The Art of Pathography

The artists’ creation of a ‘true self-portrait’ is bound up in meanings of self-hood and individuation; by means of his/her practice becoming a method of developing the artists’ need for self-discovery. Through this self-exploration, the artefact becomes an attempt to reveal something of the artist, a therapeutic tool perhaps, by which the photograph is used as a form of depth psychology. A mixed methodology of autoethnography and thematic analysis is undertaken of the language of response – language generated from the viewing of purely visual data – to examine and record patterns or themes within this information that is relevant to the research question. Through this form of removed analysis - the interpretation of the photograph and not the artist - can a new internal world of the artist be revealed? Is there a particular reading that could be universalised or is this unique to me? Or is the analysis a series of projections, a more of an understanding of the readers? The concerns of this thesis are with the ways in which the production of these photographs and their reception can be incorporated into an art practice and a new self-portrait is revealed.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Paper On: 'Art And Chaos' Marie-Christine Press

It does seem paradoxical that in order to make oneself whole, one should induce a sense of madness and disintegration.

Marie-Christine Press

Many would be interested in the role of the unconscious in regards expression of creativity and ideas in photography, letting new symbols of expression emerge, hoping to engage feeling with communication, believing in the power of the unconscious to nurture (and occasionally hinder) the creative effort.

My starting point is with a preoccupation with self-discovery and that relationship between my inner and outside world. Where does the feeling about my external world connect to the process of conflicts in my inner world? What is experienced outside is perhaps a mirror, or a door to the unconscious. In terms of healing, perhaps a way of reconnecting with parts of myself that predates language.

This journey seems to have been based on my intense feeling of disillusionment, in conjunction with, an inability to manage certain feelings around separateness and separation and more importantly, perhaps, an inability to convey, to communicate this disillusionment. Theory would suggest that this can be seen as a failure to negotiate fully, in Kleinian thought, the depressive position and, photographic expressionism, as with the therapeutic relationship, is all about reengaging with this concept.[1]

I was being denied access. The creation of serious defences where being constructed, defence mechanisms brought to the fore to inhibit by journey. When one is fumbling for words, photography can be part of that search for truth, trying to remain faithful to an folding process of knowledge and clarification.

As in the journey of psychoanalytical therapy, the creative process requires a framework, a space of trust and a place where chaos can be accepted as a temporary world. A place to mourn. The capacity to mourn loss is an important part of this process, as it can often be prerequisite for new life. During this process of internal and external reorganisation, there is with it, with the loss of something, what seems, very valuable,

[1] Klein saw the depressive position as an important developmental milestone that continues to mature throughout the life span. The splitting and part object relations that characterize the earlier phase are succeeded by the capacity to perceive that the other who frustrates is also the one who gratifies. Schizoid defenses are still in evidence, but feelings of guilt, grief, and the desire for reparation gain dominance in the developing mind.

In the depressive position, the infant is able to experience others as whole, which radically alters object relationships from the earlier phase.[10]:3 “Before the depressive position, a good object is not in any way the same thing as a bad object. It is only in the depressive position that polar qualities can be seen as different aspects of the same object.”[14]:37 Increasing nearness of good and bad brings a corresponding integration of ego.

Image: Mother in Him 1

Jo Spence

Terry Dennett

Informal Interview with Terry Dennett 12/04/11

Terry Dennett knew Jo Spence for 36 years, living together for 13 of these from 1973-1986. Dennett, an accomplished photographer and writer collaborated or ‘co-currated’ (T. Dennett 12.04.11) a lot of work with Jo Spence, extensively published, throughout this period.

The social relevance of their work together has been documented widely, photographs of gypsies, the women’s movement etc, their relationship producing some very thought provoking material, a combination of Spence from a social-cultural stance and Terry Dennett as a more politically motivated image maker.

It is widely documented that the work emanates from a social and political viewpoint; little has been documented, however, about how Spence’s upbringing may have influenced her motivations in her work. Specifically her relationship with her parents, her mother particularly, which was described as ‘difficult’.

Well before she started collaborating with Rosie Martin in 19xx, it was evident that Spence was interested in the psychodynamics of non-verbal communication in the form of her self-portraits.

I am particularly interested in the psychoanalytical work they did together between 1980-1986 and how that impacts on my research into the role of the family album. Her early self-expressive work, described by Spence, as her ‘for self’ albums. (T. Dennett 12.04.11)

Spence’s Alternative Family Album

Spence’s parents died within three weeks of each other in 19xx, where upon she set about producing ‘recreations’ as the ‘truth’ to fill in the what she called ‘the gaps’, in her past, to create her impression of ‘the whole’. (T. Dennett 12.04.11) During this period of research Spence was interested in the psychological nature of this form of expression and how this impacted on her past.

This ‘constructed truth’ would have been undertaken to engage with that relationship with mother and of asking herself different questions. Stories, for instance, ‘that one wouldn’t tell the neighbours’, as Dennett explains, ‘Jo realised she had to be her own person’ (T. Dennett 12.04.11)

Her expression of early her experiences of being evacuated during the war, her difficult relationship with her mother and demanding father impacted greatly on her imagery.

