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Robert - I love bringing a sense of belonging to my local community by sharing the passion for photography that was key to my own recovery

It’s been a few years since I’ve needed Flourish Australia’s support but a photography group they encouraged me to start, as a way of sharing my skills and knowledge, was so helpful to my mental health recovery that I keep it going to help others on their journey and build community here in Temora. 

When I first started the Temora photography group back in 2014, I was very withdrawn. I hadn’t set foot outside of my home in years and it took me three months just to work up to venturing into my front yard, with the encouragement of my support worker. For more than a decade I had lived with debilitating pain, anxiety and depression, following a workplace injury which had a devastating impact on every aspect of my life. Making the commitment to show up and teach a photography group gave me motivation to move beyond limitations and get on with my life.  

Getting creative with the way I see the world, through the lens of my camera, became a way of distracting my mind from what weighed heavily on me. Sharing my love of photography with others in the group restored my confidence and helped put a stop to the panic attacks and negative mental chatter I struggled with.  

I know from experience that social isolation takes its toll on mental wellbeing.  

It feels good to give locals something to take their minds off their problems. I get them thinking through what they want to shoot and how they might achieve the effect they are going for, like trying different angles and lighting. I share what I learned in my own recovery over the years, that taking something away to try out in your own time helps to occupy your thoughts in a healthy way. We build a real sense of community and belonging by planning group outings to shoot at various locations and really appreciate the spectacular landscapes around here. 

Drawing on my own lived experience, I have an approach to teaching that is less structured than a formal course, which can be overwhelming for someone struggling with mental health issues when things move quickly to the next level before they’ve grasped a technique. I like the group to feel more like getting together for a cuppa with mates. That social connection is every bit as important as what we’re learning because it’s so vital for mental and emotional wellbeing. 

The way Flourish Australia came alongside me on my recovery journey impressed upon me the importance of feeling free to take things at your own pace, so I teach people with sensitivity to what’s going on for them. It’s no trouble to walk them through things again and again, until it clicks. If their interest wanes, I’ll change things up with something new.  

We’ve all come such a long way together since this group was first started. I’m proud to say my students win awards for their work. It brings such a boost to their self esteem to receive recognition for what they’ve achieved that I coach them to compete in local shows as a goal to work toward. It instills a feeling of belonging in people when they see that the community values something they’ve created. 

The growing popularity of our little group led Temora Community Centre to invite me to start a group in town, where it’s accessible to even more people. I’ve taught high school students and organised free portraits for locals during Family Week, something I’d like to do more of as a fundraiser for charities like The Cancer Council. 

My goal is to put together a book of beautiful images taken by the people in our original group, to show others who don’t believe they can achieve anything worthwhile in their life what’s possible when they put their mind to it.  

Giving back to the community through what I love has brought freedom to my life. I get around to more places these days and staying connected keeps me balanced. It’s been some time since I’ve needed to reach out to a crisis line and when someone hands me a photo and says they took it for me, I feel such a deep sense of purpose and belonging. I’ve grown from feeling disconnected and in need of daily support, to being someone who inspires hope and brings people together.  

Who’d have believed that what started out as me and my box brownie would bring healing to my whole life? I’m so grateful to my support network including Flourish Australia for helping bring  that out in me. 

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