The performative body: phototherapy and re-enactment

Rosy Martin - Afterimage 2001 nov-dec

Note - this is copyright material - all quotations must be correctly cited.

‘Outrageous agers’ by Rosy Martin and Kay Goodridge


'The vagina begins to shrivel .....’David Reuben, 'Everything you always wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask', McKay New York, 1969


'After women have lost their genital function .....’Sigmund Freud, 'The Disposition to Obsessional Neurosis', 1913

In the everyday world most people deal with the parts of themselves that they cannot face by psychically splitting these off and projecting them out onto others. We are all exposed to an endless stream of images in the media, chosen to confront or seduce our gaze, to elicit feelings of horror, fear, grief, loss, desire, pleasure, envy, inadequacy, joy and catharsis. Turn on the television for the news: another disaster, another starving child, followed by the adverts peopled by beautiful women, handsome men, happy families all orchestrated around desirable objects, then the soap opera, the police drama, the sit-com, the horror movie; we are offered an endless flow of visual stories in which archetypes and stereotypes play out our unconscious dramas. But within this hegemony only the dominant cultural stories are regularly told--so much remains unsaid, and unseen.

So what would it be like to be the protagonist within a series of filmic stills that symbolically represent aspects of your own story, by consciously replacing yourself within the roles that you have played and the roles played by significant others in your life--to make visible and face up to the drama of the everyday, and transform your inner psychic realities in a dress rehearsal of new possibilities?

"Phototherapy" (1) refers broadly to the use of photographic representations within a context in which the intention is therapeutic: to promote self-awareness and healing. Starting in 1983, together with the late Jo Spence, I developed a new photographic practice called re-enactment phototherapy. (2) Having deconstructed the existing visual representations of our lives in great detail and having thus become acutely aware of the structured absences and the paucity of representations that were available to us, as middle-aged, working-class women, Jo and I began the task of reconstruction by creating images that explored the multiplicity of our identities. Our work was grounded in our analyses of photographic discourses, our extensive reading in the fields of cultural studies and visual culture, our experience as practitioners and critics of the links between images and image-making, and notions of conscious and unconscious identities, to which we added therapeutic skills. Exploring the self as a series of fiction, as a web of inter-related stories told to us and about us, we used therapeutic techniques to look behind the "screen memories," the simplifications and myths of others, too long accepted as our own histories. We began to tell our stories through our therapeutic relationship and together we explored ways of making visible the complexity and contradictions of our own stories from our points of view. (3) We were always concerned to place the individual's issues within a societal frame, to address the politics of specific identity formations and the personal as political. We aimed to uncover the elisions that had silenced our experiences, for example, as working class women, and in Jo's case, as someone living with cancer. Rather than viewing these issues as privatized experiences of distress, we aimed to make visible the effects of institutional gazes and societal frames through their impact upon the individual.

This work brings together photography and therapy, using the knowledge bases and techniques of both disciplines in radical new ways. It is intentionally a practice that uses cross-disciplinary approaches. It also bridges the theory-practice divide and the separation between private and public discourses. It involves the creation of new photographic images within the therapeutic relationship. "Re-enactment" is used to make the link with psychodrama and is not here intended to speak only of the past; it is possible to enact a projection toward the future, or a different outcome from that remembered. It is not repetition, rather, it has close links to notions of the performative body, as subsequently theorized by Judith Butler (4) and Peggy Phelan. (5)


Re-enactment phototherapy moves far beyond the always already impossible notion of finding any "ideal," "real;' or "positive" image, an idea that ignores how meanings are constructed or subjectivities are produced. Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialist past, identities are subject to the continuous interactions of history, culture and power. The subject as the site of the articulation of representations, inscriptions and meanings can be explored in the freedom of the potential offered by re-enacting, playing with and subverting identities, rather than seemingly being fixed, defined and contained by them.

Phototherapy enables clients themselves to make visible what it is to be subjected to and subject of the discourses within society. Through re-enacting and mapping out being the object of various familial and institutional gazes, including the discourses of education, medicine, law and the media, a complex network of fragmented selves, constructed out of the needs, views, projections and attributions of others, can be made visible. The anger and grief at the overwhelming impossibility of meeting the madding crowd of external, contradictory demands is validated. From recognition, it is possible to move to mourning the losses that have been experienced and reach compassion. (6)


Embodiment and ownership are fundamental to re-enactment phototherapy. The aim is for clients to eventually own their own histories, their pains, distresses and traumas, previously denied and disavowed. The work arises out of and is grounded in counseling. The containment and sense of being heard that is offered by the therapeutic relationship creates a feeling of safety and trust for the client, within which it is then possible to unpick, challenge and reframe. It is through the counseling process that the issues and patterns surface, are articulated and are traced stage by stage back through the client's life and then potential transformative goals are imagined.

