The Camera is your Friend

Goodness, I don’t know how that phrase makes me feel. A bit creeped maybe, encouraged perhaps, but it makes me think for the example of the exploitation of Hollywood starlets in the 40’s and the studio system. Certainly the camera has to do with power and vision and the expression ‘point of view’ which is in comon both to argument and also to framing, goes to show the aspect to which the camera’s position has the power to make the subjective, objective. If you experience a point of view shot of a character walking down a gloomy corridor, or the point of view shots in The Shining, you view as a collective audience the transformation of that character’s field of vision from a subjective point of view to an objective opinion.

However, that’s not what I’m really talking about here. I’m talking about using the camera as your friend, to confide to, to expose to, to take material from your everyday life and put a frame around it. That two minutes or however long of film you then make into an object, which you can watch later, reflect upon, shelve for the archive, or shelve and move on. Much has been written about the therapeutic value of diarising, and certainly the ‘dear diary’ relationship that people have with their blank page is centuries old. When I go to my written diary, I’m not sure who I’m writing for or why I’m going there, but I know it will be good for me. If I stop to analyse who I”m writing it for, is it for my son, for posterity, for me? It’s none and all of those things, but they are secondary. I’m doing it because I feel I have a friend behind the page, that God, if you believe in him or a higher power – which I do – is listening. Certainly it also makes me stop and listen to myself.

Would it be possible to have that relationship with a camera? To record video to your phone as ‘your friend in your pocket’? I think it is going that way. The issues of safety and social media are rife, but the act of recording video diary, however desperate or raw, is becoming increasingly acceptable among young people. I was talking to one the other day, Charlotte, a digital native. She felt that the idea we are developing, Mental Snapp, would be most appealing to her generation. The notion of filming yourself may filter up the generational spectrum though, when people start to understand the back end, the security measures we’ve set in place, and the benefits. For more details on Mental Snapp, please see my About Me page with links. I won’t go on about it here. Internet safety is a real issue for young people, with Facebook bullying and there have been a steadily increasing number of suicides. I’ve noticed anecdotally that they are reported on a kind of bi-annual way in the newspapers, and at first they hit the headlines. Now they sink to somewhere in the middle of the paper. If only people had a secure place to share this video that they so clearly feel the need to make, without publishing it on Facebook and having the world, his wife, and all the school bullies and Twitter trolls picking it up and pushing your head down the loo at school. Awful.

But coming back to the idea of the camera as your friend, as I’ve said in a previous blog, I’ve always, when working with service users, called myself a service user film maker. In fact, that’s what I call myself in general conversation now. The idea is that the person behind the camera has empathy for you, is not concerned to steal your story, but to empower you to get your words out. The problem is with the video evaluations that I’ve done back in 2002 – 2004 for the Kings Fund an the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, where I was the service user interviewer and camera operator, is the expense of video evaluation – you have to have a film maker, you have to edit. But people in the main in my experience find it an incredibly comfortable way to express their views. Of course they have the interviewer, but they also have the listening ear and the watching eye of the camera to validate them.

Our relationship with cameras is really primal. Right from the moment we first open our eyes, our first three relationships are rapidly formed, with mum, dad and the camera. And we always have a notion of the person behind it, mum, dad, grandpa, granny, uncles, aunts, family friends, as being grownups, encouraging us, but being in charge. It’s a double edged sword, the camera. But so to a certain extent is the relationship that writers have with their blank page. You only feel like that about it as an object when you’re not doing it. If you’re doing it, and you’re in flow, you don’t notice the objectification issue, or the camera/blank page as an object anymore. You are filling the blank page up. So, can we make it so that people can diarise their mental health on selfie videos and feel in charge, in control, comfortable, empowered, and therapized, without the expense of a film maker and an editor constantly present? I think we can, if we go about it the right way. And I think the experience of being listened to and validated in your experience, whether it is mental health, learning disabilities, care leaving, young offenders, teens, what ever, will save a heck of a lot of public money in the end as people up and down the country record and upload video securely to a government standard compliant server dedicated to mental health. That is the vision of Mental Snapp. And the localised benefits that I’ve seen in my research can only be rolled out at scale if we allow the service user to pick up their phone, film themselves for two minutes, and feel that the camera is their friend.

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