Experience with psychotherapy

Although clearly interested in the power of the therapeutic nature of this work, Spence’s experience of therapy as a talking cure, was mixed. The belief that she was in an engagement with the therapist as a companion rather than being a business transaction damaged this relationship. This exchange, is understood today as just part of the therapeutic relationship and integral to ‘setting of the therapeutic frame’ and seen as very much emotionally and experientially part of the process. Spence was charged for her first therapy session and never returned. She turned to ‘self therapy, usually within like minded groups, often feminists groups, without supervision and continued on her therapeutic journey.

‘Family albums’, stated Spence, ‘intrigues me by what they don’t show’ (T. Dennett 12.04.11) and that she believed that ultimatly ‘the photographs would make concrete the intellectual parts of her past’. (T. Dennett 12.04.11)


Spence was influenced by the work of writer and theatre theoretician Kenneth Burkes’ ideas of dramatism.[1] Could these techniques be used to rebuild her damaged relationship with mother? Would the scripting that she was interested in, be made to work in her hour of need, this was to be answered, as her diagnosis of her suffering from cancer, became evident in 19xx.

Mirror work, was important, which enabled her to be able to stage how she felt. Restructuring her version of family portraits in a staged narrative form and looking, through scripting, at her self image from her roots in photo theatre and mirror work,

While working with mirrors Spence was staging the encounter with ‘another’, the therapist or healer within. Spence was communicating with her ‘other self.’ (T. Dennett 12.04.11)

Dennett recounts the environment being ‘made highly charged’ while undergoing this ‘Social acting out’. The therapy was working in an explosive manner, the atmosphere in the flat, while working in such a way, was palpable. This therapeutic staging progressed to scripting, based on method acting and the work of (William Reich)[2] , was being very cathartic, charged with sexual energy. (T. Dennett 12.04.11)

Fig.3 shows an outcome of work. Spence is really crying in this image. She holds the bear that she took away with her when she was evacuated during the war.


Spence and Dennett worked together as co-authors during this stage of production, developing ideas together, as co-curators, often shooting ‘snaps as reference’ and going through a period of ‘waiting’, returning to restage the event, often on a 5x4 camera. Dennett would operate the camera.

One interesting area of process that intrigued me was, as with traditional process of the time, a ‘waiting time’, was necessary. Coined by Spence and Dennett, this was the time required for film to come back from the lab, this time enabled them to ‘become divorced from’ the image and allowed more ‘objectivity’. (T. Dennett 12.04.11)

[1] Dramatism, introduced by rhetorician Kenneth Burke, made its way into the field of communication in the early 1950s as a method for understanding the social uses of language and how to encounter the social and symbolic world of a drama (Brock, Burke, Burgess, Parke, and Simons 1985). Dramatism is the belief that language is a strategic, motivated response to a specific situation (Griffin 2006). It views language as a mode of symbolic action rather than a mode of knowledge (Burke 1978). Kenneth Burke's view was not that life is like a drama, but that life is a drama: that humans by nature see and interpret situations as drama. Dramatism theory has the layout of a play, complete with agents (actors), acts (plots), scenes (settings), agencies (tools, instruments, or means) and purposes. These five elements form the dramatistic "pentad." Dramatism comprises identification, dramatistic pentad, and the guilt-redemption cycle.

[2] Wilhelm Reich (March 24, 1897 – November 3, 1957) was an Austrian-American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, known as one of the most radical figures in the history of psychiatry. He was the author of several notable books, including The Mass Psychology of Fascism and Character Analysis, both published in 1933.[1]

Reich worked with Sigmund Freud in the 1920s and was a respected analyst for much of his life, focusing on character structure rather than on individual neurotic symptoms.[2] He tried to reconcile Marxism and psychoanalysis, arguing that neurosis is rooted in the physical, sexual, economic, and social conditions of the patient, and promoted adolescent sexuality, the availability of contraceptives, abortion, and divorce, and the importance for women of economic independence. His work influenced a generation of intellectuals, including Saul Bellow, William S. Burroughs, Paul Edwards, Norman Mailer, and A. S. Neill, and shaped innovations such as Fritz Perls's Gestalt therapy, Alexander Lowen's bioenergetic analysis, and Arthur Janov's primal therapy.[3]

Image: Mothers Bedroom

Image: 'The Purge'

Text: 'The Purge'

Lutz, in his review of the catharsis state (1999), says,

"The emotions we feel as we relive past experiences are simply a coming to consciousness of one's desires. We cannot feel the same emotions because they are long gone. Emotions cannot be stored for years in our bodies, waiting to reappear, like a virus or bottled up carbonation. We might cry, of course, in a way very similar to the way we cried when our desires were first frustrated, but not because the tears have been waiting somewhere inside us during the intervening years. We cry because the events or the desires still invoke powerful feelings when they are remembered or recognised, in part because our understanding of the events has not evolved."

Can the process of such image-making be of psychological benefit to the creator? Is it possible to adequately visualise repressed, or otherwise inadequately emotionally and un-processed material? The production of such art may be a cathartic experience, an act of venting. By accessing the ‘true self’, perhaps one can express oneself through the process.

Pascal's law states that when there is an increase in pressure at any point in a confined fluid, there is an equal increase at every other point in the container. This hydraulic metaphor is often attributed to Freud’s use of the word catharsis, the release of energy, or of ‘spurting out’, effectively reducing the pressure of the 'bottled up' emotions.