Clients embody the issues and personal stories they wish to work on by re-enacting them in front of the camera. By putting themselves in the place of re-experiencing a range of frozen and previously repressed emotions in the here and now, and moving into a transformative goal, clients experience a cathartic release. The transformative aspect is needed to offer the ability to create images of the potential for change--finding, for example, an inner nurturing part of the self to challenge a punishing super ego.

The photographs produced are then worked with in counseling sessions. The images act as both a mapping of the session itself, and as transitional objects that lie between inner and outer reality. (7) Through the therapeutic exchange, clients slowly begin to see, recognize and tolerate themselves, ultimately moving toward the possibility of accepting themselves and re-integrating the denied, disavowed parts of themselves, thereby acknowledging the depth and range of who they are. It is an act of disclosure, within the therapeutic relationship, of not only telling the "secrets" believed too shameful to tell, or so repressed that they are "secret" even to the client, but also making them visible, seeing them, facing up to them, and thereby defusing their power to restrict or define the future. Out there, on pieces of paper, these images offer an opportunity for an objective view. It is about saying the unsayable, seeing the unseeable, facing the unfaceable, confronting shame and by so doing releasing and letting go of the power those "secrets" held. By taking the risk to explore the dynamics of power and powerlessness, for example, taking up both of the opposing positions within the polarity, instead of identifying with only one aspect, most often that of the victim position, the client becomes aware of a greater range of "selves." The "shadow-side" becomes visible. No longer is the "other" the object of projections, the depository of all that is split off and disavowed; instead, aspects of the "other" are recognized as being within. The aim is that the client will begin to recover a sense of agency without simply repeating the past but also without denying its hold over the present.

Photography and fictions

Jo and I characterized our practice as an extension of domestic photography. Most of us have a collection of old photographs that constitutes the "family album." (8) Like a public relations document, the family album mediates between the members of the family, providing a united front to the world, in an affirmation of successes, celebrations, high days and holidays, domestic harmony and togetherness. The conflicts and power struggles inherent within family life are repressed. In viewing the family albums of a range of different people, one notices repetitions of subject matter, and that it may be analyzed as a social document of changing times and expectations, of racial and class constructions and interdependencies. The family album may also be seen as a mini-history of photography itself; the genres through which it has been interpreted by both amateur and professional photographers are typically prescribed very limiting notions of what constitutes a "good" photograph. (9)

The family album performs its memorial function internationally, as I write (September 14, 2001). The news is filled with individuals searching for their loved ones, clasping photographs taken from other times: wedding photos, graduation photos, celebration photos. These images smile back, this re-presented joy seems out of kilter now. Yet, as in Roland Barthes's eloquent search for his mother through his family album, (10) culminating in her image as a child in the Winter Garden, we all seek some connectivity through these worn surfaces, these precious memento--now memento mori. (11) I am struck, again, by how photography and memory relate in a poignant and perverse way, through a sense of loss, predicated upon the unconscious wish to somehow arrest the passage of time by capturing, holding, stopping it in fragments of a second. Another scenario from this week: a hospital ward where my frail 91-year-old mother lies within her own terror, confused, awaiting an operation. Severed from the familiar background of the house in which she has lived for 70 years, she hallucinates her fears. Can I help her to return to herself? Do I now hold the key to unlock and reflect back her memories, through my ability to recall the stories she has told me as we shared the viewing of the family album? However imperfect, constructed, conventional, commemorative and partial this document may be, it is also useful in memory work and rehabilitation. However much I may question those stories for myself, they have another validity for her, that I must respect and help her to re-connect with.

Looking at a family album often prompts nostalgia, a dream of a return "home" to an idealized golden past, where the sun shone and everyone smiled. In forgetting the directorial role of the photographer and the technical limitations of cameras and film in the past (for example, since bright light was needed to insure the success of photographs taken with cheap cameras and slow film, only sunny days were recorded) we are often inclined to give these fading fragments the status of evidence. And yet, photographs offer up a slippery surface of meanings to reflect and project upon; they contain a myriad of latent narratives. One of the initial aims of Jo and myself was to intervene within this close circuit of nostalgia and to find ways of representing the power dynamics, conflicts, omissions, traumas and pains that lie masked within.


