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Creative Ways to Fight Parkinson’s Disease

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Winter's soft lightBettina Chavanne has participated in the Unity Walk since 2007 and we enjoy seeing her photos on her blog. We know that photography brings her much pleasure in spite of some of the challenges associated with taking photos if you are living with Parkinson’s disease, and helps her relieve stress. We asked Bettina to share her experience and her photos. Click here if you’d like to see more of Bettina’s photos.
Helaine Isaacs
PUW Event Director

For many years, I imagined Parkinson’s as a thief, sneaking into my house and taking one more precious item every night. Eventually, I came to see the disease in a less sinister light, more as a sloppy roommate than a cat burglar. You remember the friend in college who would wear your clothes without asking?* The one who “borrowed” your favorite necklace and then “forgot” to give it back? That’s what Parkinson’s does – it borrows all the things I love and messes them up a little bit.

My creativity is my stress-reliever. Which is what made my right-side tremor a bitter pill to swallow. How was I supposed to write? Hold a camera? Play the piano? I realized I just had to wait for my time. I had to wait for those moments when Parkinson’s returned my stuff. Even if only for a moment.

ParisLouvre1Photography has proven to be the creative outlet over which I have the most control. The heavier my camera, the steadier my hand. (That’s also a great excuse to buy really big lenses.) I also developed a not-at-all patented maneuver where I swing my camera over my left shoulder and perch it there to stabilize it. In very wiggly moments, I use a tripod and a remote trigger. Looking at the world with an eye toward capturing it in a single image is a strangely calming pursuit. Taking pictures quiets me, quiets my body and my mind. I still love to sit at the piano and play my heart out, but when my forearm muscles get too tired from fighting the tremor and my notes get all muddy, I can still go take pictures.

Landscapes are my favorite to shoot, although architecture and machinery run a close second. No matter how many times you snap a picture of a particular lake or hill, it won’t ever look the same. I love the mutable quality of our natural surroundings. I love the vast and peaceful emptiness of certain landscapes. Abandoned buildings and machinery (bridges, rusted tractors, airplanes) are just as magical for me – all rusted edges and unusual, imperfect shapes. I get lost when I’m taking pictures, which means I get to forget for a while about how I’m feeling physically.

Manassas Air ShowParkinson’s will continue to borrow parts of me without asking permission, but I will continue to keep the best parts for myself.

For those of you fellow Parkinson’s folks interested in pursuing photography as a hobby, a few words of advice: 1. Make sure all of your lenses are fast (f2.8 or f1.4) and coded IS, for “image stabilizing.” 2. Shooting pictures with your iPhone is an exercise in futility. Unless you manage to master the “image burst” function, which lets you fire off dozens of shots at once.  3. Auto-focus is your friend.

*An important caveat to this blog: My college roommate is a delightful woman and a very close friend. And she never borrowed anything without asking (particularly since she and I had such different taste in clothes that she would never have been caught dead in one of my argyle sweaters).

Bettina Chavanne
Team Captain, Team Bettina