Patients’ talk, therapists listen. Purging the affects of our deeply rooted experiences are the basis of the therapeutic process. From Breuer’s conversations with Freud in the late 1800’s, where he had identified symptoms of paralysis, fits and states of mental confusion in ‘hysterical women’. Their studies and treatment began the mechanism of the ‘talking cure’. This method was also referred to in their day as the ‘Cathartic Method”.

Catharsis is described as the act of expression, or more accurately as the experiencing of deep-rooted experiences, events in ones past that have been repressed or ignored. This can, in the therapeutic setting, be a slow or gradual ‘letting off steam’ or can be, often, an uncontrollable dramatic outburst. This cathartic aggression, as it can be named, is a way of reducing psychological stress.

As infants, we express these conflicts easily, involuntarily discharging these affects from emotion stimulus. As we grow, we learn to control these outbursts, as, in the west particularly, they are often associated with anger. We learn to suppress these dramatic outbursts. Our career’s might remind us of the inappropriateness of these outbursts and we learn to bottle them up. The unearthing of these repressed emotions in the therapeutic situation could also be interpreted as the revealing of ‘symbols of memories’ SR and their visualisation of such could be seen as the representation of such emotions. These unearthed visual memories may not be literally real, they can be seen, perhaps more accurately the process of there construction can be seen, as vehicles for re-constructing a two dimensional representation of the emotion associated with the repressed feeling. These are significant relived events, experienced with their associated emotions.

Venting is seen as a more immediate expression of emotional stimuli rather than catharsis`, which once accessed could be from events and memories previously been suppressed, not dealt with, or inadequately processed, probably over a period of year.

It has been, perhaps, the inability to access these affectual experiences rather than the literal-ness of there expression through an image. With further exploration as the patient returns from the regressed state, resolution can be found.

Says Eugene Gendlin (1996)

"One relives the past in catharsis just as it actually happened but with the great difference that one expresses and finally feels emotions that were blocked at the time. To some extent this happens in all therapy."

There is a generally held belief that the expression of these ‘held’ emotions is better for our health than bottling them up. However it is the emotion attached to the event that eventually materialises, unless there is a verbalization, or working through, of the suppressed event then some believe that this venting is of little use and can actually heighten tension. ‘The venting hypothesis’ proposed in 'Expressing Emotions', 1999 Kennedy-Moore & Watson argues that in the therapists room, any dramatic outburst or venting can take several sessions to discuss before any relief or partial resolution found.

The inadequate processing of past trauma eventually must be expressed. Eugene Gendlin (1996) says,

"One relives the past in catharsis" "just as it actually happened but with the great difference that one expresses and finally feels emotions that were blocked at the time. To some extent this happens in all therapy."

Image: The Individuation of Self

Text: ‘He searched everywhere’

The Jungian-trained psychiatrist Antony Storr has defined individuation as,

"Coming to terms with oneself by means of reconciling the opposing factors within". He continues: "We are all divided selves, and that is part of the human condition. Neurotics, because of a deficiency in the controlling apparatus (a weak ego), suffer from neurotic symptoms, as we all may do at times. Creative people may be more divided than most of us, but, unlike neurotics, have a strong ego; and, although they may periodically suffer from neurotic symptoms, have an especial power of integrating opposites within themselves without recourse to displacement, denial, repression and other mechanisms of defence. Creative people, and potentially creative people, therefore, may suffer and be unhappy because of the divisions within them, but do not necessarily display neurosis."

Storr continues,

"Creative people, show a wider than usual division in the mind, an accentuation of opposites. It seems probable that when creative people produce a new work they are in fact attempting to reconcile opposites in exactly the way Jung describes. [Their work] symbolise the union of opposites and the formation of this new centre of personality...”

Compartmentalism is a subconscious process to defend against anxiety. It is an attempt to simplify things, to inhibit attempts to mix these parts that cognitively will simply create too much pain to be reconciled.

In psychoanalysis, upon being confronted with clients presenting issues, it is perhaps natural for them (clients and therapists) to split these topics into manageable parts, hoping that any conclusions can be reassembled into the whole. This division into smaller parts, is a survival mechanism, the self will only become one, once the parts have been introduced to each other within psychological dialogue. When these ‘parts’ are bought together, often, inconsistencies occur. It is the interaction of these smaller parts and conflicts of behaviour being bought together, that ‘cognitive dissonance‘ occurs.

These are uncomfortable feelings that come about from trying to hold these conflicting ideas ‘within sight of each other’ (ref) clearly after some awareness has been experienced.

Experiences clash with expectations, one might say, ‘this is not the person I wish to be’. SR

This incompatibility has its roots in the non-integration of our polarised selves as an infant. It is a simplification, however, that our ‘all good’ and ‘all bad’ are placed into separate containers, however, this contradiction of behaviour is made bearable through denial or through a state of indifference.

