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The Still Photographer: Overcoming Tourette Syndrome

Stormy Lighthouse Berwick 
Credit: Paul Stevenson 
Hamid Amirani - 5.16.19

The common perception of Tourette Syndrome is that it's a condition the individual is born with. While this is true in many cases, it can strike at any age, sending a shockwave into a hitherto stable existence and causing a massive upheaval in daily life. That's what happened to Paul Stevenson when, at the age of 46, the British married father of four was diagnosed with late-onset, full-blown Tourette Syndrome. 

Prior to this, Paul had started his own business cleaning windows. He experienced a couple of falls, the worst of which resulted in knee dislocation and required surgery. At the time, Paul was unaware that the falls were due to motor tics. Upon diagnosis of Tourette Syndrome, he was forced to stop working because his doctor told him he couldn’t climb ladders.

Paul's tics were so extreme, he felt unable to leave his house. As well as the motor tics, his form of Tourette Syndrome caused him to shout obscenities or offensive comments in public that, naturally, were distressing for him and bystanders who were unaware of his TS. "It is an unforgiving condition," he says. "It affects every part of your life – constant anxiety and pain due to motor tic damage."

Newfound hope and freedom from TS came in the form of a camera bought by his wife to encourage him to go out of the house. That purchase changed his life in a way he couldn't have imagined or dared hope after feeling a prisoner in his own home for so long. Paul soon discovered that photography provides respite from his tics. When concentrating on taking a shot, his tics cease, simultaneously giving him much needed relief from the anxiety and exhaustion of his symptoms and allowing him to focus on capturing the perfect image.

One of Paul’s early photos 
Credit: Paul Stevenson

This is as true today. "I get respite from my vocal and motor tics when I am in the creative zone, camera in hand and image in my mind, following a dream. I would say it is the best medicine for my condition."

Paul’s story was featured in a BBC documentary series in 2016. Employable Me followed a group of individuals with various neurological conditions such as TS and autism in their efforts to find work and prove they have something valuable to offer. Paul agreed to participate in the series, which brought his story to the wider public and showed that neurodiverse people are not defined by their conditions.

It's difficult to overstate the positive impact photography has had upon Paul's quality of life. "It has given me a new lease on life. Discovering photography literally opened doors for me. The first door was my house door after locking myself away, not being able to face the world."

Paul lives in Berwick, Northumberland and his surroundings are often the inspiration for his photography, as in this beautiful image.

My Coast 
Credit: Paul Stevenson

"I am blessed to live on the northeast coast of England overlooking the sea from my home," Paul says. "It's my ambition to capture the perfect storm: powerful waves crashing over the lighthouse, dramatic skyline and weather."

As a father, Paul's children are also a source of inspiration for his pictures. "My youngest son, Charlie, is obsessed by bubbles and was bought some for his 10th birthday in April. The first thing we did was go out in the garden, Charlie with the bubbles and myself with my camera to capture the fluid movement as the breeze shaped and sculptured the bubbles."

Bubbles bw 
Credit: Paul Stevenson

When it comes to his gear, Paul uses the Canon EOS 70D. "My favorite lens is the Canon EF-S 10-18mm." The ultra-wide angle zoom lens is ideal for the kind of images Paul likes to create. "I have a tendency to favor landscapes, the bigger the better."

Having found both an outlet for his creativity and a release from his Tourette Syndrome, Paul wishes to help others who also live with neurological issues. "It's my plan to help educate and raise awareness and support for Tourette Syndrome and other neurodiverse conditions," he explains. "I came up with the idea of running a photography workshop for children and adults with neurodiverse conditions, enabling them to tap into creativity by means of photography, helping them to see how a camera works and then letting them capture images that appeal to them and encouraging them to express how they feel about the images they have created."

"Up to now, I have run the workshop a few times for free and I am still looking for sponsors. The idea is to take this workshop around the country so I can provide this without charge."

Paul's advice for aspiring photographers is to follow one's dreams. "Use your imagination. Look around with the eyes of a child, eyes of wonderment. They are your images and you are the judge of what you have taken. Dream photography, and then try and capture the image of your dreams." 

Where he was once seen as someone with Tourette Syndrome who takes photographs, now it's fair to say that Paul is a photographer who happens to have Tourette Syndrome.

Despite his accomplishments, he remains very humble. "I'm by no means a great photographer and I am always learning. But I like and enjoy what I do and to me it's a bonus if others like my work."

Photo of Paul taken by his 12 year-old son Harvey.

Credit: Harvey Stevenson

To learn more about Paul and see more of his work, visit:

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