Life with Multiple Sclerosis: A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

Flo Fox has carried a camera with her every day since she was 26, shooting more than 120,000 images largely depicting “ironic reality” on the streets of New York City. But Fox’s own ironic reality is how advancing multiple sclerosis hasn’t stopped the photographer from continuing her work, even from a wheelchair and with the help of an attendant.

“I use whatever I’ve got,” says Fox, born visually impaired and diagnosed with MS in her thirties, in a 2013 mini-documentary on The New York Times website. “The most important thing is to continue in a different style ... You have to think of the future and what you can do to keep your interests going.”

If you’re living with multiple sclerosis, you may feel it narrows your lens on the world, whether due to the uncertainty of the disease’s progression or the challenge of coping with MS symptoms. But photography can help you reframe your daily experiences by transporting you to different vistas or enabling you to share their singular viewpoint.

How Is Photography Therapeutic?

According to the London-based PhotoVoice, which uses “participatory photography” to build skills within disadvantaged and marginalized communities, the therapeutic power of photography lies in its ability to:

• Help people explore self and identity

• Act as a distraction

• Create order, especially when coping with a sense of powerlessness

• Encourage storytelling and dialogue

• Offer opportunities to overcome social isolation

Photography “asks us to frame the world – decide what to include, what to leave out, what to emphasize and what to overlook,” the organization’s website says. “It requires we take an active stance.”

When this active stance is hindered by MS – as may be the case for those with limited mobility – a global group of photographers fills the gap by offering virtual photo walks from Boston to Bangalore.

John Butterill, who launched the effort, describes the impact of the photo walks on a friend whose multiple sclerosis has kept her bedridden: “For a few brief minutes, she wasn’t going to be in that bed. She was going to experience her own momentary escape.”

Getting Started Taking Photos

A wide group of MS bloggers contains several whose photography – either professional or amateur – sustains them through tougher moments. Calling himself the Wheelchair Kamikaze, Marc Steckler shoots photos and videos from a camera mounted to his motorized chair. The New York City man says on his blog that his photographic pursuits – along with writing, music and other creative diversions – help offset the frustration of his “body being caught in the vise of an unrelenting foe.”

Wondering how to get started taking pictures? Photojojo, which publishes a free newsletter with photography tips, offers these suggestions:

• Bring your camera everywhere – which is vastly easier now that most cell phones contain cameras.

• Vary your themes by taking photos of new people you meet, something you ate for the first time or something you just learned how to do.

• Tell a story with blog entries or descriptions that explain a single photograph capturing each day’s events.

If you’ve taken any great photos recently, share them with the community on our Facebook page.

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