Inhabiting the Image: photography, therapy and re-enactment phototherapy

Rosy Martin

European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling

Vol. 11, No. 1, March 2009, 35–49

Inhabiting the image: photography, therapy and re-enactment phototherapy

Rosy Martin*


This is a copyright article – any quotations must cite origin


Photography, this ubiquitous medium that most people use and that has

the potential to be democratic, too often ends up as a repetition of

conventional iconic images. However, photographs offer up the possibilities

of a slippery surface of meanings and potential narratives for the

viewer, which are the rich veins that phototherapy explores. Therapeutic

work with found images and alternative visual diaries is discussed. The

traditional family album as a repository of partially explored memories

is contrasted with its role in constructing a mythology of an ideal. The

evolution of re-enactment phototherapy, the creation of new photographic

representations through performative re-enactments within the therapeutic

relationship, is described. Since the gaze is fundamental to a photographic

exchange, theories of the gaze and identity formation are briefly mapped.

The therapeutic gaze, the performativity within the re-enactment phototherapy

session and the importance of embodiment and transformation

are discussed, and the notion of the process as a form of creative adult play.

A case study is included to illustrate the methodology. Why and how these

new photographs can be used within the therapeutic process is explored.

The questions arising when this work moves from process to product are

considered.

Keywords: photography and therapy; re-enactment phototherapy; found

photographs; family album; therapeutic gaze; visual culture


Habiter l’image: photographie, the¥rapie et photo therapie de reconstitution

La photographie, ce medium omnipre¥sent utilise¥ par la plupart des gens,

potentiellement de¥mocratique, finit trop souvent par n’eà tre qu’une reproduction

d’ images emble¥matiques et conventionnelles. Cependant, les photographies

offrent a` la fois la possibilite¥ d’une surface ou` le sens glisse et des

re¥ cits potentiels a` celui qui les regarde, cette richesse e¥tant ce qu’explore la

Photo The¥rapie. Nous discuterons ici le travail the¥rapeutique a` partir d’images

trouve¥es et de journaux intimes visuels. L’album de famille traditionnel en tant

qu’archive des souvenirs partiellemement explore¥ s est mis en contraste avec

son roà le dans la construction de la mythologie d’un ide¥ al. Nous de¥crirons

l’e¥volution de la Photo The¥rapie de reconstitution, cre¥ation de nouvelles

repre¥sentations photographiques a` travers les reconstitutions sce¥niques dans

le cadre d’une relation the¥rapeutique. Dans la mesure ou` le regard est

fondamental dans un e¥change photographique, les the¥ories sur le regard et la

formation de l’identite¥ seront brie`vement pre¥sente¥ es. Le regard the¥rapeutique,

le caracte`re sce¥nique de la se¥ance de Photo The¥rapie de reconstitution ainsi que

l’importance de l’incarnation et de la transformation seront discute¥ s; il sera

e¥galement aborde¥ en quoi ce processus est une forme de jeu cre¥ atif adulte.

Une e¥tude de cas est incluse afin d’illustrer la me¥thodologie. Nous verrons

enfin pourquoi et comment ces nouvelles photographies peuvent eà tre utilise¥es

a` des fins the¥rapeutiques. Les questions qui emergent lorsque ce travail passe

du processus au produit seront prises en conside¥ration.

Mots-Cle¥ : photographie et therapie; photo therapie de reconstitution;

photographies trouvees; album de famille; regard therapeutique; culture

visuelle

Das bild bewohnbar machen: fotografie, therapie und re-inactment

fototherapie

Die Fotografie, jenes allgegenwa® rtige Medium, das von den meisten Menschen

genutzt wird und dem demokratische Potentiale zu Eigen sind, wird allzu oft

genutzt um konventionelle Arten der Abbildung lediglich zu wiederholen.

Tatsa® chlich bieten Fotografien fu® r den Betrachter jedoch Mo® glichkeiten

‘‘rutschiger’’ Bedeutungsoberfla® chen und Alternativen von Erza® hlungsoptionen,

die eben gerade die reichhaltigen Pfade bilden, die per Fotografie

erkundet werden ko® nnen. Es werden Mo® glichkeiten der therapeutischen

Arbeit mit vorgefunden Abbildungen und visuellen Tagebu® chern in dem

Artikel diskutiert. Das herko® mmliche Familienalbum wird als Speicher

bruchhafter Erinnerungen kontrastiert mit seiner Rolle beim Kreieren von

Idealmythen. Die Entwicklung der Re-Enactmant-Fototherapie, die Erstellung

neuer fotografischer Darstellungen durch performatives Nachspielen innerhalb

der therapeutischen Beziehung, wird zudem beschrieben. Da der Blick

grundlegend erscheint fu® r den fotografischen Vorgang, werden Konzepte von

Blick und Identita® tsbildung kurz skizziert. Der therapeutische Blick, die

‘‘Performativita® t’’ innerhalb der Re-enactment Fototherapie und die Wichtigkeit

