The joy of recovery through photography


If you've read my previous blog, you may have spotted a couple of images of BBC TV Centre and Big AM Manchester's former studios at Salford Quays, where I was a journalist and bulletin editor/newsreader.  A few people have asked me who took them, and the answer is me.  And it got me thinking just how big a part my passion for photography has played in recovering from suicidal depression and psychosis. It's given me a new focus for my life. A new creative outlet.   I've been paid for some of my work.  And I absolutely love taking pictures!

When my beloved late dog, Jess, died 5 years ago, it set me back significantly from my recovery from the depths of despair.  Within two weeks, I was the proud "animal guardian" of Amber -- the most stunning tricolour Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (for I do not consider myself to "own" any animal and have been vegetarian since the age of 13).  It was published by Practical Photography and rated 4/5 by viewers of its website.

Amber Birch Copyright Ian Birch

A picturesque little feature known as The Esplanade was my second photo after Amber with my (then) new Nikon D-SLR -- it's one of my favourite places to take Amber on the way to the park and reservoir, when my ME/CFS allows me to walk that far, and is resplendent with flowers in the summer. I got postcards made and sold them to local residents.  I also won a national competition for this photo, which really inspired me to progress with my hobby.  Apparently it demonstrates, textbook fashion, "the rule of thirds" ...

The Esplanade Copyright Ian Birch

In the summer, in the year of my breakdown I took on my first serious assignment -- to document in pictures the splendour and glory of the river, canal and reservoir around the large Lancashire village where I live.  I used these images to produce a calendar and sold it to local residents.  I sold every calendar, and had requests for more!  I have been back down to the canal each year since, and opportunities have occasionally arisen to take shots I never thought I'd be so lucky as to find so close to my doorstep.   Here is a moorhen feeding its chick on the Leeds Liverpool Canal taken with one of my telephoto lenses, and a mallard with its ducklings:

Moorhen feeding chick on Leeds Liverpool Canal copyright Ian Birch

Mallard and ducklings copyright Ian Birch

I want to share with you my excitement one hot summer's day of turning up to the end of the local river, to find the opportunity to capture the thrill of diving into the cool, beckoning pond just off the motorway. No longer working for the BBC, I chose not to do any "immersive reporting" and strip off and dive in myself though! No, my brother is the adrenlaine-rush seeker in our family ... he's learning to skydive solo at the moment.

M65 Plunge copyright Ian Birch

Just up the road, the Leeds Liverpool canal meets the village centre.  Again, in the summer months, the local council plants a stunning floral display to welcome visitors to the town -- and there are many narrowboats pass by each time I take time out from my day to enjoy the peace, tranquility and wildlife on the Leeds Liverpool. Most people have a favourite place -- Cumbria is mine, but my own village is my second favourite place.  Probably this very spot, though I've never taken the view from that bench below:

Leeds Liverool Canal High Street copyright Ian Birch

But sometimes, I've been taking images for the BBC or other newsgathering organisations.   This image appeared in my local paper for their weekly local guide.  

Finally for now I want you to see the picture I'm most proud of -- not because of the photo itself, although I took it, but because of what it represents.  It was my ambition from childhood to work for the BBC, initially as a musician, then as a sound engineer ("studio manager" as the Beeb calls them) and later as a reporter and newsreader and presenter.  This building was the first place my voice was ever broadcast on a professional station, during my work experience placement in 1998.  I have never forgotten the dozen or so calls that came in that evening from friends, family, and friends of my parents.  I was a big wake up call.   In many ways so exciting, yet very, very daunting,  My media career had begun, and now that I'm in my thirties and work mainly for magazines and online, I still miss the "buzz", the "thrill", the "chase" of the next hourly deadline, and editors often express surprise as to how quickly and accurately I work. 

BBC Radio Lancashire copyright Ian Birch

There's no secret to this. It's simply that I chose broadcasting in my final year at university and spent a decade in radio.  It was my other passion in life besides photography and music.   Now I am working for a number of magazines and websites, increasing each month, with kind, supportive, genuine, caring editors like Charlotte -- a world away from the egomaniacs of the BBC. My life is happy, fulfilling -- and I'm optimistic about making an eventual full 100% recovery one day, but in the meantime, I always take one of my cameras with me and you never know where one of my photos might be published next!


Although I scanned this when it went live, I have only just read this properly through - it is beautiful and very moving. I have found (since having a nice phone) that I enjoy taking snaps and it really has helped me see the beauty of life through the lens. Thanks for another inspiring post.

Hi Ian Thank you for sharing your photos and journey. How inspiring... Creativity can be so powerful a force in recovery. I think photography can help us to really notice what is present - to open our eyes to the now and in essence develop mindfulness. Writing provided something similar for me. When I started studying writing I suddenly started seeing things for the first time. You may be interested in the work of a lady called Joanna Paterson - she expresses some things beautifully through photography and writing. She produced an article recently about looking for hope in nature - and uses photography to express the images of hope she finds while out walking... You can see the full article at the url below ... enjoy and I look forward to more of your posts.

Hi Tina

Thanks for your kind words.  I really enjoyed looking at your website and Joanna Paterson's inspirational images set to words.  Thank you so much for sharing this uplifting and beautiful link.

You have inspired me to attempt a little poetry of my own -- on a subject that is still a little raw.  Look out for this blog over the weekend.

Thanks for the encouragement and take care,

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