Belfast Exposed, Therapeutic Photography



Marc Dunseath, Photographer, Website:

Mervyn Smyth Community Engagement Manager at Belfast Exposed.

“Belfast Exposed has over 30 years’ experience delivering photography projects with communities across Northern Ireland. Whether building new skills or community capacity, we design our projects side by side with community partners to enable creativity and critical thinking, where the camera becomes a tool for driving and documenting change”. (Belfast Exposed,

An Introduction to Mervyn Smyth:

“I am the Community Engagement Manager at Belfast Exposed developing, designing and delivering Photograph workshops within a Socially Engaged Practice framework.

Over the past 5 years specialising on Mental Health as a method of distraction and disruption enable participants to engage with photography as a Therapeutic Practice. I am working at present with 3 groups from Statutory Forensic Mental Heath, taking the participants outside the institutional care environment to aid recovery and integrating one group into a mainstream  community workshop programme with other individuals who have no mental heath issues, all pilot programmes.

I have over 35 years experience as  photographer documenting the Troubles in Northern Ireland helping to build Belfast Exposed Archive to over 1 million images of both the Social and Political History of Northern Ireland.”

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Photo: The Disrupt Technique. Opening two folders one at a time with different photos depicting both a scene of distress and a scene of happiness.

“Disrupt” and “Distract” Techniques, by Mervyn Smyth, Belfast Exposed 

“We look at our thoughts and how we fall back into the same thoughts like railway tracks that take the train on the same journey over and over again without change without seeing new scenery on the journey”. Mervyn Smyth

“We explore how photographs evoke thoughts, why we keep photographs and the relationship we have with our photographs. As a photograph freezes a moment in time we can take time out of our busy mind to pause, freeze our mind in the moment to centre ourselves. Perhaps as the photograph we have chosen centres us to a moment in time—or a place in our lives that brings meaning to us—we look at this”. Mervyn Smyth


Photo: The Distract Technique. “Freedom, my view is clear, my world open again”. Words from the photographer, the last in a series of photographs by one person and their journey from being in institutionalised mental health care to their leaving the institution. The images were taken over a two year period working firstly within the institution followed by a series of workshops outside the institution” Mervyn Smyth

Class Photography Experience 

As a class we divided into partners and then asked our partner information regarding what they enjoyed in their life, and what brought feelings of happiness. Each partner took two photographs of their collaborator, who posed for two different portraits which reflected their feelings of well being.

References regarding the therapeutic benefits of art therapy. The first 6 articles should be accessible through UU Library. The last article can be read online.

“Photography and art therapy: An easy partnership” by Alexander Kopytin, International Journal of Art Therapy (Inscape)  

“PhotoTherapy techniques in counselling and therapy—Using ordinary snapshots and photo-interactions to help clients heal their lives” by Judy Weiser, Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal.

“A Photograph as a Therapeutic Experience” by Ulla Halkola, European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling.

“Inhabiting the image: photography, therapy and re-enactment photography” by Rosy Martin, European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling.

“Jo Spence’s camera therapy: Personal therapeutic photography as a response to adversity” by Terry Dennett, European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling. 

“Incorporating Photography as a Therapeutic Tool in Counselling” by Rene Stevens, Journal of Creativity in Mental Health.

“Photography as Therapy: Through Academic and Clinical Explorations” by Ellen Horovitz in The Wiley Handbook of Art Therapy, edited by David Gussak and Marcia Rosal. 

“Therapeutic Photography,” by Jaime Naish, Brighton Journal of Research in Health Sciences


Photo: “On Family Album” by Mike Bors, Belfast Exposed exhibition, September-October, 2018

“Family photography is still the most commonly practiced genre of photography and the family album is continuously the main instrument of self-knowledge and representation for the family…The family album is subjective it is a version of events of, not the photographer, but the album keeper, a role traditionally delegated to mothers. It is a curated version of happiness and love, Mothers, responsible for the emotional well-being of the family, create those artefacts of idyllic family life. They not only create it, but exhibit it. Brought out from the bookshelves or shoe boxes, carefully selected and ordered images work, not only as a way of introducing new members of the family to intricate interpersonal relations, but also, especially for the children, as building stones of their identity”. (Photographer Mike Bors, exhibition catalogue,

Photo Therapy by Judy Weiser 

For information about phototherapy, please check out this link:

Quotations by Judy Weiser

“Photo Therapy techniques are therapy practices that use people’s personal snapshots, family albums, and pictures taken by others (and the feelings, thoughts, memories, and associations these photos evoke) as catalysts to deepen insight and enhance communication during their therapy or counselling sessions (conducted by trained mental health professionals), in ways not possible using words alone.”

“Every snapshot a person takes or keeps is also a type of self-portrait, a kind of mirror-with-memory reflecting back those moments and people that were special enough to be frozen in time forever. Collectively, these photos make visible the ongoing stories of that person’s life, serving as visual footprints marking where they have been (emotionally, as well as physically) and also perhaps signalling where they might next be heading. Even people’s reactions to postcards, magazine pictures, online images, or snapshots taken by others can provide illuminating clues to their own inner life and its secrets.”

“Therapeutic Photography does not mean just only photo-taking.
It also includes other photo-interactive activities, such as photo-viewing, posing, planning, discussing, or even just only remembering or imagining photographs.”

(Reference: Phototherapy Centre, Vancouver)

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Photo Voice 

Link to Photo Voice:

“PhotoVoice’s vision is for a world in which everybody has the opportunity to represent themselves and tell their own story

Our mission is promote the ethical use of photography for positive social change, through delivering innovative participatory photography projects. By working in partnership with organisations, communities, and individuals worldwide, we will build the skills and capacity of underrepresented or at risk communities, creating new tools of self-advocacy and communication.” (