Life through a new lens

Moving home can be challenging, but embarking on a project to capture moments along your new local waterway can be a great way to help you connect, says Tor McIntosh

Tor McIntosh

Tor McIntosh

Posted on 03/07/2019

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No matter how many times you up sticks during your lifetime, relocating to a new home inevitably brings with it a tricky period of transition. My recent move certainly did. Although what made this move even more challenging was it involved moving from my ideal location (rural, quiet, green) to a setting outside of my comfort zone (urban, noisy, grey). But I was relocating for love, and I was determined to make it work. Nevertheless, the transition was tough.

Accustomed to a nature-rich landscape of rolling green fields and winding country lanes, when I found myself surrounded by a seemingly nature-less sea of concrete and tarmac in this new place I was to call home, it left me feeling fragile. At the risk of spiralling into an unhappy state, I knew I needed to discover my city by seeking out its green and blue spaces. I desperately needed to find nature.

Since first picking up a single lens reflex (SLR) camera in my teens and learning how to shoot manually, I’ve always found the photo-taking process to be deeply relaxing. From the creative act of peering through the viewfinder – or viewing the LCD screen, as is the case nowadays – to framing and composing each shot, to selecting the right exposure, it really brings you into the moment. By merging my daily walk along the city’s waterway with this calm, mindful activity, my camera became not only my companion but a creative and therapeutic tool that helped me find a sense of inner stillness at a time when my mind was abuzz with unhelpful thoughts.

Through the lens, picture 2

It didn’t take long to find a footpath alongside the city’s main waterway: a river lined with tall reeds, unruly willow and alder trees, which meanders through built-up areas to a wildlife-rich wetland. My new local waterway not only provided me with the nature I desperately craved, it soon became the focus of a personal photo project: to capture daily snapshots of life along the waterway as I became accustomed to my new life.

Through the lens, picture 3

To encourage myself to slow down on my jaunts along the river, and to truly observe the intricacies of life along this urban waterway, I decided to limit myself to taking a single photo each time I explored the waterway, with the aim of shooting the equivalent of a 36-exposure roll of film. Adhering to this restriction not only made me concentrate on my new surroundings rather than aimlessly wandering – looking for the right composition, the perfect light or the exact moment to press my shutter – it also helped to focus my mind on something other than the uncertainty I was feeling.

To make matters even more challenging, it was the depths of winter. If there’s one time of year when it’s easy to stay cooped up and feeling sorry for yourself, it’s during January and February. But determined (and stubborn) as I am, I kept to my regular photo walks along the river. On reflection it was the best thing I could have done.

Even on the greyest of winter days, I would marvel at the alder trees looking resplendent in their winter outfits – the colourful catkins dangling from their twigs creating a purple haze in the copse of trees next to the riverbank. While on a still crisp day when the scenery was covered in frost my photographer’s mind would explode at all the photo opportunities – what could possibly be the single ‘photo of the day’? And on days when the low winter sun made a welcome appearance – flooding the landscape in an appealing golden hue – I too soaked in its rays, grateful for the much-needed dose of vitamin D.

The city I now call home is yet to fully spark joy in me. But creating a photo journal about its often overlooked waterway helped me connect with this once unfamiliar place, while the process of capturing each photo – the looking, composing, snapping, reviewing, editing and printing – did wonders for my wellbeing during a challenging time. Plus, I’ve now got a choice of 36 images to hang as artwork on the freshly painted walls in my new city home.

Need inspiration for a waterway photo journal? Flow Photo will be displayed at the National Waterways Museum, Gloucester until 13 July.

Tor McIntosh