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OCA wellbeing: Photography - The Open College of the Arts

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OCA wellbeing: Photography

This week we’re hearing from Edward, who has taken to posting to Instagram to create routine and reconnect with his long forgotten practice.


Back in March when the UK was about to go into lockdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the OCA implemented it’s working from home protocol for staff, and we all went into action to prepare for working from home. Though I’ve worked with the OCA for several years now, and often hold discussions about learning and teaching at a distance, this was the first time that I had to consider how I might work from a distance. What might appear to be familiar to me was suddenly unsettling, I was about to become isolated from my colleagues who I see at the 9 to 5, week in, week out. There was also a collective concern that many might mistake our ‘office closure’ and delayed responses as a sign that we ‘weren’t open for business’ when this wasn’t the case.

At first I felt that there wasn’t a lot that I could do about the situation, other than pack my bags, make sure I didn’t leave anything on my desk that I might need, change my out of office response, and then drop the message into email conversation when the opportunity arose. It didn’t feel like much, and didn’t do much to reassure me that all would be well in the coming weeks. But then I let the cynicism wear off, took a few deep breaths over the weekend and thought about how I could signal to others, and myself in some ways, that we were still around. A small gesture so as not to over complicate the already lengthy to do list, but a gesture all the same.

Image : A photograph of a country gate, leading to a grassy field and a horizon of blue.
#workingfromhome – Day 1

I’d started up an Instagram account a while back, but I’d fallen into posting very sporadically, going months without and not making much of a contribution. So I decided to try out the whole ‘post an image a day’ and use some hashtags to get the message out that although we were in lockdown, we were still here.

When I started posting I kind of felt like I should be making ‘significant’ observations. All around were these messages of how we shouldn’t let this unique moment in history pass us by without recording it in some way, we should have something ‘significant’ to look back on, be a commentator, make this time mean something, and so on. I also sought to find themes to my images, thinking I ought to listen to my own advice to students about creating a series or body of work with a consistent theme. Maybe on some deeper level this was a way of controlling something, making my own decisions because I couldn’t quite control or compute everything else that was going on.

Image : An arrangement of six photographs, each showing different views of a bridge daubed in graffiti.
#workingfromhome – Week 2

I found after a couple of weeks of posting that I was putting pressure on myself to satisfy what I thought others might want or expect of me, doing the thing that ought to be done for now. So I started to relax after week three, let myself make daily posts that were actually daily. No pressure to make a bigger comment or observation, there’s something to be said for expressing yourself there in the moment. The only comment that’s needed is the one right there and then. Todays been a good day, todays been an alright day, todays not been a great day, it’s all relevant and important to me. At the end of the day the message was getting out there, I was still here, we were still here.

Image : An arrangement of six photographs, each showing a different view of a garden patio or woodland around the theme of moss and stone.
#workingfromhome – Week 3 to 4

Sounds cliche I know, but I’ve realised that the point of a self initiated project is that it is your own, it can be whatever you want it to be. Incredibly obvious writing it now and after years of advising others to take a similar view, but it can’t be a bad thing to be reminded once again about authenticity.

Image : A photograph of spring blossom, set against a pink tinged sky. An almost ghostly trace can be seen in the image.
#workingfromhome – Day 7

So I think I achieved what I set out to do, I’ve had likes and a couple of comments from OCA students and tutors, and a few follows, which I hope have helped in reassuring them that we are still here. I’ve also begun following the #weareoca hashtag on Instagram and as a result I’ve felt the most connected to our students’ work than I’ve ever done. It’s been great to see what they’re up to in their studies/practice, and I’ve often found myself in awe and have been inspired.

You can follow the hashtag #weareoca here on Instagram.


It just so happens that this little project did something else for me. My Grandma became unwell at Christmas time and required hospice care just before the lockdown. She was able to come home but the lockdown made her even more anxious, and it was incredibly upsetting that we couldn’t see one another in person. The daily postings gave me something else to focus on, and I could send her a couple of the images from the walks out in the woods, show her the spring flowers and the sunny views, something to make her smile, reassure her that everything was okay.

Image : A photograph of a pink tulip amongst an arrangement of different flowers and foliage.
Tulips were her favourites…

When she passed away I couldn’t bring myself to make the daily postings, I needed to let myself off the hook for a while, take some time to reflect, and to grieve. I’m hoping I’ll start posting again soon, perhaps stop with the daily postings and post a few times a week, make it sustainable, and hopefully find something to smile about again.


Instagram: @edsmith2018

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Posted by author: Edward

6 thoughts on “OCA wellbeing: Photography

  • So nice to hear from you Edward and what a good idea. I had a similar experience some years ago when I was studying for a short course on mentoring. It was so different being on the other side and gave me much more insight into the experience of my own mentees.
    Your images have a soft quality about them which, for me, links with being in a slightly unreal world at the moment. Your grandmother must have appreciated seeing them so much and I’m sorry for your loss.

  • I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, Edward. This post is quite inspiring, your reflections and process as much as your images, thank you for your honesty. I find the #weareoca tag brings up some unexpected work from across the disciplines, and it is always good to make contact (however virtual) with fellow oca-ers.

  • Edward,
    Thanks for this. I enjoyed being reminded of how social media isn’t just about ‘getting out there’, promoting and gaining visibility , perhaps it’s power also lies in how it can motivate us to pick up the camera again for our own wellbeing.
    Love the images too – the use of colour evokes a definite mood and everyday things are made visually interesting with a theme of tranquility and curiosity running through them..
    I’m sure the later images would have been a comfort to your Grandma too.
    Thank you.

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