Ginny Koppenhol reflects on Brain Hacks, a smart phone photography project with young people from Our Lady’s Catholic College.

Most of the young people who attended the Brain Hacks course were initially sceptical.I ask them if they think that ‘gratitude practices’ work. They’d heard of them, some of them had even tried writing the odd gratitude list, but many didn’t have much faith in the process. 

“Nah that won’t work in practice – it seems too simplistic.”

Young person

I was proposing a slightly different take on a gratitude list. What if we learn some smartphone photography skills together in a weekly group, then use those skills to create images of the stuff that makes us smile, no matter how small? And what if we took photos every day for 5 weeks? Could we shift our perspective and our mood? 

I explained how by focusing on the good things we can alter our brain’s filter system (The Reticular Activating System if you want the fancy name). Also, if we do this consistently it can really help us through the tough times in our life as we end up with a greater ability to see the ‘bigger picture’ (pun intended!). 

We had some fun sessions, learning photography fundamentals, editing skills, and trying out creative ideas (like shooting through toilet rolls, photographing boiled eggs in dramatic lighting, and making ourselves tiny whilst playing with perspective). 

Each week the group members produced a whole range of beautiful and creative images, everything from pets to people, from sunsets to shadows. Every image represented a moment of appreciation. 

I asked the young people at the end of the course, via a questionnaire, for some comments. Their experience in the group had been a positive one, and some of them were more open to the idea that we can positively influence our mood: 

“I’m appreciating what’s around me more.”

Young person

“I’ve been making more memories of the people I love most and I value all the photos.”

Young person

“I’ve had a few lazy days where I haven’t done much, but I’ve got up specifically to take pictures.”

Young person

“I have made a special effort to focus on the positive both through the course and to help my mental health.”

Young person

It’s not easy to build a habit like this, it takes a lot of commitment, but the group environment seemed to help. The young people were happy to share a favourite photo with each other at the start of each session and talk about why they’d taken it. They worked together to learn new skills and share creative ideas.  

We’re now in the process of planning two exhibitions to share the fabulous work with others. 

We have also put together some tips and creative challenges for you to try yourself. Angel (a 6th Form student from OLCC) has made them look gorgeous with her super design skills. 

For more tips and tricks, go to Ginny’s website here.

Thanks go to the Ant, Zia and the Culture Coop for the funding, support, and the opportunity to link with this group and beyond to test the Brain Hacks theory.