Trauma-informed photography course gives victims of abuse a new perspective, boosting self-esteem
Child sex abuse survivors say a photography class teaches them to see the beauty in the world and helps them gain a sense of confidence, all with their smartphones.
After photographer Mitch Dunn taught the six-week course in Ballarat last year, participants kept in touch, sharing their photos in a private social media group called Light Seekers.
“The real foundations of photography that support healing are light and perspective, and that’s accessible through any camera,” Dunn said.
“Light is a very beautiful metaphor for healing. When we think of light in terms of photography, when we look at the brightest source of light, it creates the darkest shadows.
“When you’re in a dark place, when you understand photography, if you turn 180 degrees you’ll find a bright light – that’s also a metaphor for hope.”
Dunn also focused on composition.
“It’s about narrowing your frame, so when things are overwhelming or you see a lot of negativity, if you can compose what you see in a certain way, there’s always beautiful hope and inspiration somewhere. go.”
New friendships without expectations
Abuse survivor Marita described the course as a “powerful experience”.
“It was my first step towards a bit of socializing. I had 15 months off work related to a court case and a breakdown,” she said.
Learning about composition, grid lines, lighting and portrait photography has changed her approach to how she takes pictures or uses her phone camera.
“Mitch was really good at getting us to see things from different angles; some of mine turned out to be quite abstract,” Marita said.
She found new friendships with the other survivors where there was “no expectation”.
“It was nice to be in a space where you felt safe and supportive of who you were, without having to justify your behavior. It was quite trauma-sensitive.”
The 43-year-old’s favorite photo is of the waves crashing over the rocks at Johanna Beach on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.
“It makes me feel peaceful; it sounds weird, but it’s a wild and windy place, but every time I go there, I feel really calm because I can smell the sand, the ocean spray and salty air.
“I feel like I’m away from it all and it’s a really quiet experience.”
The passion for photography has returned
When Drew was seven, he had his camera taken away by the Anglican Church where he was sexually abused in South Australia.
“They told me they were ‘saving it for the best’ but I never got it back,” he said.
Now 57, the Narungga man said many of his photos were in black and white in cemeteries.
“The black and white represented the type of camera I had brought along and because one of the places I was taken for a walk by the Reverend was in cemeteries.
“It’s interesting how certain habits are still there unconsciously or otherwise, but they can’t hurt me anymore.”
Drew lives with Parkinson’s disease, but finds his phone’s built-in stabilization helps him deal with shaky hands.
“The course brought so much joy to people who had been left in the dark and we’ve been friends ever since,” he said.
A mindfulness tool
Mel takes care of her husband – both are survivors of child sexual abuse. She said the most important thing she learned was the conscious aspect of photography.
“If I feel a little stressed or overwhelmed, I walk around and grab my camera,” she said.
“Taking pictures of things I see at the time can be a tool for moving forward.”
For Mel, the course was the first time she had done anything for herself to address her trauma, other than a few counseling sessions.
“It’s a very personal thing. I wasn’t ready to open that Pandora’s box for a long time,” she said.
“But now I like being able to stop and be present in that moment when I’m taking pictures.”
New views everywhere
Annie was sexually abused as a child, which made her feel low self-esteem and a lack of confidence to try anything new.
However, the Light Seekers book created with the photos of the participants at the end of the course makes her beam with pride.
“It was such a boost to my self-esteem, something we had achieved through such adversity,” Annie said.
“It was me getting some recognition for the heartbreak I had been through in my life.”
Annie found her favorite subject to be taking pictures of clouds.
“The clouds were symbolic of my life – the different shapes, some days they’re beautiful and some days they’re just specks in the sky,” Annie said.
The 63-year-old now sees the world in a new way.
“On bad days now I sit and watch the clouds. My eyes have become like my camera and I have more of an incentive to look at things differently.
“Even the cracks in the sidewalk, I stop and look at them and take pictures of them too.”