“The roots are our family and important persons in our life. The trunk of the tree includes our strengths and skills that we have. The branches with the leaves are like all the things that we have done in our lives and we are proud of. The fruits are the emotions that we feel about our achievements. Life is like a tree that is alive in all seasons. In difficult situations, we have to connect to our emotions and also, to remember who we are and what we achieved.
I think that “The Life Photo Album” is a perfect tool to help people to understand their strengths and achievements.”
I received this nice and pictoresque reflection from Katerina Michael, a psychotherapist living and working in Cyprus, who attended the Course on “Photography in Coaching”. She was very inspired by the experience of the Life Photo Album Process. Thank you, Katerina.
„A photograph gives us a place to start, a stepping stone to continue the story.”
– a quotation from the book „ONE IMAGE – MANY WORDS”
This quote is the starting point for talking about “AHA™ – photos that inspire”. After all, words and images go hand in hand. The language of imagery is ever-present in the realm of painterly metaphors, helping us to express in words that which is difficult to name outright. For example, we have the phrase “soft as velvet.” Thanks to the visualization of something abstract, it becomes almost tangible, and thus, easier to understand, to name and to describe.
AHA™ comprises an independent collection of 48 photographs and 12 accompanying questions that I have compiled over many years of coaching and workshop sessions. I have used these images and questions to spark sincere and worthwhile exchanges, to forge creative tracks for personal development, and to inspire hope, motivation, and engagement. From the moment I published my book on photography in personal development, people began asking: “Dorota, when will you publish your own photos? They’re so remarkable, so positive.” Indeed, I collected the images for AHA™ with the goal of setting the scene for positive work that would help individuals look towards the sun, in spite of all the challenges at hand, and to discover a brighter side of life. After all, you can take nearly everything away from a person – but you can’t take away their dreams. As long as we can dream, we are free. As long as we have dreams, we can evolve. What’s more, dreams give us the power to live better, more healthfully and happily.
Still, the collection had to wait until I had a sense of clarity about my purpose and concept. I wanted to find out exactly how to compile it in a way that would achieve its goal. This goal was to set up a solid foundation for personal development built from a sense of humanism, righteousness, ecology, and a positive lifestyle. When the concept had finally crystallized, we were suddenly hit by the pandemic, which effectively made AHA™ all the more relevant. Each photograph was taken in an actual, unstaged situation. Each image is an authentic framing of a spontaneous moment captured over the course of many walks, meetings, encounters, and expeditions. A record of these experiences and the emotions brought forth in the moment. A testament to empathy, gratitude, wonder, love, friendship, courage, initiative, passion, freedom, devotion and creativity. An imprint of dreams that have come true. An image of joy.
The Dalai Lama once said: “I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering.” (1)
It is through AHA™ that I would like to inspire others to appreciate the world around us, to care for it and develop our relationship to it. To develop our own humanity, our understanding of justice, spirituality, courage, equilibrium, and wisdom. To consider notions of independence, dependency, and leadership. To encourage positive thinking, self-esteem, hope, happiness, empathy, and gratitude — all the strengths that we are not always mindful of on a daily basis because we are busy chasing a notion of happiness under the shadow that we could get left behind. When, in fact, this power and this joy already reside within us. Joy, balance, a sense of capability, and freedom are all there. Sometimes it’s enough to pause for a moment in the tumult of the everyday, to take a leisurely stroll through the woods to help us see it with our very eyes and feel it with our hearts. I want to inspire others through the sorts of pictures we all have access to on a daily basis and everything that we can all discover within ourselves in order to live well and continue to grow.
AHA™ photography isn’t set up in any particular way and isn’t meant to be suggestive. These are images seen in the real world, at different moments of the day and in different places. They spring from what is vital and desirable – a sense of humanity, nature, the here and now, peace, ecology, and attentiveness.
While I do indeed use these images in coaching sessions, they are just as useful in therapy and pedagogy. I often get emails from various people telling me that AHA™ has supported them in their work with trauma, depression, helping subjects to go deeper into an idea, to alleviate scepticism, criticism and deeper levels of despair. These images inspire people to act and engage.
AHA™ photography is muted in its colors and tones. In this way, it is capable of showing us the world as we see it. These pictures are not “edited” in any way or adjusted with colored filters. Today, we see quite a lot of photographs that are tuned up in some way, just like there are foods with a great deal of additives to intensify their smell and their taste. Meanwhile, the world around us can sometimes be colorful, but it can often be pale as well, it can be bright some days or gray on other days. It can either invite us to activate ourselves or to let ourselves sit back and relax. The fog can be captivating, even though it is certainly quite pale. At dusk, the sun can be fiery and give way to dynamic impressions.
