Telling Stories In Focus

By Julie Johnson

“To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces.”  –Ansel Adams

I have an amazing brain—fueled with the passion and drive of an artist. She lives in an ethereal reality where time and responsibility seem to be none of her concern. The artist keeps me in an ADHD dreamland, where I can be seen staring out windows for hours.

On the other hand, through Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), a form of therapy that has taught me to understand how thoughts and feelings influence behavior, I have learned to view my loud and distracted thoughts as an observer, rather than a reactive participant. Through CBT, I have realized my brain has the ability to learn and grow in the ways of the accountant, who understands that time and task completion are something I must learn to manage to achieve the creative outputs of the artist. My counselor and I have worked together using CBT to find a way for the Artist and Accountant archetypes to live in balance within my mind. It probably sounds a little like this:

Artist: “Let’s go create canvases out of wood.”

Accountant: “If we do that, then we will not have enough time to make a meal for your family.”

“Oh, yea! You’re right … Let’s go make costumes for the play we wrote last week.”

“That will take hours.”

 “Well, then … Let’s take photographs.”

“OK. You have 30 minutes.”

The art of photography puts into action the creative ideas of an artist, within the responsibly approved time frame of an accountant. It is an efficient art form that lets me see my ADHD as a gift, putting the story of my life and those around me into focus through the lens of a camera.

I have a day job that requires to me to drive around my city all day. After two years of being a passive spectator of my surroundings, the artist within me told me it was time to step out of my time-constricting schedule and take a look at my very own city through the lens of a camera. When I explore my surroundings shot by shot, the buildings, the stories, and the people passing by seem to slow down. My brain can take in the visual richness of their faces, the layers of colorful, pastel paint that grace the doorways and sidings of the historic buildings. For me, the lens shuts out the extraneous visual clutter of the surrounding buildings and allows me to focus on the stories within the details and textures of the old red brick buildings in this city.

I also love to photograph my friends as they experience themselves in new roles as wives, mothers, husbands, and fathers. My inner artist makes it possible for me to view my friends experiencing their lives as new parents, loving on their new babies or rubbing their first baby bumps, in a creative composition that captures the very essence of their personal spirits. When I view my friends through the lens during these personal shoots, I know I’m telling a visual narrative through photographs that will be shared for generations to come.

The great thing about photography, whether I’m capturing images of my city or of my friends, is that it reminds me to be an active participant in my own narrative. Eventually, the accountant part of my brain comes along and whispers into the artist’s ear, reminding me it is time to put the camera down and return to my own story, where I can actively touch lives through my focused personal presence.

Photography is the perfect creative outlet for my life that is greatly influenced by the gifts and talents that come with having ADHD. I am taught to pay attention to the visual richness I experience as I look into my children’s eyes, or watch my friends’ families grow, or see my husband’s smile as he tells a funny joke. And these days I can do that with or without a camera.

For those reading this who feel stuck in repetitive, destructive thoughts but long for emotional freedom, I encourage you to begin creating beauty today. As author Austin Kleon states, “Don’t wait to know who you are to begin.” Read books and poetry, listen to music, create art, go out for coffee with a friend, start a blog, or take a class that reminds you of the person you desire to become. You can start today; make the decision to behave the way you long to feel.

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Comments (2)

  1. Anna Rounseville

    Thanks I needed that bit of a reminder to do things that feed my soul. It’s easy for me to fall into the passive place where my thoughts don’t matter, but they do. I used to take pretty good photos. I’ve been thinking of getting myself a digital camera to take more photos, I kinda stopped a while ago because of the whole hassle trying to get my film developed- I hadn’t hopped over to digital yet. I have a Pinterest board that I’ve been wanting to put my own photos in but haven’t yet. Everything else seems more important, but you’re right. Thanks for reminding me.

    Reply  |  
  2. Anonymous

    Thank you for these words and the important reminder. You are appreciated.

    Reply  |  
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