One can act with certain morals and behaviours in one part of life and have other rules in other parts. SR

In extreme cases, this would be described as splitting, a term first used by Janet (ref) and acknowledged by Freud (ref) where he referred to it as,

“ The resolving of ambivalence 'by splitting the contradictory feelings so that one person is only loved, another one only hated’ Or, with opposing feelings of love and hate, perhaps 'the two opposites should have been split apart and one of them, usually the hatred, have been repressed

This theory is given more significance by Klein. (Ref) who argues,

'The earliest experiences of the infant are split between wholly good ones with "good" objects and wholly bad experiences with "bad" objects’, as children struggle to integrate the two primary drives, love and hate, into constructive social interaction. An important step in childhood development is the gradual depolarisation of these two drives'

Can psychoanalysis seek resolutions of these contradictions in the therapeutic space, or can the revelation of self through the introduction of separate states in art play a role? Why has art and other forms of self-expression found an important role in society, and what do we search for during this process? What knowledge is imparted and also received from the appreciation of such artwork?

Freud essentially brought his mind as a scientist to the understanding of the subconscious. Through his interpretation of dreams (Ref) he believed the subconscious could be known.

In dream interpretation, where Freud transforms the latent content, it is recollected, with the associated feelings, however, not always communicated. Through the mechanisms of condensation, displacement and representation, we are adept at hiding the latent content, what Freud calls the dream censor. Thus dreams are the signs or symptoms of the unconscious rather than the deliberate structured symbols of it. Art reveals and communicates. It communicates aspects of the artist and perhaps this may also include the unsolved issues of the artist.

Freud discovered useful insight between the unconscious and the conscious. It lies in verbalising, naming and symbolisation. If successful, objectification of these neuroses, by creating these artistic symbols we give names to the artists neuroses. By putting them to paper, the production of a photograph for instance, we make the symbol more tangible. These more concrete symbols also have a power of communication that dreams cannot.

In viewing an image, our attention is drawn to a shape, a line, a face. This unconscious ‘laying over’ of images on to pre-loaded images and shapes in our subconscious shortcuts to our desires, associated feelings

The tendency to appreciate requires a sense of abstraction, one can ‘see’ beyond the surface of the work to the unique attributes that reside within the work.

This play is of course what happens in the therapist’s room. Art can give knowledge, not of objective law or science but of lived experience and of quality of experience. It transmutes this power on to the viewer as the artist’s work takes form, as the therapist brings the sub-conscious to light in the session with a client.

Art may, therefore, as does psychotherapy aim to do, reveal the presence of the sub-conscious, name it through symbols and then integrates it into these symbols and those opposing elements of the subconscious

Paper On: 'On Photography' Susan Sontag

‘Photography is seems is finding a place in the world by being able to relate to it with detachment –by bypassing the interfering, insolent claims of self. But between the defence of photography as a superior means of self expression and the praise of photography as a superior way of putting the self at reality’s service there is not as much difference as might appear. Both presuppose that photography provides a unique system of disclosures; that it shows us reality, as we had not seen it before. P119

The family album is a transportable volume of experiences, constructed and presented at the right time, to the right people. It is a tool of historical ‘truth’, photographic and emotional ‘reality’. The images fill in our gaps, related or not to the images themselves; they offer us a method of reconciling our existence. The images bear witness to our connectiveness with ourselves, our family and humanity, the only proof, even, of our existence at all. They tell the viewer what there is; how it was and they make an inventory of life. It creates a link with the past and the future and eventually, they provide the one and only link between ‘us’ and ‘there’ or ‘them‘ and ‘then’. Cameras go with family life; they escort us around so that we can prove we where really here at all. A family’s photographic album is generally about us now, but becomes a historic document of the extended family and often, is all that remains of it.

The Family Album, as a document, is a way of acknowledging ‘that fun was had’ that it was all-worthwhile, that we created an important link in the chain of humanity. It seems you cannot claim to have seen anything, been anywhere or ‘belonged’ unless you have photographed it. One can lay claim to having a loving family, one can claim your very existence once the proof is presented in an album.

‘Strictly speaking, one never understands anything from a photograph. Of course, photographs fill in blanks in our mental pictures of the present and the past.’ p23

Of course, any photograph, even in an age of photographic manipulation, at least, for a while longer, is a proof that the person existed, that he was there in that place. Photographs furnish us with that evidence, the evidence that, even though it may be distorted there is the presumption that the contents of the photograph did exist.

Another key function of the family album is of course for our need to face mortality. A way of reminding us of our insignificance perhaps, subconsciously dealing with the undealable-with while still giving us a reason for our existence. Being part of a past and having invested in the future is important. The family album is an opportunity to invest in a more positive relation with that process

As a document, it is also a defence against other such anxieties. Family albums actively promote nostalgia, and as Sontag states ‘photography is an elegiac[1] art, a twilight art’ and that ‘most subjects photographed are, just by virtue of being photographed, touched with pathos.’ p15

To participate in this process of the subject’s mortality, we continue to create what has been. All photographs show the past, of things that are either dead or dying, ‘Like the dead relatives and friends preserved in the family album, whose presence in photographs exorcises some of the anxiety and remorse prompted by their disappearance.’ P16

‘Photography states the innocence, the vulnerability, of lives heading toward their own destruction, and this link between photography and death still haunts all photographs of people. ‘P70

However, there are aspects of any image that say more than simply the documentation of the scene. The ultimate wisdom of any photographic image is its’ saying, ‘There is the surface. Now think-or rather feel, intuit- what is beyond it, what the reality must be like if it looks this way.’ Photographs, which cannot themselves explain anything, are inexhaustible invitations to deduction, speculation, and fantasy. P23

Through the production of the family album, we want an idolised image of the world and our place within it. Essentially, photographs of us looking our best, both visually and emotionally. Images within the album are praised for their candour. By the audience that are sought to view it, ‘this is a good one,’ ‘you have got her off to a tee’. The pictures are commended for their honesty. This fact indicates that ‘most photographs are, of course, not so candid’. p86 The family album has its truths of course, but the ‘justification is still the same, that picture taking serves a high purpose: uncovering a hidden truth, conserving a vanishing past’. P56

One could argue that photography, far from documenting the truth, succeeds more in hiding it, than it does revealing. The Family Album records by disclosing, but also hides the truth and discourages disclosure.