der Verko® rperung und Verwandlung werden diskutiert; zudem die Fassung

dieses Prozesses als eine Form des kreativen Erwachsenenspiels. Anhand einer

Falldarstellung wird das Vorgehen veranschaulicht. Es wird erkundet warum

und wie diese so neu erstellten Fotografien innerhalb des therapeutischen

Prozesses genutzt werden ko® nnen. Zudem wird auf die Frage eingegangen,

an welchem Punkt diese Art der Arbeit sich vom Prozess in ein Kunstprodukt

vera® ndert.


Viviendo en la imagen: fotografı¥a, terapia y fototerapia reconstructiva

La fototerapia, este omnipresente medio que la mayorı¥a de gente usa y tiene

el potencial de ser democra¥ tico, a menudo termina como una repeticio¥n de

ima¥ genes ico¥ nicas convencionales. No obstante, las fotografı¥as ofrecen la

posibilidad de tener una gran variedad de significados y de diferentes relatos

para el que las ve. Esta variedad de significados y relatos son lo que la

fototerapia explora. Se discute el trabajo terape¥utico de ima¥ genes encontradas

y diarios visuales. El a¥lbum de una familia tradicional como almace¥n de

recuerdos parcialmente explorados es contrastado con su rol en construir una

mitologı¥a de un ideal. Se describe la evolucio¥ n de la fototerapia reconstructiva,

la creacio¥ n de nuevas representaciones fotogra¥ ficas a trave¥s de reconstrucciones

conductuales en la relacio¥ n terape¥ utica. Desde que la mirada es

fundamental para un intercambio fotogra¥ fico, han surgido diversas teorı¥as

de la mirada y la formacio¥ n de la identidad. La mirada terape¥utica, la

comunicacio¥ n oral en la sesio¥ n de fototerapia reconstructiva y la importancia

de la personificacio¥ n y la transformacio¥ n juntamente con la nocio¥ n del proceso

como forma de obra creativa adulta son discutidas. Se ha incluido un caso

de estudio para explicar la metodologı¥a. Se explica porque¥ y co¥mo estas

fotografı¥as pueden ser usadas en la exploracio¥ n del proceso terape¥utico.

Las preguntas que surgen cuando el trabajo pasa de ser un proceso a un

producto se tienen en cuenta.

Palabras clave: fotografı¥a y terapia; fototerapia reconstructiva; fotografı¥as

encontradas; a¥lbum familiar; mirada terape¥utica; cultura visual

Abitare l’immagine: fotografia, terapia e la rappresentazione foto-terapeutica

La fotografia, questo mezzo onnipresente, che quasi tutti utilizzano e che ha il

potenziale di essere democratico, finisce troppo spesso per essere per essere una

ripetizione d’immagini iconiche. Nondimeno, le fotografie offrono all’osservatore

una superficie scivolosa di significati e di narrazioni potenziali, che sono i

ricchi filoni esplorati dalla fototerapia. E` discusso il lavoro terapeutico con

immagini ritrovate e alternativi diari visivi. Il tradizionale album fotografico di

famiglia come repositorio di memorie parzialmente esplorate e` contrastato con

il suo ruolo nel costruire una mitologia di un’ideale. E` descritta l’evoluzione

della rappresentazione foto-terapeutica, la creazione di nuove rappresentazioni

fotografiche attraverso rappresentazioni performative all’interno della relazione

terapeutica. Poiche¥ lo sguardo e` fondamentale in uno scambio

fotografico, sono brevemente percorse le teorie sullo sguardo e sulla

formazione dell’identita`. E` discusso lo sguardo terapeutico, la performativita`

all’interno della sessione di rappresentazione foto terapeutica e l’importanza

della personificazione e della trasformazione, e la nozione di processo come

forma di gioco creativo adulto. E`

incluso un caso clinico per illustrate la

metodologia. E` esplorato il perche¥ e il come queste nuove fotografie possano

essere utilizzate all’interno del processo terapeutico. Sono prese in considerazione

le domande che sorgono quando questo lavoro si sposta da processo

a prodotto.


Introduction

We live in a culture, in Western Europe, ever more mediated by the visual.

