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 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.

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