Have you ever been on a photo walk? It might be as simple as a bunch of friends walking around a neighbourhood taking photos – no more than a social activity with the added interest of taking some snaps. I did regular photo walks a few years ago with people in my town who were part of an online photo sharing group. The joke was that we spent more time drinking coffee and talking than we did talking photos. The social element is often the real reason for doing a photo walk with the technical aspects being the “glue” that holds the group together.
In my work with local primary schools I organised some walks for parents and their children. The aim was to encourage conversations between parents. The striking thing about these walks was that they generated stories and revealed concerns about the neighbourhood that might not otherwise have been shared.
Whatever the reason for going on a photo walk the benefits are excellent. These benefits include friendly social interaction, improved physical health, discovering your neighbourhood, learning new skills and more.
One of the most important of these secondary benefits for me has been improved mental health. Walking around a neighbourhood with friends being attentive and experiencing the physical environment shares many characteristics with mindfulness. I understand that mindfulness works by drawing out attention into the present and away from past or future concerns; it encourages us to connect with the now, and be fully present.
The connection we feel when we belong to a group that shares an interest is also a powerful benefit. The dynamics of a group activity like a photo walk can include elements of giving and receiving and being affirmed for having a degree of skill of achievement.
Digging yet deeper we can also imagine exploring a neighbourhood with people who have different ways of seeing or perhaps come from a different cultural background. The walk, the conversations and the photos it generates have the potential to be highly enriching and transformative for all concerned.
I have organised and led quite a few photo walks over the years and so have decided to see how these can be developed to make more of these “secondary” benefits.
In the next few weeks I hope to take community photo walking onto the next level by setting up a couple of groups in West Yorkshire.
I’ll keep you posted.