There is another world within this one, perhaps, that demands viewing. A world that becomes interesting, once sought. While viewing a portrait, it is the beauty of what the eye cannot see, the scene behind the image that the camera ultimately brings us. Says Susan Sontag, ‘the cameras rendering of reality must always hide more than it discloses.’ p23

Shrouded by sentimentalism and history, we are distracted by the location, the wardrobe of the day. Distracted by the order, the presentation of the images, of the presenters’ bestowing of the story. Persons that have an emotional stake in its presentation construct these albums. Strangers, the portrait studio photographer of the past, the historic interface between the commissioner and the sitter, no longer take portraits. Today they are taken by friends or family and edited by them. There is no longer even potential for an objective view.

Sontag states that, ‘photographic realism is more and more defined, not as what is “really” there, but as what I “really” perceive’ p120. So the family album, as with any photograph, can be interpreted differently. That a photograph does and can evoke memories; however, these are dependant on the quality of the viewing of the photograph and whether these are instruments of memories, invented memories, or replacement memories involved in there viewing.

‘Astute observers noticed that there was something naked about the truth a photograph conveyed, even when it’s maker did not mean to pry.’ p87

The photographer discloses more than the image shows to us, and the viewer can interpret this in two different ways. Of conscious ‘knowing’ and also, as Sontag states, ‘a pre-intellectual mode of encounter.’ ‘A noetic[2] exercise, an advance form of knowing without knowing; a way of outwitting the world, instead of making a frontal attack on it.p116

[1] Having a mournful quality

[2] Concerned with the study of mind and intuition

Image: Peter's Dreams 'Plate20'

Paper On: 'Camera Lucida' Roland Barthes

‘If I like a photograph, if it disturbs me, I linger over it. What am I doing, during the whole time I remain with it? I look at it, I scrutinise it, as if I wanted to know more about the thing or the person it represents’.

(Barthes., R. 1980 p.99)

The book Camera Lucida, published in 1980 by Roland Barthes, has, at its core, several elements of importance regarding my research, not only as to the interpretation of the ‘real content’ of photographs, but as a search for knowledge at a far deeper, personal level. Although widely cited in photographic literature, the overwhelming feeling is the fact that Barthes spends the first half of his book presenting ways in which one can analyse, understand and elucidate the photograph, of all types of photographs, for what they really represent, however, for what aim does he do this? This becomes clearer in the second part of his book. It is to understand his relationship with just one photograph, a photograph that isn’t published in the book. Barthes begins his search for his mother.

In part one Barthes was interested in what ‘sets him off’, on this journey. (p.19). It seems the best word that describes this process, for him, his ‘temporary’ attraction is, ‘advenience or even adventurer’. Some pictures will ‘advenes’, some will not.

My work is perhaps, an adventure, a journey and search for knowledge, not just for myself, but as a document of what may be the ‘human condition’. For Barthes his search for knowledge about his mother, and for me, is perhaps, a search of knowledge about my internalised mother.

In describing a war photograph by Wessing, for instance, shot in Nicaragua, of two nuns walking behind soldiers in a deserted street in 1979, he describes that it is not the ‘literal concern’ that is providing the interest in this photographs existence but ‘its existence (its adventure) is derived from the co-presence of two discontinuous elements, heterogeneous in that they did not belong to the same world’ (p.xx) This disharmony, perhaps, is the conscious and unconscious world attempting to occupy the same space. These worlds, however, have been brought together by the viewer, providing a bridge between the photographer and the photograph, this creates a primitive link to these two discontinuous elements.

To Barthes, the naming of these two elements whose ‘co-presence established’ (p.25), was important, it seemed this was why he took particular interest in certain photographs.

The names that Barthes arrived at are his ‘stadium’ and ‘punctum’. Concepts of the viewing of the photograph. The stadium being the ‘special acuity’ based on human interest in an object, not as literal as just the study of, but ‘a kind of special enthusiastic commitment’ and it is this ‘element that rises from the scene’ and ‘pierces’, that Barthes calls ‘punctum’. ‘A photographs’ punctum is that accident which pricks me’ (but also bruises me, is poignant to me) (p.27)

The stadium is a process by which Barthes felt he could ‘know the operator’ and in reverse this is how he could experience as the ‘spectator’. In fact Barthes labours this point, of him ‘investing’ with the ‘stadium’ as a spectator and was keen to point out his importance to the relationship with the image, as a viewer. I will also discuss this in context of the transference within the therapeutic context later.

