Engagement Story One 

A woman of seventy-six, a widow, is living alone. She has two grown-up children who live abroad and has grandchildren and step-grandchildren who live in different parts of the country. Although she has no family who lives near her, they love and are in touch, and she is on good terms with them.

She is a retired person. She is highly educated to postgraduate level and had a career working in psychiatry in private practice. She travelled a lot and had, when growing up, had what she described as a very peripatetic existence as a child as she had moved twenty times by the time she was twenty years old. Her father was Cornish, and she has Cornish ancestors.

She describes herself as physically fit. She has breast cancer, though this is under control. However, she found the lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic very hard to deal with. She struggled mentally. She felt very low in mood and felt incredibly isolated. She said that her isolation became very difficult; she very much missed people and found it very hard not to be able to talk to anybody face-to-face during the lockdown. She was not going out and did not see other people for days. She lives in an isolated location, and people do not pass by her house. She was in contact with people on the phone, but this was not enough to sustain her. She did think she had clinical depression and did not seek medication for her low mood, but she found herself going out for walks less and less often and, at times, experienced suicidal thoughts. She experienced feelings of helplessness and futility about life. She was comfortably off, living in her own home, but she had damaging, negative thoughts.

She saw an advert for the Smartphone Photography course on a notice board at the Penlee Art Gallery: she saw a poster and thought she would give it a try. She saw taking part in the course as a possible way of getting out and doing something, an excuse to leave the house which would give her a purpose. She also wanted to learn more about the camera on her phone. She took part in courses with the Penzance and the St Ives groups.

Taking part in the courses helped her hugely. It gave her a reason to leave the house, helped a lot with her photography skills, and helped her get back some courage to get out and do things again. She sees the course as having a huge positive impact on her. She loved being able to reproduce something beautiful that she could see in a photograph in her everyday walks. She enjoyed editing and changing her pictures: making something new and different out of her original photos and in discovering new ways to give a different visual impact to her photos. She did not regard herself as a very creative person but found the things she learnt about photography exciting.

In taking part in the two groups she met some interesting people. She observed the different demographics between the two groups that she joined and she enjoyed meeting with and talking with people from different backgrounds. She enjoyed making new connections with people and she made a friend who she is in contact with since the groups have finished. She found enjoyment in the companionship that the photography groups gave her: the walking with others while they went around taking photos of their locality and being paired up with people who you may not have come into contact with at another time. She said it was “an enriching experience”.

She described how she enjoyed being part of the photography exhibition and having her photographs exhibited with the others. She said how nice it was to see everyone’s pictures printed and hung on display and she enjoyed seeing how other people looked at and captured their world and looked at things in different ways. She talked about how she learnt about ‘active looking’ and what a fantastic tool this was for her. She said that she felt as she got older she was becoming more ‘visual’ and she has a deep love of the country around her and now when she goes out she is always looking for a photographic opportunity. She said that a valuable tool she learnt through taking part was in trying to take one thoughtabout photograph every day which gives her a purpose and a continued reason to get up and go out.

She praised highly the teaching and the listening skills of Ruth, the course tutor. She described the tutor as having unending patience with people, she was very ‘allowing’ and accepting of everyone. She really enjoyed walking and spending time with her.

She still struggles with technology and knows she needs to revisit some of her notes and the instructions Ruth provided for her online. She thought paper crib sheets might be useful to have too.

Overall she learnt lots about smartphone photography and it had the benefit of really improving her mental health.