Life Stuff

Lomography as Therapy

My name’s Nicole, and I’ve got mental health issues.

(Hiii, Nicole)

Probably as recently as two years ago, I wouldn’t have admitted that to my closest, oldest friends, let alone an entire internet community (or more likely, the two of you who will read this). Mental health has become a much more popular (and less taboo) topic in media and general conversation, which has helped considerably in my quest to accept that I’m just as screwy in the head as 1 in 5 of you, and just move on with my life already.

However, despite this increased transparency, my general reluctance to accept or talk about my mental illness is closely related to a facet of the illness itself: the general anxiety that is caused by my deep-rooted perfectionism.

Many people, especially in the work-obsessed United States, are familiar with the concept of perfectionism. The dictionary defines the term as a “refusal to accept anything short of perfection”–which to some people could even sound like a good thing. A driven, ambitious person is supposed to be a go-getter, a self-starter, a person who hard-line rejects sloppy work and will happily jump through hoops to give not just 100, but 110% of themselves. Culturally, this is the ideal. Realistically, perfectionism can balloon into an ugly, repetitive cycle that is difficult to break.

For me, perfectionism leads to paralysis. Take for example my “career” as a writer. I’ve been studying creative writing since my junior year of high school, and am currently in the process of getting my Masters in the subject. Obviously, I’ve written a ton of stuff over the years and would like to be published, but I am so obsessed with the idea that my work has to be PERFECT before anyone sees it that I have never sent creative work to be considered for publication. Ever. I’m so nervous to fail that I don’t even begin. You can see the issue here.

Anyway, the point of ranting about all of this is to say that after years of struggling with this cycle, I was really surprised to accidentally discover that the practice and principles of Lomography can function as a form of “perfectionism therapy.”

The whole point of the Lomography movement is to “not think, just shoot;” in fact, rules 8 and 9 of the “Golden Rules of Lomography” are “You don’t have to know beforehand what you captured on film” and “Afterwards either.” There’s no fancy digital screen on your camera. You can’t color correct, line things up perfectly, zoom–even the viewfinder on a plastic camera may not be much help (I learned the hard way, for example, that what I see in the viewfinder of my Holga 135 won’t truly line up with the lens and thus what is captured in the shot).

In all my years of crazy, paralytic perfectionism, I’ve never felt as free as I do when I’m taking candid shots with my Holga or shooting from the hip with my Diana Mini. Half the time, I have no idea what I’m even capturing and it usually takes weeks before I get the film developed and find out. Some of my shots are “duds,” but most of the time I find something beautiful and surprising and real in each one. Even my accidental double-exposures, which sometimes disappoint or frustrate me “in the field,” can become my favorite, most interesting shots.

I’m not a professional. I’ve never taken a single photography class. I barely understand film speed, let alone aperture and depth of field and whatnot. My pictures aren’t lined up nicely, they don’t follow the “rule of thirds”–they barely follow any rules at all. None of my shots are perfect. Because I don’t have the resources or the training to even try for perfection, I suddenly feel freed from my need for it, even if just in this one area of my life.

See what I just did there?

None of my shots are perfect.

It’s the truth, and it makes me deliriously, mind-numbingly happy.

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