I have been developing re-enactment phototherapy since I started working with Join 1983. Although I already knew of Jo--her influential photographic work with the Hackney Flashers (12) and her exhibition "Beyond the Family Album" (13)--it was not until we were both attending a co-counseling training course that we got to know one another well. It was during the third course, when we were co-counseling together, that we had an idea that was to change our lives. Jo was working on how she was perceived by others, within the complexities of her own life: as a student, as a middle-aged woman, as someone with cancer and as a photographer. I was working on how, as a lesbian, I felt I was constrained to wear a uniform, which was something I had resisted all my life. For me, clothes were fun; I saw them as part of my self-expression. I designed and made most of my clothes, or collected them for the pleasures of dressing-up. My relationship with clothes was prompted by being a tailor's daughter, and my father's words, "If you look right you can go anywhere," echoed for me as a promise of possibilities. We asked ourselves, "what would it be like to be who we want to be for ourselves, instead of pleasing these endlessly conflicting audiences?"; "What do these different roles that we play in life look like?"; "How are we mirrored back by others?"; "I've got cupboards full of dressing-up clothes that I never wear anymore, and I love to play," I said. "I've got a camera, we could use it," said Jo. So, the next time we met, we tried on a variety of roles, through dressing up, within the safety and trust of the co-counseling relationship we had already built during the preceding year. We photographed one another as we experimented with inhabiting these roles. Conflicting emotions were brought up in the process, and we used our counseling skills to work through these and find ways to transform them, both visually and psychically. Deep emotions surfaced, both in the photographic sessions and when viewing the photographs we had produced, and we worked through these, using our therapeutic relationship as the containing frame. Quickly, very quickly, we realized that we had discovered a very powerful way of working. Through experimentation and risk-taking, facilitated by the permission we gave one another as co-counselors, and the containment and safety already established in our therapeutic exchange, "re-enactment phototherapy" evolved.

Phototherapy: The evolution of the practice

Jo and I worked collaboratively, alternating between the roles of phototherapist and client, within a relationship based upon the safety and trust we had developed. Our working methods drew from our experiences of co-counseling. Our approach in developing the practice was experimental and integrative. We drew upon a range of techniques that we had learned from attending courses including co-counseling, gestalt, visualization, psychosynthesis and psychodrama. Working with Jo was an intensely creative period in my life--an unleashing of new possibilities, innovation and experimentation. Over the years my practice has matured and changed. Jo and I exchanged phototherapy sessions, in a co-counseling style, alternating between the roles of sitter/director/client and photographer/therapist. I have, thereby, experienced what it is like to participate in both roles. This was crucial to the development of the practice, since we each knew what it was like to be in front of the camera, subject to and of the gaze. There is both joy and fear in being thus seen: the pleasure in being the focus, the center of attention, the fear of being exposed.

For many people I work with, being photographed itself is a problematic issue that needs to be worked on before any re-enactment phototherapy may start. Since I have been in the client role I am well aware of the intensity and power of this way of working and so I am prepared for the possibility of very deep personal revelations occurring within a session. I have also learned by reflecting on mistakes. For example, I remember a time we had to end a session abruptly and I did not consequently have the time to de-role. I went home, on the bus, still dressed as my father. This was strange and potentially emotionally unsettling. I always now ensure that my clients have de-roled completely before they leave the therapeutic space.

Developing and extending the practice

I have continued to develop this modality by becoming a qualified therapist. In my work as a phototherapist now I am much more formal about contracts and 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 the transference and counter-transference that is always present and most often actively played out in the photography session. I work one-to-one with individual clients and also run workshops with groups. In developing the workshops, I had to take a step back from the work itself and analyze the methodology in precise detail in order to facilitate the participants as they progress through the whole process. This is particularly true in the five-day intensive reenactment phototherapy workshops I facilitate

I have extended my own uses of photography to include self-portraiture, contemplative diaries and close-up explorations of my childhood home, my body and the inner city where I live as a means of working through my psychic histories and my responses to bereavement and aging. (14) In the last six years I have added digital imaging and video to my image-making repertoire. My current work, begun in 1998, a collaborative project with Kay Goodridge called "Outrageous Agers," deals with the issue of aging for (middle-aged) women. (15) It developed as a process-based art project, using photography, video and phototherapeutic methods, resulting in a body of work that seeks to challenge and subvert simplistic and stereotypical representations of the aging woman. This work has been extended by developing workshops in which groups of older women share their experiences and discover ways of articulating their stories, using photography/phototherapy, video, performance/dramatherapy and digital camera/darkroom. In this app roach, I have started from a personal issue, explored it as a route to creating artwork collaboratively with Kay, and then used these experiences as a basis for developing therapeutic workshops that mirror the experience of creativity and the exploration of complex issues for the participants. For me it is important to explore new ideas and ways of working firstly within my own art photography practice and then drawing from this experience to develop ways in which these methods and ideas may become the basis for phototherapeutic workshops and individual work with clients. This is a way to keep my practice, both as an artist and as a therapist, fresh, alive and constantly evolving.

