photography and art
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Photography and art therapy: An easy partnershipAlexander KopytinPublished online: 02 Jan 2008.
To cite this article: Alexander Kopytin (2004) Photography and art therapy: An easy partnership, Inscape: FormerlyInscape, 9:2, 49-58, DOI: 10.1080/02647140408405677
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02647140408405677
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PHOTOGRAPHY AND ART THERAPY An easy partnership
by Alexander Kopytin
Photography is a visual medium. It would seem natural for art therapists to consider its therapeutic use and potential. Paradoxically, however, there are only rare instances where art therapists have explored the use of photography. The aim of this article, therefore, is to stimulate thinking about photography from an art therapeutic stance that involves its use in clinical practice. A wide range of therapeutic factors implied in the taking and perceiving of photographs are presented. Additionally, a variety
of creative activities based on photography are described. Case illustrations demonstrate different forms of thematic group activities and contexts where photographic pictures may be used. K~~ words: art therapy, groups, photography, phototherapy
In tro duc tio n Due to our own personal experience and from the pracbce of phototherapy (Cook, 1997; Krauss and Fryrear, 1983; Spence, 1986) we all know that healing and self-discovery often takes place when people are involved in either taking pictures or just looking at and discussing them with others. We could not imagne our life nowadays without photography, whch accompanies us from birth. For most people, photographic pictures serve as a valuable documentary of their personal histories. Photographs can biing people together and speak much more eloquently and convincingly than words. They can also serve as vivid and concentrated fragments of external reality as well as the objectified repre5entation of our inner worlds. This can lead to personal discoveries by providing a cohesion and contiriuity to experience.
Taking: photos and later arranging and rearranging them in albums can be playful as well as develop a sense of order. Through photographs we can pose and ( ontrol objects and even create a new reality. We can also try to stop the flow of time and make various instances of our life last forever. Through photography we can also pose ourselves - our fantasies, sensations and feelings as well as our body and relationships, because we can create the context and take what we need for ourselves. And sometimes with the help of photography, we can restore the forgotten or thngs that we have lost. ALl thrl possible health-promoting effects of photopphy are fairly obvious within the therapeutic context. It IS surprising, therefore, that it remains a somewhat exotic medium for most therapists and still poorl!. represented in contemporary literature. Since photography implies making and perceiving visual images it would be natural for art therapists to take the lead in the exploration of its therapeutic potential,
using the ideas and principles that characterise their profession. There are some examples where art therapists have used photography with individuals and groups and applied different theoretical approaches to support their practice. Judy Weiser (1993) encourages the use of phototherapy techniques alongside other skills, in particular for family therapy. She started as an art therapist and extended the scope of phototherapy through the use of other visual media. She indicates that certain qualities of photography such as the mechanical production of images make it easier for some clients than most other visual arts techniques. Looking at photos is less intrusive, in her opinion, than looking at a painting. Fryrear and Corbit (1992) attempt to integrate Jungian psychology and photographic techniques within an art therapeutic context. Central to their work with active imagination is the process of graphic elaboration, where the subject of the photo is cut out from the background and glued to a piece of drawing paper. The client is then encouraged to elaborate on the image in various ways. These authors demonstrate how photo art therapy can be used in dealing with specific short-term treatment challenges such as relieving fears and depression and resolving intrapsychic conflicts. They have also applied photography in group therapy situations and give suggestions of how to work with the stuck group by integrating aspects of psychodrama, photography, meditation and videotaping. Michael Barbee (2002) presents a visual-narrative approach, which he used with a small group of transgender clients in San Francisco. Partiupants were asked to photograph their gender story. Photographs later became the basis for open-ended interviews, leading to a narrative portrayal of
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PHOTOGRAPHY AND ART THERAPY
participants experiences. In Barbees study, photographs proved a valuable stimulus for eliciting individual meanings of transsexual experience.
Wadeson (2002) refers to the art therapy work of Bettina Thorn (1998), who combined writing with photography and art in a phototherapy group she established at a psychosocial rehabilitation facility. The group visited locations around the city and took photographs. Through photography, art and writing, members of the group learned new skills that improved their self-esteem and confidence.
Phillips (1986) found photography useful as a metaphor for self in her clinical work with people with schizophrenia. It helped her to enter the visual field of her clients and experience their sense of reality, as well as allowing her clients to come to a more realistic view of themselves.
A similar approach to the use of photography is developed by Mark Boorno (1989), in his therapy through creative self-expression. He claims that photography enables a client to achieve a sense of individuality and thus understand his/her specific creative way of life. In her pioneering work with photographic images, Landgarten (1993,1994) used photo collage as a quick and economical way to evoke descriptive accounts and explore cross-cultural themes.
All these studies indicate that photography has vast possibilities for art therapy practice and some have indeed been successfully realised by our colleagues. It seems, however, that many such possibilities are not sufficiently used. The specific qualities of photography as a visual medium and the effects it can have on clients, depending on the different formats and procedures of its use, remain subjects for further investigation in our profession.
Photography as a visual a r t medium The art of photography is multifaceted, but it cannot exist without making and perceiving photographic images. Unlike painting, drawing or clay-work, it needs special technical equipment. This provides additional possibilities for creative self-expression, in particular the possibility of copying pictures, exploring different formats and colours, using special visual effects, etc.
The conscious control needed to use the camera can, however, lead people away from spontaneity and thus inhibit emotional expression. It seems more natural for photography to provide a more structured way of expressing ideas and emotions and to be a means of projective-symbolic communication rather than a means of their direct expression. The mechanical nature of photography and the possibility
of producing visual images when a client has no ability or is too anxious to draw may be two of its advantages in the art therapy process.
The physical density of a camera and photographs can evoke a feeling of safety, which can be especially important with regard to anxious clients or those who are fearful of strong or difficult emotions. Through this quality, and by the fact that it enables representation of the external world, photography provides grounding in reality and helps a client to cope with internal chaos. When a client makes pictures, a sense of power and possession of obje