Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg talks Visual Healing

By: Artemisia Valeri, MindWell Pod Coordinator of the Healthy Campus Initiative

A UCLA staff member described Louie Schwartzberg’s imagery best saying, “Just looking at those already relaxes me.” Louie is a cinematographer and UCLA alumnus who captures breathtaking imagery of the natural world. Through MindWell’s Gratitude Challenge, hundreds of UCLA staff, faculty, and students experienced Louie’s Gratitude Revealed, a series of short films exploring gratitude coupled with research from the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center. Louie sat down with MindWell to talk gratitude, changing the world, and the radical notion of visual healing.  

When asked what it is about his photography that creates such a visceral reaction, Louie described the recurring patterns he has seen across nature: images of the brain, an aerial view of the Amazon, and the underground roots of fungi display almost identical patterns.

Louie uses the camera as a lens to go both closer and farther than the human eye is capable to showcase these patterns and visually disrupt your perspective.  “People have an emotional connection to the imagery because when I’m filming I’m trying to identify with rhythms and patterns of nature that touch the deepest part of my soul– and I think that’s universal.”

He theorizes that the diverse patterns in his nature photography “mirror movements and energy patterns in every cell of your body. And that it’s kind of a homecoming, a reconnection with that universal energy that we all want to be a part of.”

Although Louie speaks with the awe of an artist, he is also serious about expanding our scientific understanding of this visual phenomenon. Louie laughs saying,

The research I have seen so far is mostly, they’ll show {study participants} some beautiful shot of nature and then they’ll show them a car accident. And they’ll go, oh guess what- there’s a different reaction. And I always call that the ‘duh principle’ you know, well duh! I mean…how obvious would that be?

At the new UC San Diego hospital, Louie’s imagery will be combined with data to delve deeper into examining its effects on health and wellbeing.

Every patient room has a tablet that has your medical records…In addition they have a question that pops up that says ‘where in the world would you like to go to be healed?’ and we’re giving the patient the power to choose…They can go to a forest, ocean, desert, flower, or underwater. And we’re going to collect data to see how it reduces stress, respiration rate, heart rate… use of painkillers, sleep, and… length of hospital stays.

By bringing his artwork into medical care, Louie is exploring a new tool to promote wellness.

There’s a big emphasis now in healthcare about patient experience, integrative health and a ‘spa-type consciousness’… There is audio therapy: spoken word…massage which is touch, aromatherapy which is smell. But think about the fact that 80% of the information you receive comes into your eyes. And there is no healing modality that I’m aware of for vision.

Here enters Louie’s radical new modem of care: visual healing.

But wait– you might be thinking– what about meditation? On mediation, Louie acknowledges the immense difficulty of closing your eyes within our current world:

I’m not opposed to it, however it’s hard for people to do that, especially when we come from a highly-stimulated world where we spend probably 90% of our day staring at a digital screen, right? And then all of a sudden we’re going to go close our eyes and make our minds go blank. Well that’s really hard, as opposed to, maybe we can leverage this digital device in a way that can take you through a portal of time and scale using nature as a pathway in order to open your heart.

Louie began leveraging photography to change perspective on UCLA’s campus, photographing the anti-Vietnam war movement. He describes his strongest memory as a student at UCLA as:

A feeling of freedom and independence. (A) because you’re away from home for the first time and that felt liberating, but then I was also surrounded by the liberation movements for people of color and saving the planet.

Can you imagine, all of a sudden a beautiful young lady walking up to the military and putting a flower in the barrel of a gun.  It was just so incredibly beautiful and such a game changer. And it wasn’t naive, it was partly naive, but not totally. Why can’t we imagine and dream a better world? And if not now, when?

The theme for the Healthy Campus Initiative‘s Annual Celebration this year was Dream Revolution. The renovation of the Living Amphitheater to include the new jane b semel HCI Community Garden was a dream come true for the Healthy Campus Initiative! I was curious how Louie’s dream and goals have changed over time.

I don’t think my goals have evolved at all. What I learned at UCLA is that I want to turn the world on. I think what has evolved is its been tempered with patience. I was there between 1968 and 1974 and that was right in the midst of when the anti-war protests were happening on campus and all the revolutions… we stopped the war in Vietnam. So you have this idea that you can make the world a better place, that you can change the world. I really believed that the world was going to change. And it did change, but again not as far as I wanted.

You can try visual healing yourself! Watch Louie’s newest season of Moving Art on Netflix now. A great option to destress to after a long day or for a breathtaking visual for your next event.

Interested in adopting a bed at the new jane b semel HCI Community Garden? Applications are now open, find out more!

Missed the UCLA Gratitude Challenge? Check out Gratitude Revealed to explore a series of short films on what gratitude is, why it’s important, and tools to foster more of it in your daily life.  

Louie with camera-2
Photo courtesy of Moving Art by Louie Schwartzberg.
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