The therapeutic gaze

I have written at length about the step-by-step process of re-enactment phototherapy in previous articles. (16) In terms of photography, it is both the gaze itself and the intention of the gaze that become instrumental, as "the gaze I encounter ... is not a seen gaze, but a gaze imagined by me in the field of the Other." (17) In the process of taking the photographs in a re-enactment phototherapy session the relationship between the sitter/director/client and the photographer/ therapist is one of collaboration in making the images, rather than the voyeuristic gaze of control and desire of the photographer upon the model that usually structures the photographic exchange.

This collaborative gaze challenges notions of authorship itself: is the work that of the sitter/client, whose story and issues are being told, or that of the photographer/therapist whose gaze enables the process to unfold and who takes the photographs? Clearly both parties create authorship, and to make this clear I have always used joint accreditations.

This model of the therapeutic gaze is closest to that described by D. W. Winnicott who states, "psychotherapy is not making clever and apt interpretations; by and large it is a long-term giving the patient back what the patient brings. It is a complex derivative of the face [of the 'good enough mother'] that reflects what is there to be seen." (18) In the mirroring of the "good enough mother," there is reflection without projection or judgement, and the recipient has a sense of being seen. The photographer/therapist creates an atmosphere of encouragement, nurturance and permission-giving, in which clients are offered the possibility of directing and controlling this non-judgmental mirroring. The giving back of the look is made manifest through the photographs that are produced.

The scenarios arise within the counseling sessions that precede and are chosen by the sitter/director. Since photographs are mimetic, clothes, props and hair-styles all contribute to (re)creating a sense of time and place, and are selected and found by the sitter/director. The sitter/director re-enacts the scenarios, and in this the process is close to psychodrama. The photographer/therapist offers to assist the protagonist by taking up the role of the other, within the dynamic, to enable the performative aspect to take place and to flow. The other may be a family member such as the surveillant mother, if the sitter/director is working on being a young child, or a representative of an institutional discourse within society such as a teacher or doctor. The photographer/therapist has to be very aware of transference and counter-transference to avoid getting hooked into these dynamics. I have found it to be most useful if a role-reversal then takes place, for example, a shift from powerless to powerful. The shift of emotional energy then offers the sitter/director the ability to affect change, to find new strategies to respond to the here and now. I use the model of the therapist as witness, advocate and nurturer moving the client toward becoming aware of their inner, nurturing self. Exactly how the process unfolds is not subject to a "book of rules," since it is premised upon deep empathy and intuition. Unconscious processes are at work here, and often the appositeness of choices, for example of props or actions, is only fully realized after the photosession, in looking at and working with the photographs produced during counseling. Upon careful reflection afterward, it is often the seemingly chance occurrences or ideas that hold the psychic weight and provide clues to what was previously repressed.


This work is playful. There are parallels to the ways in which children use fantasy play to re-enact scary, troubling scenarios, or to try out different roles, gathering dressing-up clothes and a variety of objects as props, to give form to their desires and fears. The links between play in the child and creativity/play in the adult as theorized by Winnicott have resonance with this practice:

The area of playing is not inner psychic reality. It is outside the individual, but it is not the external world. Into this play area the child gathers objects or phenomena from external reality and uses these in the service of some sample derived from inner or personal reality...and invests chosen external phenomena with dream meaning and feeling....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 creative. (19)

The performative

Re-enactment phototherapy makes visible the performative body. The photography sessions are not about "capturing" the image, they are about seeking to make it happen--to "take place." It is about staging the selves and knowingly using visual languages, referring to and challenging other visual representations. It is about the constructions of identities rather than revealing any "essential" identity. The body as the scene of cultural inscriptions may then be seen as performing rather than essentially containing those meanings. Elizabeth Grosz's analysis is key to my approach in my practice: "The body must be regarded as a site of social, political, cultural and geographical inscriptions, production or constitution. The body is not opposed to culture, a resistant throwback to a natural past; it is itself a cultural, the cultural product." (20)

In using time-based media, such as video in "Outrageous Agers," the performative aspect is foregrounded. I had resisted using video because I find the physicality and ordinariness of photographs very useful. However, more and more people do now use video as their means of recording the "family album," and as video diaries have become a familiar form within the media, so I wanted to try an intervention within this field. In developing this work, the ideas arose within a series of carefully planned and structured workshops and had the spontaneity of the process. Kay and I viewed the recordings and reflected upon them. Moving the images around and creating new associations is much more problematic than when using photographs, though, since the technology for editing is alienating. The opportunity for play-back offered by the video camera enabled performative pieces to be worked up and worked through, in the here and now, with the dual intention of resolution for the individual and when we considered that they worked as video art pieces, communication with a wider audience. In the repetition of the performance, we entered more deeply into the material within the therapeutic gaze and the relationship that we had established. The very repetition and possibility to re-view immediately (rather than waiting for the photographs to be processed) did produce a different dynamic. In many ways it intensified the experience and also telescoped it, by entering the emotions within the performative space and then viewing them objectively, outside oneself in the play-back. The containing role of the camera person/therapist is vital. In re-viewing and editing the video, further objectivity is achieved.

