy.
Apart from a clinical diagnosis of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, how come photographs can look dramatically good or bad without anything "wrong" with a person's appearance?
Technically speaking, photographs can look dramatically good or bad because of lighting and angles. If the light is not good, either too dark or two harsh, it can distort how someone looks. And if the photo is taken from a strange angle, it can distort facial and body features. In addition, photographs are often enhanced: either people wear make-up or clothes that flatter them, or they ask the photographer to touch-up the photographs in Photoshop afterward. Most professional photographs have some kind of enhancement going on. And people must realize that most photographs online and in magazines these days are Photoshopped, sometimes heavily.
What ways can photography be used in conjunction with recovery and therapy for people who are unable to look or accept their appearance?
I think self-portraits can be hugely beneficial. Doing an exercise like taking a daily photograph for three months, or challenging yourself to take pictures that are more than just head shots, can be healing. Especially if you put on fun hats, go to interesting locations, and get creative. Many times I'm not happy with photos other take of me, but once I learned how to take flattering self-portraits, I realized that I am actually photogenic! These kinds of exercises are about more than surface beauty...they are about creative a positive relationship with yourself.
Describe the top lighting and posing tips that can help someone take the best photographs of themselves or friends who suffer from poor self image with no basis in fact?