• Richard McLaren

Therapeutic Photography: My story.


Luke Cowan, an inspiration to others with a disability.

This amazing man was the inspiration behind Photography by Zouchai and the specialized photographic courses developed for people with a disability or mental health issue.


Luke presented some of his poetry at the 2006 Brisbane Writers Festival. Listening to his carer read Luke's prose and marvelling at the beautiful descriptions and images this evoked, I wondered if Luke , or anyone actually, could capture these images the the lens of a camera.


The Brisbane Writers Festival was my first public photographic shoot since being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress, a legacy of my service in Vietnam in the late sixties. This was a huge step for me as my anxiety and social phobia had, in the past, prevented me being out in amongst other people such as at cinemas, shopping centers or community events. I had been told that confronting one's fears often helped overcome them. I volunteered to shoot (photograph) the seven day event and attended most sessions photographing national and international authors. I did not have one anxiety attack and I actually enjoyed myself.


One of the most memorable moments was listening to Luke's poetry and coming up with the catchphrase, "Images of the Mind". Luke had little control over his body movements and was unable to speak, he could however make lots of noises and had developed his own sign language to communicate. I asked him if he had ever used photography to either communicate or, illustrate his poetry. To say his eyes lit up like a spot light would be an understatement. Through his carer he told me that he has always wanted to try photography and wanted to know if I could help.


After several weeks and meetings with Luke's father and Disabilities Services Queensland, I developed a six week, two hours per week, Introduction to Digital Photography course and with DSQ providing the initial ten participants (Luke's name was on the top), the first course began. The group was a mix of people with a disability and disability case managers and carers and the first interesting fact that I witnessed was those with the disabilities were helping the others understand their cameras. The course was a great success and ended with the group holding a photographic exhibition in the Brisbane City Library. Representatives from Department of Veterans Affairs, Disability Services QLD, government MPs and local government councilors, mingled with the course participants, family and friends and there was a great deal of discussion about the outcomes of the course. Just what I wanted.


I have now conducted over 40 courses with the disabled, mental health sufferers, community participants, school students, artists refugees and migrant groups. My most recent course was a one on one mentoring of two different Australian Defence force personnel who are in rehab. The results and pitfalls of these courses will emerge through this Blog over the next few weeks. This, alongside my photography, will become an important part of my path to recovery, whatever that may be. Let me just say that this is my version of an autoethnography. Please email me if you have any questions or comments.

#PTSD, #therapeutic, #photography, #recovery

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