I am struck today, as I write, by how predictive my piece "A Donkey's Tale" (21 ) feels as I take on yet further responsibilities as my mother's caregiver. I am aware how Kay's "Mouthpiece" (22) evolved through the workshops, as she found different ways to express the need to end her experiences of silencing. Kay had previously written very powerful texts in the voice of herself as a child, trying to make sense of these experiences. (23) As we sought ways to visually articulate her stories of childhood sexual abuse, she experienced being heard and witnessed and had the opportunity to re-view. We tried many different strategies to find a form to give power to her performance, finally deciding to illuminate only her speaking mouth, in red light, and focused in upon the eloquence of the emotions expressed through the mouth that speaks that which could not be heard at the time.


Since confidentiality is fundamental to any therapeutic process, almost all the (re-enactment) phototherapy work that has been shown had either Jo or me as the subject rather than our clients. Jo and I decided to make our work public through articles and exhibitions as a way of sharing our ideas and practices. This was only possible when our distresses had been sufficiently worked through and an inner dialogue created. At this point the images generated can become potential raw material in the creation of artworks.

Only when my clients have decided to unequivocally give their permission has their work been made public. Confidentiality can be a problem when running workshops within an institutional framework. I have to negotiate complete confidentiality for all the participants, at all times, in all forms. The institution cannot see and does not have access to any of the work produced. But institutions have their own agendas and are sometimes unwilling to host and support this work under these conditions, because they need to have products as a result--an outcome to validate their own funding.

Power--the ability to effect change - Work with Emma White

This is an example of work that starts from a personal issue, and in the working through becomes a visual essay upon power itself: how it may be made manifest, in its various forms, and the energies transformed.

Power and powerlessness were the issues that Emma brought to our initial counseling session. The trigger had been an experience of ongoing conflict within a counseling group about the need to recognize societal oppressions when working with clients. In an exercise to establish where the power in this conflict was imagined to be located, she had been singled out as the spokesperson. This experience of projected power was a very uncomfortable one, and brought with it the feelings of being punished, since it was a projective identification on the part of those who "gave" her this role. (24) The experience of powerlessness was traced back to her childhood and the dynamics within her family. We also worked on notions of transformation, how she could find, within herself, her own voice, her own centered power and the routes to expressing that through her creative, free child role. We worked together to find ways of visualizing these experiences, and through the counseling she found her own visual language and metaphors.

Emma did a lot work in preparation for the photographic session, making and finding her props and clothes. She had made a list of all the positives for the "owning her own power" work, as "free to be...." I suggested that she could paint all these words onto the background paper, in her creative child role. She loved that idea, so I prepared the paints and collected the brushes. I had suggested that she write out all her childhood injunctions on a large sheet of paper to make them visible. On the back side, she wrote out the most resonant responses for her, from the group, from the projected power exercise. I was struck by the similarities between the group's responses and the childhood injunctions, and said, "I wonder, does shut up belong to both?" The plan for the session was: silenced child, projected power, creative child, owning her own "positive grounded" power and self-nurturance.

She changed into the clothes she had brought, which were like the ones she had worn when she was seven. The injunctions were stuck to the background paper behind her. I took the role of her parents, primarily her mother, using the words that she had spoken in the counseling session and her described feelings about her mother. I stood on a chair, to be in the parent-role to her child-role. I was playing the transference role of her mother who could not manage or tolerate Emma's pain and distress, too embroiled in her own. I articulated the injunctions, as she sank to the ground, allowed no voice. The re-enactment was intense, I empathized with her position so I checked out how she was feeling. She said she felt constricted, so immediately we took a break, to relax and de-role. She felt as if she had physically taken in these injunctions and her neck had stiffened, so I offered a neck massage to release this embodiment of distress.

To make visible how she felt trapped in the relationship between her mother, father and B., she had painted expressive images to represent each and placed them at each point of a triangle. She stood, dressed as a young child, with the triangle appearing to weigh upon her shoulders, carrying the burden of the stress and tensions within her family. I spoke the (un)conscious demands, "You have to carry it all, it's all on your shoulders." She wore the mask, covering her mouth to represent her feelings of being silenced. Her body absorbed and re-lived the tensions, as she made herself ever smaller, protected herself and signified her feelings of entrapment and being ignored. When I suggested that she could say what she had wanted to say then, but was not able to at the time because no one was listening, she was so in role that it was not possible. We took a short break for her to de-role and unwind; she needed to regain her composure, to be here now, before moving into the next role. It was important to re-establish the nurturant gaze at this point and to offer some gentle counseling. I reflected back that the fist appeared to hold a lot of emotional power, and asked if she wanted to use it in the next section.

