The setting was Copenhagen, Denmark, circa 2004. The weather was cold and I shook in my thin Juicy Couture jacket, but young me was determined to take as many photos as I possibly could to add them to my photo album back home (despite no Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat for my #Europetravels). I snapped everything: castles, ballrooms, delicious desserts, random people and trees. As I was packing my suitcase up to return to the United States, I was pretty satisfied with what I had taken. When we came home, however, I realized that I left my disposable camera in the backseat of a tour guide bus. I was naturally upset but, after further thinking, I was happy for the opportunity to take pictures of so many incredibly cool things and places.
The point of this story is that, in our day and age, photography is a stressor rather than something enjoyable to capture memories. Every Instagram shot, every Snapchat caption, every new Facebook profile picture — these are things that we strive to make appear “natural,” as if none of us are taking an embarrassingly long time to think up something witty or come up with a creative pose. It was much simpler back when photography wasn’t for the world but for our own happiness. It’s been used to connect with others, as a way to represent a subject’s life, and as an avenue to explore culture and the world around us. Given, too, the abundance of mental health benefits associated with photography, I wanted my next project to harken back to the “good ‘ole days.”
A few friends and I decided to spend our afternoon out in the great city of Cleveland, taking pictures of whatever we felt like, be it food, buildings, nature or weird things. We would reunite in a few hours and share both our pictures and the story behind each one. Once we split, I immediately went on the prowl for “artistic-like” photo ops, starting at the park. Unfortunately, the only things I encountered were yapping dogs that wouldn’t sit still, runners irritated with an obstructed sidewalk and a lot of people staring at me in confusion as I awkwardly tried to take photos of “interesting trees.” The next place I went was the upscale mall. Pictures of random people would probably result in my expulsion from medical school, so I figured I could take pictures of interesting products. Alas, even there I struggled. I found that there are few ways to take an ~artsy~ photo of a purse, and there is a reason mall food is not lauded for either artistry or taste. Discouraged by this failure, I went back to my car fully aware I had maybe thirty minutes or so before we met again — and I had little more than pictures of angry animals and too-expensive clothing on my phone.
And that’s when I realized I had been going around this completely the wrong way. The point of this whole activity was not to manufacture something artificial but to portray the world like I saw it. I wasn’t there to make the perfect Instagram shot or be the world’s best photographer — my goal that day was to have a great time exploring the city of Cleveland behind the lens. I failed to capture my own objective, despite coming up with the idea in the first place. With that in mind, I felt much relieved as I drove to the sight of our meeting place.
I know this sounds clichéed, but as my third year of medical school draws to a close, I realize that my photography adventure is pretty similar to my third year. I entered both activities with certain expectations and a determination to “play the part” of unique photographer/smart and capable MS3 who knows exactly what she’s doing. In both, I racked up way more mistakes than successes and felt pretty down on both ends. But, when I realized that the whole point of my MS3 year was to learn, not necessarily to already have all the answers or have the perfect assessment and plan, I felt better about myself and my performance greatly improved. Perspective, like a good photographer’s, is important for everyone.
Oh, and my favorite shot? In terms of artistry or capability, it was the worst, most blurry shot I’d taken that whole day. But seeing a random guy dressed up in a sheep costume going to Starbucks made me laugh and here it is. Hopefully you’ll laugh too.
A very important topic is that of mental health in medical practitioners, notably medical students. According to a study in the Student British Medical Journal, 30 percent of medical students report having a mental health condition — with a majority of 80 percent stating the level of available support was poor or only moderately adequate. This column was born from these alarming statistics and aims to stimulate conversation on mental health in medical students, from providing suggestions on how to maintain one’s mental health to discussing the taboo and stigma surrounding conversations on mental health in practitioners and students, and how to eliminate it.