Photographic images surround us on all sides: newspapers, magazines,

advertising hoardings, the Internet and if one includes the moving image:

television, film, video, and computer games. The evolution of digital media

now results in the majority of people in Europe always carrying a camera with

them, as an integral part of their mobile phone. Within the computer,

traditional boundaries between media breakdown and merge with the facility

to digitise information and easily combine images and sound, both original

and sampled. Individuals can then post their work on web sites and publish to

the worldwide Internet audience. Social networking sites, such as Facebook,

video-sharing sites, for example YouTube and photo-sharing sites, for example

Flickr as well as individual’s personal web sites and blogs offer the opportunity

to share images with family, friends, and audiences previously unimaginable.

Digital technologies have provided the means to communicate easily through

images, text and voice. Is this the longed for democratisation of the image?

As a cultural phenomenon, does this then speak to a more fundamental

desire? Is this a manifestation of the need to be seen, to be heard, to have

an audience, and to be noticed? Whilst at one level the culture of the spectacle

(Debord, 1967) encourages a voyeurism that can be parasitic (Big Brother on

Channel 4 could be said to have set the stage for the crowd who gathered and

called to a suicidal young man to ‘jump’ BBC News, 3 Oct 2008). However,

there are therapeutic approaches that use these visual languages to powerful

effect.

Photography and therapy

There are a number of different ways in which photographs can be used within

the therapeutic relationship. In the 1970s in the United States and Canada

therapists started to use photographs as counseling tools1 (Krauss & Fryrear,

1983). Working from differing theoretical frameworks, the photograph as

metaphor can be used as a route to the unconscious. Photographs offer up

a slippery surface of meanings to reflect and project upon and contain a myriad

of latent narratives. A therapist, using a nonjudgmental approach with

skillful listening and open-ended questions, can enable the client to articulate,

make conscious and then reflect upon his/her ways of viewing the world

and value systems using photographs as both a channel and a catalyst for

communication.

Found images

Found images can be a useful resource to introduce the use of photographs in

therapy. They have the advantage of being anonymous and decontextualised.

This allows for a much freer reading, since there are then no potential conflicts

regarding personal loyalties, nor self silencing evoked. In my workshops,

165 I use a selection of found old family album photographs, alongside some

documentary images, which share the anecdotal captured moment aesthetic

of domestic photography. I lay these out, and invite the client to choose one

that they are drawn to, quickly, without intellectualising their choice. Clients

are invited to tell a story using their chosen photograph as a starting point,

170 by entering the space of the image, identifying with one of the individuals in the photograph, speaking from the first person, thereby inhabiting the imaginary space offered up.

Participants draw unconsciously upon their own histories in this story

telling. Often this exercise acts as an opening up to key themes, which then

175 reoccur. For example, on the first day of a four day workshop in Swansea one

participant (C) chose a black and white studio photograph, taken about 1910,

of a small boy, probably about three years old, wearing a tunic and shorts,

white tights and buckled black shoes with hair in luxuriant curls. He stands

on a grand staircase, with high baroque decoration, but it is only a segment of

180 a staircase, it’s a studio prop, as the framing makes clear, an incongruous scrap

of carpet and a visible skirting board belie the fantasy. Behind the fourth stair

a painted backdrop shows pillars and an indistinct rural landscape, referencing

the eighteenth century portraiture of artists such as Gainsborough. This was

a photographic studio that sold pretensions of grandeur. He looks dwarfed

185 by his surroundings. What C saw in the image was the isolation of the child,

his vulnerability and how he seemed overwhelmed and abandoned in that huge

alien visual space. She named him ‘Albert’. As the workshop unfolded, her

focus became her distress at having been given up for adoption as a tiny baby.

On the last day, she incorporated this found image within her story, which she

190 had made visible through her re-enactment work. She told the group that her

birth mother had given her the name Victoria. She had never used this name;

her adoptive mother had chosen another. She said she had not intended to do

this deep work, but ‘Albert’ had opened up the door to exploring the pain

of Victoria’s abandonment.

195 Found images can be used to demonstrate the narrative potential of

photographs, and how all photographs are fictions. As chosen moments, edited

out from the continuum of everyday life, or highly constructed presentations

to the camera, framed extracts from the visual field, all photographs are

constructions.

200 Alternative visual diaries

Photographs taken by the client may offer insights into thoughts and feelings

that are of deep personal concern. The practice of loaning out cameras with the

brief to participants to document their ordinary everyday lives has been used

by community photographers for many years (Dewdney & Lister, 1988). This

205 is particularly beneficial in work with young people on their sense of identities

and community2 and in working with marginalised groups3. Digital cameras

have made this easier, and by using image manipulation software, (e.g.