‘In this glum desert, suddenly a specific photograph reaches me: it animates me, and I animate it. So that is how I must name the attraction, which makes it exist: an animation. The photograph itself is in no way animated (I do not believe in ‘lifelike photographs), but it animates me: this is what creates every adventure. (p20)

For Roland Barthes to ‘make the measure of photographic knowledge’ (p.9) he decides the photograph has three objects of emotion or intention. Those of the ‘operator’, the photographer, ‘spectator’, the viewer and that of the ‘target’, or the subject of the work. The subject emitting ‘eidolon.’[1]

In my practice and search for certain knowledge, I effectively take the role of all three of his objects of intention, as photographer, subject and viewer. I have titled the work, ‘The Mother in Him’.

In him as viewer and subject Barthes quotes:

‘The portrait-photograph is a closed field of forces. Four image-repertoires intersect here, oppose and distort each other. In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art. In other words a strange action: I do not stop imitating myself, and because of this, each time I am (or let myself be) photographed, I invariably suffer from a sensation of in-authenticity, sometimes of imposture (comparable to certain nightmares).

This ‘sensation of in-authenticity’ comes from somewhere else; although Barthes is interested in the ‘history of looking’ the real history of looking comes from very first realisations of self from other, from the mirroring in early object relations, our earliest encounters with mother. I will be referencing psychoanalytical theories of looking and mirroring with research into Kleinian theories of mirroring and Winnicottian theories of the third space. Barthes alludes to this, ‘I want a history of looking, for the photograph is the advent of myself as other: a cunning dissociation of consciousness from identity’. (p.xx)

‘In terms of image repertoire, the Photograph (the one I intend) represents that very subtle moment when, to tell the truth, I am neither subject nor object but a subject who feels he is becoming an object: I then experience a micro-version of death (of parenthesis): I am truly becoming a spectre.’

Barthes spent much time associating the form of a photograph as looking into the past and of course in doing so looking at his own mortality head on, especially after the death of his mother. I also would like to postulate that we all look into photographs, family photographs particulary, as a record of our psyche. Past, present and future, within it, we find the human condition and as we look deeper into the eyes of ‘stadium’, whether it be a photograph of our mother, a landscape, or a picture of a transsexual man in a glossy magazine we are, ultimately, looking at ourselves. Our pasts, present and futures. The information is there, it’s just that we must find it, within ourselves. The ‘punctum’ states Barthes ‘is an addition: it is what I add to the photograph and what is nonetheless already there’. The ‘punctum’, then, is a kind of subtle beyond –as if the image launched desire beyond what it permits us to see […] Not only toward the fantasy of a praxis, but toward the absolute excellence of a being, body and soul together. (p.59). It is in our interest to be very careful about what we show to the world.

A photograph shocks or repels us because we are not willing to descend deeper into it. Often, confronting the past may be the reason, or the unpalatably truth of witnessing often distressing signs of our human condition, or being forced to delve deeper into ourselves. When the photograph is less than shocking but more ‘pensive’, states Barthes, ‘when it thinks’ we can learn more. (p.34)

Barthes writes, ‘….revealing what was so well hidden that the actor himself was unaware or unconscious of it. Hence a whole gamut of ‘surprises’ (as they are for me, the spectator), but for the Photographer, these are so many performances)’

Barthes ends the first part of his book with the admission that to really gain knowledge from the photograph he would have to look more into self. This would ‘allow the detail to rise of its own accord into affective consciousness’. (p.55)

‘I had perhaps learned how my desire worked, but I had not discovered the nature (the eidos[2]) of Photography. I had to grant that my pleasure was an imperfect mediator, and that a subjectivity reduced to its hedonist project could not recognise the universal. I would have to descend deeper into myself to find the evidence of Photography, that thing which is seen by anyone looking at a photograph and which distinguishes it in his eyes from any other image. I would have to make recantation, my palinode[3].

Part 2

But as Barthes searched through his personal collection, he realised he couldn’t make these images ‘speak’ to his friends, he recognised ‘her gait, her health, her glow-but not her face, which was too far away.’

Nor could I omit this from my reflection (p.71)

Photography began as a representation of person, of identity, however as the production of the family albums became popular, a more powerful social and cultural tool emerged. Yes, it is there to attest to what really existed, the photographs essence is to ratify what it represents. But isn’t it more to attest to what we really want to exist, less about the past and more about the future. Barthes described the relationship with ‘his’ picture as ‘a sort of umbilical cord that links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze’ (p.81) this analogy is quite profound.

Barthes studies his photograph admitting that the more he studies it, the more he ‘needs’ to reach down into it, to, in effect, peal it away from the context of the album, and reveal something else. Barthes is both mourning and attempting to reveal his true relationship with his mother. ‘More than recognise her, in which I discover her’ p109

‘I live in the illusion that it suffices to clean the surface of the image in order to accede to what is behind: to scrutinise means to turn the photograph over, to enter into the papers depth, to reach its other side (what is hidden is for us westerners more “true” than what is visible.) Alas, however hard I look, I discover nothing: Such is the photograph: it cannot say what it lets us see. (Barthes., R. 1980 p.100)

As Barthes, I want to search for the essence of the family album photograph, and as different from him, I wish to explore its essence through the production and enquiry of self-portraits. Barthes states, ‘I wanted to explore it not as a question (a theme) but as a wound: I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think.’ going on to say ‘the essence of a photograph could not, in my mind be separated from the ‘pathos[4]’ of which, from the first glance, it consists.’ (p.21)

‘I want to discover that being in the photograph completely, ie., in its essence, “as into itself….” Beyond simple resemblance, whether legal or hereditary. Here the Photographs platitude becomes more painful, for it can correspond to my fond desire only by something inexpressible: evident (this is the law of the photograph) yet improbable (I cannot prove it), This something is what I call the air (the expression, the look)….. the air being ‘ that exorbitant thing which induces from body to soul’ (p.109)

In searching for ‘essence’ in his pile of images of his mother, falling upon one image which had, he felt, could be the start of his enquiry. All the others where simply masks, then suddenly ‘the mask vanished: there remains the soul (p.109)

I am in process of making permanent the truth, the removal of the mask, the truth for me, non-the-less.

