This was the case of Kate. Kate’s issue was that being a mother with small children and working full time as a therapist she was finding no time for herself and felt often stressed.
Following the idea of a photo-walk she went out and looked for frames that give answers to her issue. When she returned from a 15-minutes photo-walk she said: “I found a lot of answers on the way. Just from what I saw before my eyes. I saw a cup of coffee in the kitchen and thought that I can enjoy my coffee every day. Then, I went towards the window, saw the blue sky and clouds and thought that I can stop for a moment at my window and watch the sky with awe and pleasure. It is all about using small opportunities and moments to stop and sense that I’m with myself.”
It is so simple and beautiful, isn’t?
When you have a dilemma and it is hard for you to find solutions right away, go for a walk, stand at a window and just watch, listen, sense. Notice subtle signs from outside. The answers can come when you stop focusing on being confused. Stop taking “I don’t know” or “I don’t have” as an answer from yourself. When you observe the world around you, when you are open, not stuck, answers come from outside and from within.
You can use photography to become mindful. Once you formulated your question or dilemma, start looking around, observing and taking pictures that seem to give answers.
This activity combines concentration, mindful observation, thinking with ease, fun and letting go of pressure. This is when moments of insights – called “aha” moments, take place.
Written with gratitude for an inspiring example from Kate. Thank you – Kate for allowing to publish it!
„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.
Hi, this is Dorota :). Again, this week I follow the idea to collect and share valuable insights from our group sessions in the ONE IMAGE – MANY WORDS course on photography in coaching with you. I think it is a great idea to learn from recent experience.
Today, it is about finding inspirations in your own photos. This insight was born during our session on ‘The Most Important Photo’. The point is to choose one photo that you consider ‘the most important’ for you. And then, the coaching session is based on the self-exploration inspired by this photo.
The task to choose ‘the most important photo’ triggers lots of reflections and questions about how to choose such a photo, what does it mean ‘most important’, what is ‘most important’, what criteria to use…
As always, working with clients’ personal photos in coaching that involved choosing pictures before the session, creates additional spaces where people can learn and deepen their self-awareness. I’m fascinated by how the preparatory work is useful and insightful for us.
And this is why I include them in the process and there always happens a lot before even we started our work together.
Anyway, coming back to the initial insight, when we contemplate ‘the most important photo’ that was chosen from our personal photo-album, or a personal collections of photos, we find inspirations for our future in our own past. We learn from that photo something that we can use today to become a change we wish. Memories from the past can be a great source of knowledge that we can use today to make choices and take decisions about us that will shape our live today. And each day, today, tomorrow, next days… is our future.
It’s cool to find inspirations in our own biographies, isn’t it? To learn that we have knowledge, experience, and other resources available here and now! For many of my clients, it makes a good difference to discover something useful in their own photos.
I hope you found this insight useful. If yes, you can leave your comment under this post, please. Thank you for reading this article and stay in touch! There will be more
Hi, this is Dorota :). Last week we started the ONE IMAGE – MANY WORDS course on photography in coaching. I think that it is a great occasion to collect and share valuable insights from our group sessions with you. Today, it is about listening to the client, not watching their photos 😉
When we use client’s personal photos during a coaching session we do not comment or evaluate them based on artistic criteria. There is a better way to engage with the client. As coaches, we focus on personal meanings and insights from the photos. Not on the aesthetic qualities of the photos. For instance, we do not say that “it is a beautiful photo”. This would focus the client’s attention on what is not related to the coaching topic. Instead, ask about what is important in the photo or what was important in choosing and bringing this photo to the session, or how is it related to the goal of the coaching session.
The role of a coach is to create a safe and inspiring space for self-exploration for the client. Every second when a coach listens creates a second of self-reflection for the client.
That’s why we ask short, good questions and then, become listeners during a coaching session. And there are powerful coaching questions about photos that take people deep and far in their self-reflection. These powerful questions bring real value to the client who can find important answers. This is why people work with good coaches.
I hope you found this insight useful. If yes, you can leave your comment under this post, please. Thank you for reading this article and stay in touch! There will be more 🙂
😀 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.
In October I am on a morning walk in the park every day. I take pictures of trees. The tree gives a sense of rest and security. It inspires me. It symbolizes life, strength, persistence and family. And the silhouettes of trees are like people. They express emotions. This leaning ‘feels’ differently than the soaring, which reaches the sky. Old massive oak raises other sensations and snow-white, slender birch the other. You can tell about yourself through photographs of trees. Man is like a tree, ingrown to the ground and crowned towards the sky. The more grounded it is, the higher it grows. I need roots – values to make the right decisions. I need a trunk – a fracture proof spine. And the entire network of relationships – the branches by which it exists. We are a combination of everything we receive from others and give to others.
I have an opportunity to present Techniques of photography and photographs in coaching and personal development to a big stage at a very big HR Congress in May this year if my entry in this competition wins the most votes. I dream about giving a speech & presentation about “Photos in Team and Leadership Coaching“. If you want to help me share those Techniques with the world, you can go to the voting page below and click the blue button directly above my film (and just Ignore a questionnaire that pops up after pushing the button).
Few words about my presentation about Photos in Team and Leadership Coaching:
What I want to talk about to a very large group of HR leaders in my country are photos as tools in leadership and team development. Photos as a material for the thinking process, photos as metaphors that help to express what is not easy to express in two or three words, or to express what is important, authentic, and what comes from a very individual reflection in an inspiring and engaging way, photos as communication catalyst among team members, photos used in order to stimulate a deep self-reflection, an open self-expression, group dialogue. I want to talk about how photos produce engagement in the brain, and engagement is necessary for the change to happen. Because a change is possible only when emotions enter into the game. I want to talk about how photos can support true leadership development, not teaching how to manage people, but to lead a reflection that changes the vision of oneself: „Who I am as a leader? What legacy do I want to leave? What change do I want to make in this world, in my company, in my team, in my family, in my life? How do I create a work-life environment where people can feel happy at work, where there is no exclusion,…”
Photos are wonderful in stimulating those thinking and reflection processes. I’ve been working with teams and individual people using photos for a couple of years already. And I feel ready to talk about it loud to a larger audience.