These photographs also have a broad layer of situational significance, creating a number of possibilities for references and associations. These images aren’t weighted down with a narrow framework of symbolism, so they don’t lead the subject towards any specific association, such as a pair of red high heels might, or a gold watch. For the sorts of symbols that are central to the concept of AHA™ photography, it is important to keep in mind that:
“An image doesn’t ascribe boundaries to thought. An image doesn’t describe its context as precisely as text. For example, words describing things such as death, joy, courage, or judgment carry a specific meaning. Images don’t bring in such narrowly defined ideas. On a semantic level, all images are boundless.”
– quotation from the book „ONE IMAGE – MANY WORDS”.
AHA™ is more than just pictures. Posing questions about the pictures is just as important. The questions that accompany the pictures are just as important. These are questions that relate to who we are, for example, in the context of the roles we play, our values, character strengths, needs, and emotions, including the emotions we want to experience in our everyday lives. These questions mirror the structure of R. Dilts’ neurological levels. There are a few additional areas as well, such as the experience of gratitude or expressing our hopes and wants. The questions are not meant to be suggestive. Rather, they are quite simple and open-ended. These sorts of questions ought to be formulated in such a way that the individual is encouraged to choose a photograph and to explain how the image reflects a possible answer to that question.
We can find some sample questions in the illustration below:
The questions that are part of AHA™ make up the foundation for personal development work. They can be used in a broad range of settings by parents, career advisors, work teams, and coaches working in any area of life, work or relationships. Teachers can also find this framework useful in the classroom, particularly when dealing with social issues. Participants are also encouraged to contribute their own questions to the conversation. One side of each of these question cards has a 10×10 “post-it” sized blank space. It is designed in such a way that there is space for either a new question, a word or a full sentence.
Sample “post-it” questions are illustrated in the below:
How useful are photographs in this process? These images in particular? And do they look familiar? Here are a few clues taken from neuroscience (according to David Rock’s Your Brain at Work, Harper Collins, 2013):
The novelty effect: when our prefrontal cortex discerns something new, our sight becomes sharper, our ears perk up and we focus our attention. At that moment, dopamine is released in the brain, which allows us to improve our concentration and engagement.
Tangibility: We often find it easier to talk about something when it is right there in front of us, something we can see and even touch. When it is tangible to the senses and not simply seen or visualized. Thanks to the mechanism of projection, an image suggests its own meanings and responses to a given question.
The image as a complex source of information: A picture is composed of various elements at once. What’s more, these elements are interrelated. For example, we may see an image of a tree in the middle of a field, with a bird flying above against the background of the sun setting in the sky. This image instantly sparks a process of meaning-making and leads to a plethora of associations. Reading a description of a linear description of such an image would be a much longer process.
Economics of the brain: The neurons in the brain that deal with the visual aspects of perception are much more developed than the ones related to speech. The brain consumes less energy to think when we are looking at an image and, as a result, the thought process is carried out more swiftly.
A more pleasant response to what is familiar: When we get a glimpse of something familiar, such as a friendly face, a well-known pattern or design, the brain releases serotonin – the hormone that is responsible for feelings of well-being and security. The visual neurons in the brain take part in this process. When we see something that we know quite well, we feel secure. And this feeling of security allows us to feel more comfortable expressing ourselves, fostering a sense of spontaneity and openness.
AHA™ – Photos that inspire: Here you will find 48 inspiring photographs that will aid in eliciting emotions, deep reflections, and thoughtful responses. There are also 12 cards, each of them posing a powerful question that is meant to initiate a valuable exchange. A booklet is also included to serve as an introduction to the practical application of this tool.
Dorota Raniszewska, Accredited Coach and Mentor, EMCC, IC, teacher in the use of photography in coaching.
😀 I’m happy about these three days spent together with you and your photos. For several years, in the last week of August, I have traditionally conducted the course on photography in coaching “ONE IMAGE – MANY WORDS”. It was a very inspiring time 💎 I’m thankful to you for your openness, courage, curiosity and mutual exchange 🔥
Some time ago, I followed my voice, dream, passion. I feel like I’ve come a long way with photography, and I’m still somewhere at the beginning.
One photo hides the whole story.
The Life Photo Album as a technique to work around your achievements, strenghts, supporting relationships in life and to plan next steps.
A photo as a Visual metaphor that helps to explain complex realities within us, such as feelings or emotions.
The Most Important Photo as a technique to work around your identity, values and current moment in life.
Taking photos as a technique to look for a new perspective on a defined coaching topic.
Our souvenir photo together. From the left: Olena, Marta, Joana, Marta, Bara and me, Dorota.
“I’ve run three times since the last session, I have it in the picture and it encourages me.” – one of the clients in life coaching.
How important can image and photography have for coaching if words are very important in coaching? The “Wonderful Ear” coach is the one who is present, consciously listens, hears. He hears words, breaths, sighs. He can hear silence. He listens to the customer. And he asks powerful questions.