Photoshop) it is possible to combine creating an alternative visual diary to

explore aspects of the self with family album images, self-directed portraits

210 and found images4. In the making, choice and layering of these images

a complex interwoven ‘digital identity’ can be created. This then can be a focus

for therapeutic processing, as one might use images produced in traditional

art therapy.

Family albums

215 Family albums provide a rich resource for autobiographical storytelling and

an exploration of family systems: how it was to be part of this family and how

these early experiences continue to affect the individual.

A family album contains a mini-history of photography as a medium and

a variety of genres, as interpreted by a succession of photographers both

220 amateur and professional (Spence, 1986). Each of us only has the images we

inherited; precious, since they offer each of us images of the self, as we grew up,

and a fragile framework for memories. Precious too, once family members have

died, and their photographic image becomes a means of recall. But the

traditional family album is an ideological construct (Spence & Holland, 1991).

225 Editorial control is held by the archivist, usually the mother, whose preferences

are shaped by an unconscious desire to provide evidence of her own good

mothering. The conflicts and power struggles inherent within family life are

repressed. Like a public relations document, the family album mediates

between the members of the family, providing a united front to the world, in an

230 affirmation of successes, celebrations, high days and holidays, domestic

harmony and togetherness. It is bound within established codes of

commemorative convention, so ubiquitous that they are taken for granted,

even minutely reconstructed and sold back to us in advertising campaigns.

Imaging companies using digital manipulation now promise to ‘enhance’ the

235 family album mythology by offering ‘seamless, permanent, and reassuring

solutions to torn and separated memories,’ ‘Your whole family together at

last,’ ‘cosmetic perfection,’ and even the opportunity to ‘remove any trace of

your ex-husband, ex-wife or ex-lover. An excellent idea’ (Fleet Imaging, 1996).

Although now people are using digital cameras to document a wider range

240 of activities and take many more photographs, the delete button provides

instant editing which facilitates an even more persuasive pursuit of the ‘ideal’.

One of my concerns is that this editing, followed by tidying up using image

manipulation will erase some of the mistakes, aberrations and quirkiness, as if

repressing the unconscious of the photograph, that can be found in old albums.

245 Re-enactment phototherapy

Re-enactment phototherapy is a methodology that I have been evolving since

1983, in collaboration with the late Jo Spence (1985), and continue to develop.

Our innovation was the creation of new photographic representations through

performative re-enactments, within the therapeutic relationship.

250 Jo Spence and I met when we were attending a series of co-counselling

training courses. During an exchange counselling session on the third course,we came up with the idea of dressing up and playing with aspects of our

identities that had been either hidden or denied, and photographing the results.

Within the safety and trust of the therapeutic relationship that we had built

255 during the previous year, we photographed one another, as we inhabited these

roles. In some of our earliest work we used an old family album image as

a starting point. However, this was not simply an act of replication. Crucially,

we used what had been unearthed in the counselling beforehand to structure

a session and explore a range of feelings in the process. We worked together

260 in an experimental and creative way and maintained the therapeutic framework

to work through the emotions that making and viewing these images released.

We soon realised that we had discovered a very powerful technique.

Initially the work was prompted by a lack. In our family albums, either

no images existed, (film was unobtainable in World War Two) or the few that

265 survived only showed the child posed for the parent. The work grew from an

autobiographical engagement with the complexity of the multifaceted aspects

of an individual’s identity. We had started by deconstructing the existing visual

representations of our lives and became acutely aware of the structured

absences, and the paucity of representations within the dominant media that

270 were available to us as middle-aged, working class women.

You are the only one who can never see yourself except as an image . . . even and

especially for your own body, you are condemned to the repertoire of its images

(Barthes, 1977, p. 36).

We used therapeutic techniques to look behind the ‘screen memories,’ the

275 simplifications and myths of others, too long accepted as our histories, as a way

of extending this repertoire, by exploring the self as fictions. We began to tell

and explore ways of making visible the complexity and contradictions of our

own stories, from our points of view, by re-enacting memories and imagining

possible futures. We worked collaboratively, alternating the roles of photo-

280 grapher/therapist and protagonist/client. We were always committed to

examine the personal as political within the practice. We aimed to uncover

the elisions that had silenced or marginalised our experiences, for example

as working class women and in Jo’s case, as someone living with cancer.

We showed the effects of institutional gazes and attitudes upon the individual,

285 rather than seeing these as privatised distress. We highlighted the psychological

and social construction of identities within the drama of the everyday.