When she was ready, she put on her crimson cloak and crown, with the eye-mask that she had made, to represent how it felt to be the center of projected power. I took up the role of the suppliant, the servant, to shift the energies by running around to provide addition props, improvising a scepter and sword, making a throne for her to stand upon and fixing the words, this time those from the group, to the background paper. She took up position, while I kept my head, and the camera, lower and lower, groveling as she gave directives and inhabited this tyrannical projection with omnipotence. "Do as I say, I am the political corrector." During counseling she had spoken of ultimately feeling as if she had been shot down, so I role-played the assassin, using a toy gun.

The "shooting" took her back to the feelings of. the silenced child. Then, suddenly, spontaneously, she stood. She pulled down the injunctions and ripped them up in a frenzy of anger and joy, "I won't be silenced any more. This is me." I had already suggested that she could rip up the injunctions, at the beginning of the session. It took her inhabitation of the power role to have the energy-this time she would not be silenced, this time she yelled out her anger. Then she threw all the injunctions, all the words from others, up in the air. Her playful angry child was brought to the fore. Suddenly the release was over, she laughed. We took a break, for her to relax, center, rest and nurture herself.

She has made a long list of all the things she wanted to be free to do, and had painted a diamond to represent her potential. I offered her the opportunity to write all over the background paper and provided the paints and brushes. I read out the words, as she, in her creative child part, stretched and moved freely as she painted the words in bright colors. All the time I was reflecting back positive enjoyment and pleasure in her creative child self--in the role of the "good enough mother." There was a very different energy--more calm and centered, playful, pleasurable, contemplative enjoyment.

Then she moved into the positive power role, in which power represents the ability to effect change: the golden cloaked Emma, with the symbols of goddess power. I read some of her words from the background paper, to help her to center on her desires for herself. Her energies were very centered by now, so she readily inhabited this part of herself.

I suggested she finish with an image of self-nurturance, on a cozy bed that she created from the golden cloak, wrapping herself within it. I gave her a lighted candle as a symbol of her focusing and self-protection. She could then take in the experiences of the session and her emotional learning, while rehearsing her own abilities to take care of herself, within the therapeutic gaze.

In the counseling sessions that followed, we worked with the photographs, which represent different "parts," or "subpersonalities" of the client, as if present in the room, with the aim of recognition and ownership of these parts by the client as well as a psychic integration. (25) Viewing so many photographs in itself gives the client the sense of having been seen and also enables the session to be fully recalled. The photographs mirror back and give form, weight, size and color to psychic pain and to its history, its source. Externalized and made visible, these aspects can be worked upon within the counseling relationship. We moved the images around to create new stories and interactions, different possible outcomes and linkages. I also worked with Emma to create a dialogue between and with her different parts, in the form of an externalized gestalt. The representations within the photograph that provides this objectivity, this view from outside; can be embraced with the new wisdom that comes from taking a different perspective.

The experiences of being seen, heard and reflected were, in themselves, valuable, the act of being witnessed and having an advocate challenges the experience of being alone in distress. Exploring her complex relationship to power and powerlessness has contributed to Emma's ability to recognize and use her own personal power in a creative and effective way and to recognize the distortions produced by inappropriately projected power. This was part of her process of becoming aware, not a magic wand of instant resolution. However, the photographs themselves do represent a mapping of a particular psychic time and experience, in a material form, which may be returned to and reflected upon, over time, as the therapeutic experiences of the sessions deepen.

Emma now works as a play therapist and supervisor, and also has her own practice as an artist.

Bodies that matter--extract from "Outrageous Agers" -Work with Kay Goodridge

This is an example of work that takes an issue of cultural concern as its starting point and energy and explores it through its impact upon the individual(s). In our collaboration, Kay and I spent many hours together, using counseling skills to explore feelings and also exchanging our ideas about our experiences of aging. Many of our anxieties were focused upon our aging bodies, so we chose to use the body as a text and explored a variety of ways of challenging and subverting stereotypical representations. One of the issues that surfaced early on was the way in which other people projected their own ideas and fears about aging upon us, ceasing to see us as individuals, but rather only as ciphers for their own ageism.

We sought for a way to address this, not merely to replicate the experience itself, but rather to serve as a means of answering back. Kay had used the idea of projecting an image of herself as a child upon her adult body in previous work, and wanted to use this method again, but to work in black and white, as all our work in the first two years was in color. This prompted an idea for me: to use the formal aspects of the black and white print, and relate it to textual sources, the voice of the "experts," the definers. It was also very important to find other voices, other positions, the theories of cultural and feminist studies to counter the hegemonic voices that consigned post-menopausal women to silence, invisibility and decline.

