I've said it over and over again, photograph for your own pleasure. Yeah that's kind of self centered but I believe art requires it (just ask this little known dude called Picasso….). But now there's a new surprising reason why photographs make life better.
It's pretty obvious that photographs can pull the strings of your emotions and heal them. I mean, photography is essentially a transfer of feelings from the photographer to the viewer. Nothing groundbreaking there, but the surprising thing now is that it's been proven that art can actually reduce the level of physical pain. Yes you heard it, your photos can not only affect viewers on an emotional level, but also on a physical level. Photos over body, baby!
In a medical article named “Aesthetic value of paintings affect pain thresholds” (Can't get a more obvious title than that!!!) it's been shown that patients suffered 1/3 less pain while seeing a beautiful painting. The gist of the experiment was to have the patients previously rate some paintings beforehand, and then stimulate their hands with laser. They stimulated their hands without any interference (control), and then did the same with different paintings present. Not only the pain scores were lower, but also their brain wave activity showed lower responses to pain….when viewing a painting rated as beautiful.
Paintings rated neutral or ugly didn't make any significant change. The inference photographers can draw from this is that beautiful photographs affects the level of pain someone receives. To quote one of the doctors “Beauty obviously offers a distraction that ugly things do not. But at least there is no suggestion that ugly surroundings make the pain worse.” I'm not a doctor, the closest I have from a PHD is the HD that is on my TV screen, but I'm pretty sure the effects of a nice painting go beyond the distraction level, there's probably endorphins (the pleasure position) being released here and there. There's just something pleasurable looking at nice photographs.
The way I see it, aesthetic values eases physical pain while emotional values of a photograph ease emotional pain. Sheeeesh who knew photos were that awesome? What constitutes “beautiful” though is of course a slippery slope (What's pretty for you might not be for another) but I'm pretty sure you can't go to wrong with street photographs than bet on aesthetics and composition with a pleasing subject matter. The subject matter is important too, I mean, let's face it, there's some very aesthetically pleasing photographs depicting war and all…. Landscape photographs in my opinion are a given, you can't go wrong with them. In my article on How to make money as a street photographer, I advised to hang the images on coffee shops, but now hospitals have an even better reason to take your images in!
At the end of the day, there's value in expressing yourself with your photography. But there's always been the notion of art photography not being “useful” to the world at large, like I said, we ain't curing cancer. But now we have a good response: “We sure ain't, but we can alleviate emotional and physical pain”. Let's not underestimate the power of art! Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.