Then, after Jo’s death, I went on to develop this modality further. I no

longer worked in the exchange of roles, co-counselling model, but, having

trained as a therapist, concentrated on the therapist role. I formalised the

290 methodology, by carefully analysing the process of my work with clients,

as well as drawing upon my knowledge of what it feels like to occupy both

the positions of therapist and client. I use formal contracts and clear

boundaries so that the client feels adequately held and contained. I have

regular therapeutic supervision and I am much more aware of how I work with

295 the transference and counter-transference that is always present and often

actively played out in the photography session. I developed and ran a range

of experiential workshops to share and teach these methods5.


Re-enactment phototherapy is about making visible process, change and

transformation, by going to the source of an issue or an old trauma, re-enacting

300 it and making a new ending; a new possibility; a new way of being, visible.

This very powerful intensity, which touches deep, dark and difficult material,

is held and contained by counselling at both the beginning and end.

Identity formation and the gaze

As discussed in Martin (1997), the notion of the gaze has been discussed

305 by such differing theoreticians as Winnicott, Lacan and Foucault, in their

explorations of how identities are formed through mirroring. Sometimes

these gazes are loving or benevolent, but often they are more intrusive

and surveillant. Out of the myriad fragments thus mirrored to us, first

unconsciously as babies, then as we grow into language and culture and are

310 subject to the various discourses of society, aspects of our identities are

constructed.

The ‘good enough mother’ offers her face to the baby’s gaze, and mirrors

back the baby’s reflection. ‘When I look I am seen, so I exist. I can now afford

to look and see. I now look creatively and what I apperceive I also perceive’

315 (Winnicott, 1971, p. 134).

But if the mother is caught up in her own projective identification, reflecting

back her own feelings of despair, hopelessness and rage about the inadequate

mothering which she herself had received, the baby finds not itself, but the

mother reflected back. Perhaps then the baby then has to learn to predict and

320 respond to the mother’s moods and feelings, instead of focusing on his/her own (Winnicott, 1971; Ernst, 1987).

Lacan (1977) theorised the ‘mirror phase’, which begins a process in which

the child will acquire a gendered subjectivity and a place in the symbolic order.

The child gazing into a mirror misrecognises itself as the ‘gestalt’, the totalised,

325 complete external image of the subject. The discordance of the visual gestalt

with the subject’s perceived reality means that the image remains both a literal

image of itself and an idealised representation, since it prefigures a unity and

mastery that the child still lacks. The mirror stage initiates the child into

identification with and dependence on representations for its own form

(Martin, 1997).


The therapeutic gaze

Unlike the traditional power relationship in portrait photography, the

photographer/therapist’s gaze does not attempt to control, nor objectify the

other. The client, as sitter/director, determines how s/he wants to be

335 represented. It is the photographer/therapist’s task to enable this to happen.

For clients whose experience of being photographed in the past has felt

invasive, or even abusive, it is particularly important to create a different

quality of experience. For these clients, I have spent a whole photo-session

working on beginning to feel at ease being in front of the camera and

articulating what kind of image they want. Within the photo-session, the client

is offered a therapeutic gaze, which is akin to that of the ‘good enough mother’,

mirroring back the reflection of what is there to be seen to the client. This gaze

is offered within a context of safety, trust and acceptance. The therapist acts

as witness, advocate and nurturer. There is also a sense of encouragement and

345 permission giving, if the client starts to become self-censoring. This then

provides a containing environment, within which clients can explore the full

range of their emotions.

This work was developed before the advent of digital photography. I still

choose to work within the limitations of the analogue i.e. the deferral. The

350 trust, even surrender that asking the other to make images of you, required on

behalf of the client is important. Frequently checking back and reviewing

during the process, as one now can with a digital camera, interrupts the flow,

the happening in the moment.


Performativity

355 Since photographs are mimetic, finding the right clothes and props is an

important part of the process for the client, and will itself evoke feelings.

Setting the staging of the session, in the contained space delineated by the

background paper, creates the physical environment in which the action

happens. There are clear links to psychodrama. But it is a dyadic relationship,

360 not a group activity, and all the focus is on the client. In the photo session the

client ‘acts into’ role, whilst the therapist enables this to flow by taking

the other role in a dynamic relationship. The details of this role, and the

appropriate things to say to enable the client to get more closely in touch with

their feelings, are learnt within the preceding counselling sessions. The client

365 moves between role-playing different power positions within the dynamic,

for example parent/child, teacher/student, powerless/powerful. The therapist

may take the other role, to enable the client to get more closely in touch with

their feelings where appropriate. This may include enacting for example

a surveillant parental gaze, or a judgmental institutional gaze, and

370 photographing from that position. This role-playing dynamic, in which roles

are enacted and shifted is contained by the security and challenge offered by the

therapeutic gaze.


