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How Landscape Photography is Treating this Photographer’s PTSD

Living With PTSD and How Landscape Photography is Treatment

Brynley Perrett

Landscape photography is for many of us a great way to disconnect from a hectic daily life and spend valued time outdoors.

For Brynley Perrett, however, it’s been a way to treat his PTSD. It’s not only been a way to disconnect from daily stress, but a way to get a break from vivid images of a horrific event that happened five years ago. 

Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

So, a little about me! Well then, born in Oz in the joyous 70s’ I moved to my maternal motherland of Wales when I was four and was raised there for most of my life. Now I reside in the equally beautiful country of Norway with my beautiful Norwegian lady (Yes, I am that lucky) and puppy Malinois!

At an early age, I developed a love for adventure and nature thanks to being surrounded by the beautiful Welsh countryside. Here is where I began training in a huge variety of adventure sports, my favorite of which were climbing, mountain biking and whitewater kayaking. Quite naturally I then became an adventurous activity and extreme sports instructor. An industry that really suited my personality, lots of outgoing people, non-stop practical joke culture, people with a high competitive drive but no need to put others down, just pure awesomeness. For 20 plus years I formed a wonderful career in this industry.

Landscape Photography as Treatment for PTSD

Five years ago though this career was abruptly ended by a major accident (non-industry related) which I was lucky to come away from alive! Now I work on and off in a warehouse in the oil industry here in Norway when the work is available. Of course, now my ambition is to become a world-famous landscape photographer

How did you first get started with photography?

Whilst recovering from the accident I needed something to hold my attention and work my brain a bit whilst giving me a good excuse to get outside again. So, I bought myself a DSLR, a Canon 70D with a Sigma 24-105 lens. I didn’t specifically buy it for any style of photography I just thought it would be a cool hobby.

Pretty soon I was taking shots of everything but not really learning specific skills or indeed what all those funny letters where on the little black dial on top of the camera! It was auto all the way. However, it wasn’t too long after getting the camera I got this new job in the oil industry and the camera was put away for the next two years!

Then the oil crash hit the industry and it hit hard in this region, so many people went out of work. In January 2016 I lost my job and again I had very little to do (of course I was applying for jobs)! So out came the camera again and for some reason, my mind just went into “Landscape” mode. Anything to do with landscape photography just lit a fire in my ass and got my creative juices flowing.

It is nearly two years later, and this landscape disease is getting worse…… I love it!

Can you tell us a little about how it is to live with PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a bitch! Plain and simple. I always thought it was just a problem soldiers got from combat zones but of course, it can happen to anyone after any traumatic event.

Landscape Photography as Treatment for PTSD

I think the easiest way to make people understand what it is like is like this; you know that song you cannot get out of your head in the morning and it is stuck there all day annoying you! Well imagine that but replace it with vivid images of a horrific event that happened to you but it replays through your mind day and night, continually! Even when you are asleep there is no escape. It can occur at any point even when working, driving or talking to friends.

You disappear into a world of hurt that only you can see and to you, it is as real as the moment the traumatic event happened. For me it was constantly visualizing the roof I was on collapsing, the pain of landing on the floor, the pool of blood growing in front of me and not being able to move my legs, it would not go away.

Living with it was weird because you know but also don’t know it is happening (I know that doesn’t make sense). You shut off from the outside world, you become very reclusive, tasks that used to be easy become too complicated because you cannot focus clearly, life just becomes a haze! Life just doesn’t make sense anymore.

And of course, there is the fact that it is an invisible disorder and people still have a great stigma about these types of illnesses so that doesn’t help either. You doubt yourself, “Am I ill?” and of course you put off getting help which makes matters worse. People do still judge those with mental health issues. This archaic notion that if a wound is not visible means it is not real is still highly prevalent in modern society.

You’ve mentioned that photography has helped with your PTSD. In what ways has photography helped your day-to-day life?

Photography gives me quite a lot actually! Firstly, I would say that because there is a lot to learn in the landscape photography field it gives my mind a lot to focus on. Of course, the PTSD can occur at any time and override what you are doing but I find that when I am doing anything with the camera my focus is quite intense so other distractions find it hard to break through (to the annoyance of my good lady).