This resulted in a series of 10 scripto-visual works in which theoretical texts by Mikhail Bakhtin, Judith Butler, Sigmund Freud, Elizabeth Grosz, Margaret Morganroth Gullette, Luce Irigaray, Barbara Macdonald, Sylvia Plath, David Reuben and Barbara Walker, that I carefully chose from extensive research as exemplars of defining or defiant texts, were projected onto our fragmented naked aging bodies to challenge, subvert and make visible the inscriptions of medical, psychoanalytic and cultural discourses upon the body. The intention is to stress the multiplicity of texts and images and the shifting ground--the destabilized body. Marsha Meskimmon's critique explores this relationship between text and body:

The texts neither construct a singular nor wholly negative discursive field which must be rejected for the body to be liberated. On the contrary, the multiple exchanges between the voices in these texts and the bodies they materialise, make it clear that inside and outside are not adequate terminology by which to think this textual/bodily interface.... The skin's surface is the very premise of visibility for the text and the bodies emerge in the works through their scription. Each is interpolated, indeed, made to matter, at their point and process of contact. Moreover, their materialisation is particular to the photographic process itself which draws/writes with light.. . . As the words describe and inscribe the sensual surface of a woman's skin, literally and letterally, they materialise female desire and subjectivity as embodied, sentient knowledge. (26)

The authority of the normative and clinical prescriptions of Reuben--"the vagina begins to shrivel, the breasts atrophy, sexual desire disappears... Increased facial hair, deepening voice, obesity...coarsened features, enlargement of the clitoris, and gradual baldness complete the tragic picture. Not really a man but no longer a functional woman, these individuals live in the world of intersex"--is undermined by the exuberance and presence of the vitality of the living, breathing body. (27) Flesh overpowers word. The body answers back.

In making the work, we projected the words onto the body and worked together to find our own meanings within the texts, our responses to these and a visual language with which to speak. The poses were all carefully chosen with reference to seminal art historical sources and to comment upon the texts projected upon them. The Venus Pudica pose, (28) the Classical pose of femininity, is performed by the excessive, transgressive body of middle age and challenged in the image using the quote from Freud:

After women have lost their genital function their character often undergoes a peculiar alteration. They become quarrelsome, vexatious and overbearing, petty and stingy; that is to say that they exhibit typically sadistic and anal-erotic traits which they did not possess earlier, during their period of womanliness. Writers of comedy and satirists have in all ages directed their invectives against the "old dragon" into which the charming girl, the loving wife and tender mother have been transformed. (28)

The image is taken from a low angle, which gives a sense of power to the figure, defying the quote. The hand does not cover, but rather, in the form of a fist, resists and contests any "loss of genital function."

In using the quote from Walker, "The real threat posed by older women in a patriarchal society may be the "evil eye" of sharp judgement honed by disillusioning experience, which pierces male myths and scrutinizes male motives in the hard, unflattering light of critical appraisal. It may be that the witch's evil eye was only an eye from which the scales had fallen," (30) the word "eye" is caught and enlarged by a magnifying glass, to emphasize the notions of detailed, penetrating, insightful looking and to reference the associations of the magnifying glass with old age. We thus found a visual strategy to be in dialogue with the constructions within culture and discourse that surround the aging woman, and disrupted any simplistic readings by visualizing other ways of inhabiting an aging body.

Not "too personal"?

My work has always been concerned with the social construction of identities within the drama of the everyday. While I recognize that therapy work is necessarily personal and focuses upon the individual, I also acknowledge the importance of a respect for both inner reality and outer reality. Even the most intensely personal work is inflected by considerations of the social constructions of identities, and the work which has a cultural interventionist intent always draws upon personal experience. This is true, both within my work as a phototherapist, and when I am using the techniques to make work ultimately destined to be edited with the intention of communicating with an audience, as art. This work is concerned with making psychic realities visible. It recognizes and uses the power of visual imagery in constructing, not revealing, the subject. In the performance of the selves the multiplicity and complexity of identities is made apparent.

ROSY MARTIN is an artist-photographer, therapist, lecturer, workshop leader and writer. Themes that she has explored in articles, exhibitions and workshops include gender, sexuality, family dynamics, class, aging, shame, power/powerlessness, health and disease, location, bereavement, grief and loss. She is currently a lecturer at Loughborough University in Art History and Cultural Studies, and lives in London, England.


(1.) The editors have retained the author's preferred spelling of this term although it may differ from other spellings found within this issue.

(2.) Rosy Martin and Jo Spence, "New portraits for old: the use of the camera in therapy," in Feminist Review No. 19 (March 1985), pp. 66-92. When Jo Spence and I first wrote about our practice, we used the term "phototherapy." Subsequently we learned of the work of therapists within the United States and Canada who used photography in their practice, and also used the term "phototherapy." To try to avoid confusion, we latterly used the term "re-enactment phototherapy," to make clear that our work was drawing upon psychodramatic techniques and was about the creation of new photographic images, within the therapeutic relationship.

