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  • Peppa Martin

Shira Gold: Finding her breath

By Peppa Martin

Drawing on deeply personal and emotional experiences, Shira Gold’s photographs demonstrate grief, loss, identity, and change.

Wellness experts around the world increasingly recognize the indisputable health benefits of spending personal time with art, to the extent of even prescribing museum visits to combat illness. A comprehensive 19-year study published by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that art has positive overall effects for mental and physical health at all stages of life.

If interacting with art, even merely as an observer, has therapeutic power, what happens when an artist takes up an active practice with a conscious search for solace, healing, and equilibrium?

Vancouver photographer Shira Gold discovered this important intersection of photography, mental health, and well-being during a time of personal crisis. These crucial connections would ultimately guide her healing through loss and grief.

Born and raised in Vancouver, Shira spent several teenage years learning photography at Arts Umbrella, a local non-profit centre for youth arts education. It was something of an antidote to an ongoing struggle in high school where she fought hard to meet academic expectations and defy negative and discouraging early childhood messages. With her self-esteem in a fragile state as a result of these messages from teachers who didn’t see her potential, her lack of confidence could have been crippling if not for her camera. Photography offered Shira a sliver of control over something concrete and became a tool to interact with the world and express her point of view in a positive way. That involved acknowledging and purposefully connecting with feelings of discomfort and intentionally deconstructing experiences that felt overwhelming.

“It’s the only time in my life when my mind and my heart feel aligned,” she said.

Repetitive motion is a widely accepted behavioural therapy technique for lowering ones heart rate and blood pressure and for calming an overactive mind. On the advice of health professionals, Shira tried, among other things, running, knitting, and deep breathing exercises to achieve these goals. Results were less than satisfying and not especially effective in slowing her racing thoughts.

Then came an implosion. In 2001, when Shira’s mother Melaine became seriously ill, Shira made the pivotal decision to become her primary caregiver. Mired in grief after losing Melanie in 2003, Shira desperately sought a healing mechanism to relieve the searing pain of mourning. Photography, again, came to her rescue, providing the urgent support needed to navigate this difficult period. Picking up her camera again, she says, “was like finding my breath.”