Secondly, I would say exercise! If you want a good image you need a good location and part of finding that location is exploration. So, a good hours walk into a specific area does wonders for the mind, as they say, a healthy body equals a healthy mind. Also, just being out in nature really helps relieve any stresses, in many ways it is the best therapy I have had. Being sat at home is the worst thing for most mental health issues.

To add, I think the excitement of the potential images you can get really helps engage the brain and focus on the positive side of life. On the way to the location you constantly think of the great images others have created in similar places and you get a good buzz hoping to do as well or dare I say it, better. All these things help to create positivity in the mind and to let go of your past negative experiences.

Landscape Photography as Treatment for PTSD

Plus, there is the added benefit of placing your images on social media. Now you may agree or disagree with me here but desiring a lot of likes on your images is kind of a good thing. Each social media ‘like’ on your image is a validation. This validation delivers an ego boost which in turn gives a little endorphin hit. This then drives you (me) to want to achieve! The feeling of achievement really helps with elevating your feeling of self-worth. When you suffer from PTSD you really don’t see any value in your life as every good feeling seems to be stripped from you so an elevated feeling of self-worth really helps.

Do you think your past and PTSD has an impact on your creative vision? If yes, in what way?

Good question, firstly I wonder what my creative vision is! I think it is mainly to use photography as a tool to get out more into the landscape and miss as few moments as possible.

I think my past has definitely given me a reason to push my creative vision. I say this in the sense that I have spent so many years out in amazing locations without a camera and have seen some amazing natural events and beautiful locations I am bursting from the inside to capture similar visions on camera.

With regard to the PTSD, I think being on the other side now (after treatment) I don’t want to waste a moment so that just pushes me to get off my ass more and capture more opportunities so in that sense I get more time to be creative.

What are your photographic goals?

Now that is a big question! I have countless goals within photography. I have now been learning landscape photography for two years, so I am still a baby in the field. So far, I am very happy with my achievements, but the learning never stops. A big goal is to learn Photoshop. It is a tool I have feared for so long, but I know creatively it is an amazing tool.

Landscape Photography as Treatment for PTSD

Writing! This is another of my goals, creating blogs/reviews on all things related to landscape photography and adventure equipment to help other beginners. I have started to flex my reviewing skills on my web page, but I want to do more. I find it great fun to try and write something that may be of interest and use to others.

Of course, there is the obvious as well, I would love to be respected in the field as a good, creative photographer. This requires hard work and needs to be earned over time.

Travelling is also one of my goals, I want to capture the world. I would love to go to places that are not so heavily frequented by the masses. Bringing new images to the community of unknown paradises, that excites me.

Most importantly though, I think my overall goal is to be myself whilst trying to achieve my specific photographic achievements. Pushing yourself to be something you are not is a recipe for disaster especially if you have mental health issues.

What inspires you to go out photographing?

Actually, this is another good thing about social media. As with most of us, we begin our day logging on (literally) to IG or FB from the porcelain god. From here we see so many great images and it is these images that drives my competitive spirit. I see an awesome image from the likes of Max Rive, Alyn Wallace, Ole Henrik Skjelstad and that Hoiberg dude and think, I want to get out there and beat that, copy that, try to get somewhere close to that!

Also, I have this insatiable desire to become famous, probably won’t happen but it is another force that drives me. I think it is the same part of me that keeps buying a lottery ticket, you never know! The biggest inspiration though is appreciating that I am still here. The accident that caused my PTSD and depression was basically a 50/50, I could have been so easily killed so I am just glad to have the opportunity to get out and experience anything mother nature gives me, I can find beauty even on the dullest of days. Being here inspires!

Editors Note: Thank you, Brynley, for being this open about your PTSD and how landscape photography has helped you. I hope that this interview is inspiring for anyone else currently struggling with PTSD and a depression. 

To see more of Brynley’s work make sure to visit his website, Facebook or Instagram.