Next to him sits a client who looks into his soul, listens to himself. The great value of coaching is that a person can listen to themselves and be heard.
But there are many pictures deep inside his soul. Because our long-term memory saves a lot of information in the form of image — and because our language uses the image as a metaphor to explain complicated or abstract concepts, feelings and emotions, the client often sees images when he thinks and looks for answers.
For example, a coach asks: Who are you, then? And the client replies that he floats like a bird on the wings of freedom, or that he boldly follows his path.
And just like the questions, the echo, the expressed feelings of the coach stimulate the client’s thinking, so do the photographs provide material for the thinking process. When I use clients’ personal photos in coaching, they work on their illustrated resources, materialized memories.
The visual channel of perception and communication is correlated with the need for tangible facts to recognize that I achieve something, that something really happened, or that I am right. It also allows you to better explain complex issues, because it reflects the relationship between their elements.
During the coaching session, the client can listen to himself and — thanks to photographs — he can see images illustrating his thoughts and feelings.
What does his independence, closeness or courage look like, for example? Contemplating a photo and telling about it holds a person in deepening insight and broadening perspective. This develops the inner feelings of the topic and increases the chance to get emotionally closer to your desire.
What’s more, when a client finds the effect of their own aspirations in a photo during a session, it means for the brain that the implementation is already happening. It is not only in the imagination, but also in current experience. In this way, the use of photography strengthens the motivation to act.
Using photographs in coaching, I ask questions to them. Powerful questions for photos, such as:
What is important in this picture?
To make this picture perfect, what will you change on it?
I will give an example of one of the last sessions with the client.
The goal of the session was to believe in yourself. It was in a specific context. She stated that at the beginning of the session she believes in herself at 50%, and she would like to believe in herself at 70% as a result of the session.
At some point, as she has already mentioned a number of things that she knows and believes about, such as being hard-working and systematic, I suggested that she look at her profile picture:
What is important to you in this photo? I asked.
She said that what is important in this photo is that she took it herself when she wanted to, and that in this photo she is in a car that she drives. This was not visible, but it was the most important thing. Then we touched the point, which was independence. And this independence, in which she had no faith, was already in the picture, she could tell about it, set an example when she experiences it. She realized this, though at first in disbelief. Tears appeared in her eyes. We talked about the values she wants to live and the goal she pursues.
Profile pictures are placed quite consciously, and behind each such picture is a decision, something we know about ourselves, feel or want to be present. That is why they are a great source of knowledge about ourselves: what we want, how we want to live, what is important to us, who we want to be. They are excellent in career coaching or leadership. The inspiring thing is that in the profile picture we see something tangible about ourselves. And this can be a big find. A portrait is an invitation to become what we want to be.
Customers’ own photos — those from their lives, as well as portrait and profile pictures — are useful in working on identity, authenticity, public, hidden and authentic self, life change and development direction. They let you realize your strengths, powers, resources and achievements. “I can see how much I have already achieved and that I am heading in a specific direction. It’s encouraging. ” – words of a client with whom I recently worked on the album of life.
What is important about taking pictures? That we store or destroy them? We show them to children, send them to family from holidays? … What is important in that we take a selfie on a mountain top or on the ocean shore? What’s important is that our LinkedIn profile “must” have a “good” profile picture? What is important about taking hundreds of photos of our newborn babies?
I think taking pictures is a largely modern way to talk about your life, and that’s what we just need. Through a moment to stop the moment. Once the chroniclers wrote the chronicles. Famous figures write down memories and diaries. And we all photograph every day.
I think that as long as photography accompanies people in everyday life, it makes sense to use it in development and coaching processes. Because there are our moments of reflection, sensitivity, and important information.
That’s why I support multi-session coaching processes by taking photos and writing a coaching journal. And that’s why I would like to mention the pictures that are created between sessions when the client is actively experimenting with the change.
One of the clients wanted to control her constant haste. The rush she had in her head still made her feel tense and it was difficult for her to focus on more demanding activities. I suggested that she watch the time. It was one of her tasks between sessions. I didn’t say how to do it, she was just supposed to watch time.
For the next session she brought photos in which there was sourdough for bread and plants in a pot. To watch the time, she planted flowers and bred sourdough. She photographed the effects of her work and stuck the photos into a coaching journal. I was really delighted and touched by the work she did.
I asked what she had learned through this. She said that now she knows that she can stop and accomplish something in the long run – decide, focus on it and be consistent. In that she took pictures, I can see her commitment, dedication and celebration. And something more. There is something poetic about it because photography stops time. And she just caught it, stopped it, watching her.
“Do not run too fast through life, because the best things happen to us when we least expect them.” – Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Dorota Raniszewska, email@example.com, photo-in-coaching.com, coach, author of the book “ONE IMAGE – MANY WORDS” available on Amazon.com