(3.) Jan Zita Grover, "Phototherapy: shame and the minefields of memory" in Afterimage 18, no. 1 (Summer 1990), pp. 14-18. This is an excellent critical introductory essay to the practice.

(4.) Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (London and New York: Routledge, 1990).

(5.) Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London and New York: Routledge, 1993).

(6.) Rosy Martin, "You (never) can tell: phototherapy, memory and subjectivity" in Blackflash (Fall 1996), pp. 4-8.

(7.) D. W. Winicott, Playing and Reality (London: Tavistock Publications, 1971), pp.7, 15.

(8.) Jo Spence and Pat Holland, eds., Family Snaps: The Meanings of Domestic Photography (London: virago, 1991). This book contains a series of essays that critically examine the family album and includes two essays by Spence and one by myself that explore phototherapy. See also Annette Kuhn, Family Secrets (London: verso, 1995); Pat Holland, "Sweet it is to scan..." in Liz Wells, ed., Photography: A Critical Introduction (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 103-150; Marianne Hirsch, ed., The Familial Gaze (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1999).

(9.) Jo Spence, Putting Myself in the Picture: A Political, Personal and Photographic Autobiography (London: Camden Press, 1986), pp. 184-5. See essay by Spence and myself for a clear comparison between the aims and functions of traditional portrait photography and re-enactment phototherapy.

(10.) Roland Barthes, in Richard Howard trans., Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981)

(11.) Rosy Martin, "Memento mori manifest: a rite of inheritance" in Jo Spence and Joan Solomon, eds., What can a woman do with a camera? (London: Scarlet Press, 1995), pp. 67-74. This essay examines photographic responses to death and bereavement.

(12.) See Spence, Putting Myself in the Picture. See also Spence, Cultural Sniping: The Art of Transgression (London and New York Routledge, 1995), a posthumously published anthology of writings.

(13.) Jo Spence, "Beyond the Family Album" in Three Perspectives on Photography (London: Hayward Gallery, 1979). For an essay on the work see Spence Putting Myself in the Picture, pp. 82-97.

(14.) Rosy Martin, "Too close to home" in n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal vol. 3 (January 1999), pp. 73-80.

(15.) Rosy Martin, "Challenging Invisibility: Outrageous Agers" in Susan Hogan, ed., Gender Issues in Art Therapy (London Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2003). To see images and edited text visit

(16.) Rosy Martin, "Looking and reflecting: returning the gaze, re-enacting memories and imagining the future through phototherapy" in Susan Hogan, ed., Feminist Approaches to Art Therapy (London and New York Routledge, 1997), pp. 150-76; Rosy Martin, "Dirty linen" in Ten8Vol. 2, no. 1 (Spring 1991), pp. 34-49; Rosy Martin and Jo Spence, "Phototherapy--psychic realism as a healing art?" in Ten8 No. 30 (October 1988), pp.2-17.

(17.) Jacques Lacan, in Jacques-Alain Miller, ed., Alan Sheridan, trans., Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (London: Penguin, 1979).

(18.) D. W. Winnicolt, Playing and Reality (London: Pelican, 1985), p. 137.

(19.) Ibid., pp.60-61.

(20.) Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994).

(21.) For images and text of performance visit

(22.) Ibid.

(23.) Kay Goodridge had a body of work, "Our silence is your comfort," in the exhibition "Revealing," at Focal Point Gallery, Southend (1997), using images connected to the abuse but did not use the text then.

(24.) "Term introduced by Melanie Klein: a mechanism revealed in Phantasies in which the subject inserts his (sic) self--in whole or in part--into the object in order to harm, possess or control it." Definition from Laplanche and Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis (London: Hogarth Press, 1973), p.356.

(25.) For a more detailed analysis of photographs as therapeutic tools see Rosy Martin in Hogan, pp. 160-2.

(26.) Marsha Meskimmon, Women Making Art: History; Subjectivity, Aesthetics Routledge London and New York 2003.

(27.) David Reuben, Everything you always wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask (New York: McKay, 1969).

(28.) "Pudica" means shameful or modest. "Female nudes fashioned as covering their pubises were and continue to be the most favoured subject/pose/gesture in the art of the western world. The subject/pose/gesture was first mainstreamed into western culture by the fourth-century Greek sculptor Praxiteles." For a discussion on the meanings of this pose see Nanette Salomon, "Uncovering art history's 'hidden agendas'" in Griselda Pollock, ed., Generations and Geographies in the Visual Arts (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), pp. 69-88.

(29.) Sigmund Freud, The Disposition to Obsessional Neurosis (1913).

(30.) Barbara Walker, The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (New York Harper & Row, 1983).