[1] An idealised person or thing

[2] The distinctive expression of the cognitive or intellectual character of a culture or social group.

[3] A poem in which the poet retracts a view expressed in a previous poem.

[4] A quality that evokes pity or sadness

Image: Peter's Dreams 'Plate13'

Paper On: 'Art and Psychoanalysis'-Peter Fuller

Jacque Brail sang, (Brecht lyrics) “We have forgotten how to cry, we keep photographs instead.”

As a diversion, perhaps to anxiety in early life, some photographers sublimate[1] anger and distress into their work, often struggling in finding a way of communication verbally, even finding it difficult to perceive the idea of any form of verbal communication, choosing to quantify and attempt to understand the world around them with photography.

Many photographers of the staged narrative have a desire for reparation. When the answers to life are buried, we must dig. What could be these anxieties in early life?

Early life experiences, development of the ego

Kleinian theory sees the growth and development of the ego as a series of projections and introjections. Introjection is where, on confronting an object on the outside, the subjects view is annexed by his/her internal view or attitudes towards that object. As Rycroft puts it, the process ‘by which the relationship with an object “out there” is replaced by one with an imagined object “inside”.’ Projection is the reverse of this process in which aspects of the self, impulses, wishes and desires, or internal objects are treated as aspects of the external world.

Guntrip states:

We live in these two worlds at the same time, one mental and the other material, the one a perception of the past and the other an exploration of the present, and we are involved in them in situations and relationships which rouse in us excitements, emotions and impulses of all kinds. It is impossible to keep the two worlds of outer and inner reality, of conscious and unconscious mental life, entirely separate. p114

The infant, therefore, lives in a world of part objects, split into good and bad ones. P114 This is a familiar state for any artist. The feeling of reconciling feelings displaced, of describing the indescribable, of attempting to communicate from a place of pre-verbal communication.

The theory that Klein postulated was that the child must learn to accept ambivalence, to bring together love and hate into the same object. To realise that the object of its most heavenly desire, often mother, is the same person that frustrates or fails to provide. This process is known as the transition from the paranoid-schizoid to depressive position.

This fundamental change comes about when the child recognises mother, and eventually father and other significant objects, as real persons. Whereas before they where part-objects. The infant must now perceive whole objects as both good and bad. This creates a dilemma, and the realisation that he can, of course, lose the loved object, not only be lost externally, but the internalised object can also be lost. Effectively, a loss of self.

Segal argues that this is exactly what the artist is experiencing through working. The transition to the infantile depressive position, again, seeking reparation through his artistic activity and the urge to seek repair through knowledge of his internal world, which he feels to have had and then lost. It is not, however, enough to simply recreate something of his lost inner world, he must then externalise the ‘new’ completed object and give it a new life in the external world. Stokes, a Kleinian, went on to state that ‘we are intact only so much as our objects are in tact’.

In fact, of course, many people seeking psychoanalysis express an urge to repair and more importantly, not to lose, what they have in their representation of self through their internal objects. Artists, through expression, show symptoms of this early phase of development, this paranoid-schizoid to depressive transition.

Siegel p118 says,

‘aesthetic pleasure is derived from our unconscious identification with the artists depressive struggle and his emergence from it. For true reparation to be done, there must be admission of the initial destruction- otherwise, there is no true reparation, but only denial.’ and goes on to say, ‘the wish and capacity for the restoration of the good object, internal and external is the basis for creative activities which are in the infants wish to restore and recreate his lost happiness, his lost internal objects and the harmony of his internal world.’ P127

The Winnicottian description of this view would be that the infant experiences a progression from dependence to independence. P164

He states that feelings and images precede words of any kind and suggests that images can speak more vividly than words, ‘except perhaps in poetry’. Some feelings, suggests Winnicott, are un-verbalisable. Winnicotts’ major contribution to psychoanalytic theory was the potential space[2], described in more detail in a later essay.

‘The potential space is at the interplay of there being nothing but me and there being objects and phenomena outside of omnipotent control’ Winnicott suggests, and that it can be usefully thought of as a “third area of human living”. One neither inside the individual or outside in the world of shared reality’ p202

An important aspect of ‘frequenting’ this space is the capacity to be alone, while playfully denying the separateness of a relationship between self, mother, part mother. Winnicott saw it as the experience of being alone when someone else is present. The infant is able, while in this un-integrated state, to flounder, to be in a state in which there is no orientation. Winnicott describes this position as a real, primitive anxiety.