Re-enactment phototherapy makes visible the performative body. The

photography sessions are not about ‘capturing’ the image, they are about

375 seeking to make it happen, to ‘take place.’ It is about a staging of the selves

and knowingly using visual languages, referring to and challenging other

pre-existing visual representations. Thus it makes visible the constructions of

identities rather than revealing any ‘essential’ identity.

Embodiment and transformation

380 This is a very physical way of working, in which the body expresses the

emotions. The chosen role is entered into and the scenario is re-played in the

here and now. The body speaks its knowledge through gesture and movement

as the emotional stories unfold. Its eloquence is recorded. Clients embody the

issues and personal narratives they wish to work on. By re-experiencing a range

385 of frozen and previously repressed emotions in the here and now, and moving

from there into a transformation there is a shift and a cathartic release.

The transformative aspect is needed to create images of the potential

for change, for example finding an inner nurturing part of the self to challenge

a punishing super ego. This is crucial to the process, not merely to represent old

390 pains, which could re-enforce distress, but rather to offer a possibility for

another way of being.


Play

The photo session could be described as a sophisticated and contained

form of adult play. It is neither inner psychic reality, nor the external world,

395 but a kind of interim, experimental, spontaneous, creative space that is held

by the therapist. There are clear parallels to the ways in which children use

fantasy play to re-enact troubling scenarios or to try out roles, gathering

dressing up clothes and a variety of objects as props to give form to their

desires and fears.


400 Playing implies trust, and belongs to the potential space between [what was

at first] baby and mother figure . . . Play is essentially satisfying, even when it

leads to a high degree of anxiety . . . and is inherently exciting and precarious

. . . [because of] the interplay between that which is subjective and that

which is objectively perceived . . . In playing the child, or adult, is free to be

405 creative . . . and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.

(Winnicott, 1971, pp. 60–61, 63)


Case history as example – work with S

This is an edited extract from my case notes, which were made immediately

after each session. Exploring current issues, within the counselling relationship,

410 about authority and the misuse of power by his line-manager at work led S

back to a vivid childhood memory. A sadistic teacher, who used his sarcastic

tongue as a lash, his rod to beat, to embed his authority in the minds and

bodies of his charges, and of himself as a young pupil, held in detention,

terrified, vulnerable, as he failed again and again to recite ‘The Daffodils’

415 (the poem ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, ’ by William Wordsworth). S said,

‘He stole my love of English literature.’ When S came to a session with the

book of poems, I thought – yes we have the scenario. We then worked on how

he wanted to make it visible. S suggested that he needed to take up the role

of the teacher, which was great, since I knew that was what would make

420 the session come alive, but it is much better if the idea comes from the client.

S said, ‘the daffodils are the symbol of my spirit. I never used to like them,

I bought some for the first time last week’. He learnt the poem for the

phototherapy session, and brought boxes of daffodils and child-like clothes,

and so took the responsibility of providing what he needed for the work.

425 I provided a tailors dummy and an academic gown, to represent the teacher.

He changed into the schoolboy outfit, scrunched up his tie, ruffled his

hair, put on the glasses. He had begun the process of becoming the role.

During the re-enactment, I took many photographs as it happened: nothing

was posed.

430 He sits, head down, then rises and begins his hesitant recitation. As he

falters, I take Mr. H’s role and taunt him, with the words S had told me

in sessions when describing his abuse. He retreats to his chair, defeated, then

tries again, falters again. I continue the barrage, he is clearly distressed.

Then spontaneously, S puts down the book, puts on the academic gown

435 and picks up the stick. In role, as Mr. H he is very abusive ‘stupid boy, fat,

lazy boy’. I then play the schoolboy role, a faltering ‘yes sir’. Spontaneously,

he puts the gown back on the dummy, and returns to the schoolboy role.

He grabs a bunch of daffodils, recites the poem with an angry passion,

confronts Mr. H and beats him with the daffodils ‘I am not stupid, I am not

440 lazy, I am not fat’. He is powerful and formidable as the retaliating schoolboy.

He then takes handfuls of daffodils, sits on the floor and recites again,

with sadness, tears, he removes his glasses, then with such joy and release,

embracing the daffodils, and at the last line throws the daffodils up, letting

them fall with glee. His joy is visible on his face, in his body, relaxed and

445 at ease. I ask him to do it, again and again, this throwing of the daffodils.

