“We are not perfect photographers, but we learn from each other”

Interviews

Author: Scarlett SherriffPublished: 18 August 2022

Parkinson's LifePrep: Parkinson's LifeCook: Parkinson's LifeServes:

the photography group standing together in the Adelaide botanical gardens

Australia-based Geoff Thompson tells us what inspired his involvement in a photography group for people with Parkinson’s and why he believes the art form can help us feel “in the moment”


Tell us a bit about yourself.

My wife and I have lived in our house, in a suburb of Adelaide, Australia, since 1973. I have had a varied and interesting career, gaining most of my skills working in the Commonwealth Government sector in Australia until my retirement 12 years ago. Among other things, I worked as a recruitment counsellor and rehabilitation officer. I now do some voluntary work in a nursing home as well as with people with Parkinson’s. I am also a birdwatcher, YouTuber and blogger.

My dad was a keen amateur photographer – he was my first tutor and remains my ongoing inspiration. My wife and I spent the first six months of our marriage in the northern tropical paradise of Darwin, so I was motivated to take photographs there. I’ve remained passionate since.

two kangaroos bouncing on a misty day in Australia

Spotting kangaroos. Credit: Beth Manoel.

How did you get involved in the Parkinson’s community?

I don’t have Parkinson’s myself. I became involved in the community when an old friend and table tennis partner approached me in a nursing home about six years ago. At first, I didn’t recognise him. He told me he had Parkinson’s. Knowing I was a photographer, he told me that the advocacy group Parkinson’s South Australia (now merged with another organisation to form The Hospital Research Foundation Group – Parkinson’s) had a photography group for people with the condition. He said I should get involved, and I said: “Perhaps I should.” Sadly, he has since died, but he was great at bringing people together.

It just went from there. I eventually found myself leading the group, which is made up of people with Parkinson’s who love photography.

A photographer surrounded by greenery, capturing plants at Wittunga botanical gardens in Australia

Photography group member Beth Manoel at Wittunga Botanical Gardens in Australia. Credit: Geoff Thompson.

What kind of activities do you take part in as a group?

We meet monthly, getting together in the group office or a nearby coffee shop to view our images, plan events for the year and do some training. We also go on photo excursions. We managed to get a drone for the group to use, but we haven’t mastered that yet!

During Covid, we sometimes held Zoom meetings where we would view and discuss our images online, which worked quite well.

We have been involved in exhibiting our work alongside arts groups in the past, and we also have an annual calendar. One of our team members works her magic printing and collating it for release around Christmas time. It is well received in the Parkinson’s community and amongst our friends and families.

The group share coffee and discuss their photos in a café

“It’s so rewarding seeing the group grow closer together,” says Geoff.

What impact does the photography group have on its members?

We all enjoy our photography and outings, but the great value is in getting together as a group with a common hobby. Often, carers and partners come along to our meetings as well as people with Parkinson’s. They seem to enjoy it as much as the members.

It’s so rewarding to watch the group grow closer together and see their enthusiasm and skill in overcoming the barriers that Parkinson’s presents to photography. Each member has their favourite subjects. We are less than perfect photographers, but we learn from each other. I find it all inspiring.

We have also had to face some challenges, like adapting to Covid. And since I have been involved in the group, we have lost one of our members due to complications brought on by Parkinson’s, and two others have been placed into nursing homes. Providing ongoing support to them and their family members is an important part of what our group does.

colourful kites and inflatables on a sandy beach in South Australia

A day of colourful kites on Semaphore Beach, South Australia. Credit: David Andrew.

How do you think photography can support people with Parkinson’s?

Photography is a great thing to get you out and about. It’s not really rocket science – you don’t need to know much about it to get started. It can give you great pleasure and satisfaction.

It can also be therapeutic, to an extent. When taking photos, our minds are in the moment and we don’t need to think much about our physical or emotional condition.

A hobby will never cure Parkinson’s, but it is an important part of maintaining a joy for life.

a black and white photograph of Remarkable Rocks on Kangaroo Island in Australia.

“Start thinking like a photographer,” says Geoff. Kangaroo Island, Australia. Credit: Howard Schulze.

Lead image credit: Sandie Clarke 

Interested in photography?

Geoff shares four key tips for those looking to start taking photos.

1. “Contact a friend who you know is a photographer – people are often very willing to share their enthusiasm with others.”

2. “Watch some YouTube videos on photograph. There is something there for everyone. Look up ‘7 Years of Camera Shake’.”

3. “Join a local photography club.”

4. “Start thinking like a photographer. Use your phone or camera, along with your imagination to take snapshots.”

Need to know

Geoff Thompson leads a photography group within The Hospital Research Foundation Group – Parkinson’s – an organisation “focused on maximising choice, independence and wellbeing” for people living with the condition. Having retired from Australia’s Commonwealth Government sector 12 years ago, he does voluntary work with people with Parkinson’s and has several different hobbies, including photography, birdwatching and blogging. He lives in Adelaide, Australia, with his wife.


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