The photographer, therefore, has to explore this potential space on his own. The interplay between him and the world can create imaginative transformations of the world, not as mere fantasy, but as cultural products that can be seen and enjoyed by others.

Winnicotts’ theory, says Fuller, ‘is of the utmost importance in the understanding of aesthetic experience.’

Winnicott held that this potential space between the baby and mother was the precursor of that between the child and the family and eventually between the individual and society, or the world. The artist and the world.

The Family Album

This fusing of inner reality with outer reality could be the main function of the creation of an Alternative Family Album, as Milner says, ‘more like a search, a going backwards perhaps, but a going back to look for something, something which could have real value in adult life if only it could be recovered… never reflected upon what might mean in terms of feeling.’ P134

Portraits, and portraits of the family, potentially enable the photographer to produce an enduring representation, to capture the psychology of emotion, which transcends his own time, including the history of his descendants perhaps even, acts as the potential future of his genes.

The possession of such images (the family album), from infancy to old age, is a way of taking possession of, in fantasy, that which we cannot possess in reality.


However, these constructed fantasies, according to Winnicott, may be a way of getting away from inner reality. If we view art with this narrow focus, which originates in the infantile gaze and through mirroring, can we, through research and production create a more wide focus, repair perhaps, re-step the transition to the depressive position. Reengage with our relationship with the world and our significant objects.

Linking our relationship with the world psychologically could be simply down to the relationship between ourselves and ‘an other’. In the beginning clearly our mother is our whole world, it is with this in mind I endeavour to search for ‘mother’ in the work, or at least the search for the internalised mother.

Our engagement with an image, our search of self within it, could therefore be paralleled with our search for self in the therapeutic engagement.

When we see a photograph: -

At first our eye responds to the photograph, it may be superficial, we may turn away. But something draws us closer, or perhaps demands distance, it is engaging with us, calling us in. It is not shouting at you, this increases the interest, and what is it saying? It taunts you, you follow the different symbols to a point of initial significance, it doesn’t feel right, you are aware of a shimmering presence, but why, no words have yet come to you, it is indescribable as yet, you couldn’t describe what you feel, not just yet, this draws you in closer. The photograph plays with your senses; there is a message here but where. It continues to attract you, playing with the fact it annoys you. It sets into motion a journey for you, there is a hum of light on the surface but more importantly the message is beneath the print actually inside the work, if the print is lifted from the wall perhaps it will reveal its essence, hiding somewhere. The disruption is now intense, it is starting to reveal something within you, it continues to draw you in, commanding attention as you listen. You are compelled to penetrate deeper and deeper into the story, yes now there is a story, but perhaps this is your story and not that of the photographer. Yet you still cannot verbalise what is really being said. Then I realise the photograph is asking me to see again. But see myself, or a part of myself. There is no correct reading, no specific history, only my history alongside its, a different history. I began by watching someone’s performance and became an actor participating in it of it. I have become interwoven with the image before me.

When we see a client: -

The client is on time, I introduced myself and there is a broad smile, there was a feeling she was pleased to be there, although beneath the smile there was a feeling of dismissal. She is engaging and chatty, gentle, yet something calls from the background, as if someone else is in the room. She chats for a while, although something else is going on, I search for what is behind what she says. The engagement is in its early days, but one is aware of this shimmering presence. Its just a feeling of course but it draws me closer to her. She looks drab. She doesn’t want me near her psychologically, not yet, although she keeps on asking something. But what. We have started our journey together, will she continue the journey of stop and let me go on ahead. Behind her words are what she really wants to eventually say, but not yet. I am drawn in to the superficial layers, to what must lie beneath, why is she here? I am compelled to hear, I listen intently, I am now participating in her story, or perhaps its our story now. Yes, it is our journey. There is no correct reading, no specific history I began by watching someone’s performance and became an actor participating in it of it. I have become interwoven with the image before me.

Peter Fullers analogy with a spectator who begins by watching a performance but who ends up as an actor within it is a fair one, in observation of the image and also in the observation of a client.

So does the spectator, recognise any part of themselves, in the photograph? Does it recapture any part of their infantile experience or ‘essence’ of pre-verbal communication, explained through the theories of Klein and Winnicott? Are we simply recognising the attempted by the artist of reparation, in us, the viewer?

This search for understanding of the photograph may be the search of self, or perhaps more interestingly the search for a differentiation between self and not self. This sense of mystery comes from a position of our infantile beginnings.

[1] In psychology, sublimation is a mature type of defence mechanism where socially unacceptable impulses or idealizations are consciously transformed into socially acceptable actions or behaviour, possibly converting the initial impulse in the long term. According to Wade and Tavris, sublimation is when displacement "serves a higher cultural or socially useful purpose, as in the creation of art or inventions."[1]. It was a term originally coined by Freud which was used to describe the spirit as a reflection of the libido,[2] and has roots in his psychoanalytical theory.

[2] Perhaps the most important and at the same time most elusive of the ideas introduced by Donald Winnicott is the concept of potential space. Potential space is the general term Winnicott used to refer to an intermediate area of experiencing that lies between fantasy and reality. Specific forms of potential space include the play space, the area of the transitional object and phenomena, the analytic space, the area of cultural experience, and the area of creativity. The concept of potential space remains enigmatic in part because it has been so difficult to extricate the meaning of the concept from the elegant system of images and metaphors in which it is couched.