I want the image that will encompass the feeling that is in the room, I want the

balance to all the pent-up rage against the abuse S received from Mr. H. He lies

down, and I cover him in daffodils, he takes the book of poems on his chest,

and recites again, playfully, joyously and covers himself more with the flowers.

450 When equilibrium has returned, he sits up, and slowly we rebundle the

flowers that have survived. ‘Marvellously resilient flowers, they bend with

the wind’ S says. This is a gentle task, and slowly he de-roles. He changes back

to his business suit.

We viewed the photos, in the next session. He re-visited the emotions within

455 the session: interestingly, he had forgotten that he had cried.

He was struck by one of the Mr. H images. ‘That’s me. I am arrogant.

I know that I am superior, I am very articulate and I use that and my

intelligence, I put people down’. ‘Sarcastic?’ ‘Very. I am told that I do not

suffer fools gladly – which means I am intolerant’. He speaks slowly and

460 in a considered manner, I ask him ‘what’s the thought?’ ‘I am cruel, verbally’.

I pick up the image that he has identified, and pull it to the front; I hold it as

he describes himself. I aim to be very there for S, as he slowly acknowledges

this part of himself. I am aware this is hard to do.

I take one of the joy images, a playful child, and put it beside Mr. H ‘What

465 does he say to him?’ ‘Control yourself’.

I am more struck by the sad image, I get that and put it beside. ‘I am aware

that he (Mr. H) is very sad. Is that what he cloaks?’ ‘And angry too’. ‘Which

one?’ He chooses the one expressing tense anger.

‘So, the arrogant side cloaks your anger and sadness?’ ‘Oh yes. He is

470 in control. I have to be in control. He covers up my anger and my sadness.

When I am angry or sad, I am vulnerable’. ‘So, you use him? Tell me about

your anger’. . .

So the session continued, as did the therapeutic relationship. There was

so much to work on. As S said ‘the camera makes me look at parts of me I have

475 suppressed for most of my life. I have begun the journey’.

All the clients I have worked with use symbolic and metaphorical thinking

and are interested in working with images. This is a particularly useful method

for those who over intellectualise their psychic distress, since it offers the

potential for a connection with the unconscious. This modality would not

480 be appropriate for any client whose current grasp on reality was small, or who

were lacking any solid sense of identity. The danger is the risk of stirring up

too much material from the unconscious when the personality is incapable

of integrating it.


Why and how the photographs produced in re-enactment phototherapy

485 are useful in the therapeutic relationship

A productive paradox is created between the projected reality and notions

of evidence invested in the photograph, even its very physical existence and the

acts of choice and framing required to make it. So it may be seen either as

reflecting, or constructing a reality. The objectifying eye of the camera, offers

490 a blank screen and the necessary distance to see from a different point of view.

The sheer quantity of photographs offer the client a sense of having been

really fully seen. The photographs produced provide the possibility of an

unfiltered connection with the unconscious, since what takes place within the

photo session is rooted in unconscious processes, the session itself grows out of

495 the therapeutic relationship, flowing in the here and now. The photographs

provide a mapping of the session, and the possibility to reconstruct and recall

it. This is useful since aspects of what happened within the session can so easily

slip back into the unconscious and be repressed again.

A dialogue between individual photographs, which represent different parts

500 of the self, or significant others, can be facilitated by the therapist as an

externalised gestalt. The photographs produced can be re-ordered at will,

giving the possibility of telling many new stories, thereby suggesting new

versions of old realities.

Taking up the role of significant others within the client’s life, especially

505 that of parental figures, can be very personally challenging. Introjections may

be faced up to; projections and projective identifications are suddenly seen for

what they are, in a flash of recognition. The split of disowned parts of the self

may be acknowledged as such and accepted back within the self.

Maintaining life-long patterns of shame, secrecy and denial is contested by

510 these photographs which mirror back and give form, size, weight and colour to

psychic pain and to its history, its source. Out there and made visible, these

aspects can be worked with and reflected upon within the counselling

relationship. The photographs may then be seen as transitional objects

between inner and outer reality. The therapist bears witness to these previously

515 hidden aspects of the selves. By offering a non-judgemental positive regard, and

challenging fixity, the therapist enables the client to work towards integration

of all these parts.

As Assagioli (1975) has said of psychosynthesis, symbols are seen

as ‘accumulators’, in the electrical sense, as containers and preservers of

520 a dynamic psychological charge. This ‘charge’ can be transformed by the use

of the symbol, channelled by it, or integrated by it. The use of symbolic

re-presentations are especially powerful for connecting with and transforming

unconscious belief systems.

Looking at the range of photographs produced and witnessing the

525 mutability of the images enables the client to see how identity is fragmented

across many ‘truths’. This understanding frees up the client from the search

for the ‘ideal’ self and allows acceptance of the self as process and becoming.


‘Getting changed’

More recently, I have incorporated digital video in my practice. I made a series

530 of photographs and videos, as sitter/director in collaboration with Kay

Goodridge. This was an elegy and conclusion to the work I had made

chronicling my parent’s house: ‘Too close to home?’ and ‘The sitting room’

(Martin, 2006). ‘Getting changed’6 is a video piece which arose out of the

process of mourning, hypercathecting and separating from the ‘lost object’,

535 my dead mother. I did the work in her house, surrounded by her things,

before having to dispose of them. I used re-enactment techniques in a series of

acts of forgiveness and acknowledgment of who she had been as imagined

through what I knew about her and my memories, viewed from a gentler

perspective, inflected with loss. I slowly and carefully ‘change’ out of my role,

540 into hers, by dressing in her clothes, and making my hair, and make-up look

like hers. But it is much more than an act of dressing up. Within the process,

a shift happens as the confining corset, the fragile stockings and her elegant

tailored suit, (which was made for her by my father) contain, constrain and

embrace me.

It culminates in the smile in the mirror, as I transform my hair into her

styling, first of recognition, proud in the beautiful suit, looking good, a little

of the narcissist in her . . . then a more tender gaze, a sadder look, encompassing

me looking at her, her looking at me, me longing for her, or me reaching for my

capacity to mother myself?

Since I had been my mother’s carer through her multi-infarct dementia

years, this work was an important part of my process of reparation, and

introjection of the ‘good’ mother.


Confidentiality

All the work is confidential. Because photographs are mimetic, this is of

especial importance. When I run workshops or teach, I always set the limit

that the work produced cannot be shown beyond the group itself.

Process to product

The therapeutic process needs to have been finished before any work based on

it can be shared or put on display; otherwise the protagonist would be placed in

too vulnerable a position and it could be potentially exploitative.


Phototherapy

work always needs to be based on trust. The photographs are only shown with

the expressed permission of the sitter/director, in practice it is nearly always at

their instigation.7 Consequently almost all of the photographs remain private.

Jo Spence and I chose to exhibit some key images from our practice, in an

art context, (Martin & Spence, 1987) because we wanted to share these ideas.

To make this transition, a distancing, an intellectual and objective examination

is required to ensure the work has the power to communicate. The chosen

images speak to the social and cultural formations of subjectivities and can

activate a personal or collective memory for the spectator.


Conclusion

Re-enactment phototherapy offers a methodology that can make visible and

open up aspects of the self to scrutiny. It uses the languages of the body;

gesture, facial expression and movement, in an embodied eloquence, which is

photographically recorded. It can embrace aspects of play and humour, even

575 joy. The images produced become material for articulation and integration

within the therapeutic relationship. There is a profound connection to the

unconscious enabled through the photographic and therapeutic exchange,

and therefore it needs to be used carefully and responsibly. It is a very powerful

modality.

580 Notes

1. Notably David Krauss, Judy Weiser and Joel Walker.

2. PhotoVoice. Retrieved October 20, 2008, from http://www.photovoice.org/html/

projects/photovoiceprojects/

3. Mandel, G., & Lemus, A.B. (2008). I pray. But not for myself: Historias positivos.

585 Retrieved October 19, 2008, from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/gallery/2008/

aug/04/mexico.aids?picture1/433620992

4. I developed a digital identities course in an artist’s residency at a girl’s secondary

school in Batley for Photo98. See Shepherd, J. (1998). Controlling images for

a change. in the picture, summer.

590 5. http://www.rosymartin.info/

6. Shown in ‘Beware, personal!’

7. Beware, personal! Ko® ysiratagalleria at Turku Arts Academy, June 2008. Eravaara,

T. (2008). Art-photography-therapy. Turku, Finland: Photographic Centre Peri

Publications. pp. 11–25. Retrieved October 20, 2008, from http://perienglish.vii-

595 dakkorumpu.fi/?page1/417&id1/4160


This essay draws upon and develops arguments addressed in:

Martin, R. (1996). You (never) can tell: Phototherapy, memory and subjectivity.

Blackflash, 14.3/Fall, 4–8.

Martin, R. (1997). Looking and reflecting: Returning the gaze, re-enacting memories

600 and imagining the future through phototherapy. In S. Hogan (Ed.), Feminist

approaches to art therapy (pp. 150–176). London & New York: Routledge.

Martin, R. (2001). The performative body: Phototherapy and re-enactment. Afterimage 29(3), 17–20.


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