The Psychology of Photography

Family Picture of 33rd president of the USA    Harry Truman, his wife and daughter
Family Picture of 33rd president of the USA Harry Truman, his wife and daughter

A picture is worth a thousand words, is a phrase that indicates the complexities and detailed analysis that one can garner from a well taken picture. An expression of joy, sadness, tranquility, apprehension, concern or horror can inform the viewer about the state of mind or emotions of the person photographed. A picture can give information of trends in fashion, décor, architecture or landscape. A picture can be evaluated for historical data and can provide some understanding of time past, which can serve as a linkage of one generation and another.

Photograph tells so much about us as individuals; our history, our preferences. It tells about time and space and how things have evolved or remained the same. Photographer, ed Zawadzki said that when one takes a picture, one is actually crystallizing their own experience into a tangible form. By the choices the photographer makes in lighting, composition, subject, and the way the picture communicates, the photographer is displaying how the world looks to him or her. I agree with ed because a picture is a snapshot of a splice of time that can be manipulated by the photographer to generate the outcome that he desires.

A photograph can evoke feelings of anxiety, fear, familiarity, comfort or reverence depending on the subject matter. Photograph can have the effect of reflecting the soul and thoughts of the person photographed. This is often reflected back to the viewer as you may feel that the subject of a portrait may be reading your thoughts and soul. For example, when I was a child we had a family portrait hanging in our dining room. Each time I look at the picture it seemed like my mother was looking at my every move. I felt like I had to behave or else she would disapprove of me. Have you ever seen a portrait that had such a captivating smile that it begs you to smile back? Many of us are drawn to pictures for varying reasons; a sense of comfort, a sense of familiarity or a sense of reverence and awe.

Ed compares a painting with a picture; he argues that while a photograph is a direct replica of reality. He argues that the camera sees the world much the same way as we do. He said the camera can be perceived as a third eye; but instead of transmitting the image to our brain, it is transmitted to anyone who observes the photograph. He states that a painting is more about communicating the artists “inner world” to the viewer, while a photograph is more about communicating the artist’s 'perception of the outer world'. It is a subtle, but meaningful difference.

Some cultures refused to be photographed as they believe that the camera steals their soul. They are reacting to the emotional responses that some photographs generate in those who view them. The emotions of love, hate, anger, rage, hurt, or disgust that the picture evokes cement their belief that it shares too much of themselves. For instance, when you look at a picture of a loved one, it can evoke the feelings of warmth, love and joy. You may get the feeling that you are looking into the soul of the subject of the picture. Some cultures have used photograghs to communicate with the subject as in the case of missing persons.

Photo Psychology

Wikipedia defines photo psychology as a speciality within psychology that identifies and analyzes the relationship between psychology and photography. The three principles of photo psychology are used to trace the historical interaction between psychology and photography; to identify past and present psychological use of photography in research, assessment and therapy and for proposing new applications for psychological uses of photography as in the case of reading pictures.

Reading Pictures

Professor Joel Morgovsky of Brookdale Community College, NJ formulated a system called reading pictures. This system describes how photographs coded with personal meaning can be decoded using different mindset when working with patients with psychiatric problems. Professor Morgovosky points to six mindsets in the analysis or reading pictures:

Overcoming The Illusion of Reality (OTIR) Here he describes the photograph as the two dimensional representation of those things, not the things themselves.

The Rule of No Accidents (RNA). In this frame of mind everything in the photograph is understood as being there on purpose whether that purpose or intent was known at the time the picture was made.

Free Association (FA). Used here, free association is a term to denote an attitude of openness, by the viewer, to the emotional content of images and not a reference to Freudian methodology. He argues that FA is the reverse of the emotions or motives that one believes to be projection of the photograph.

Attribution Process (AP) as originally proposed by Fritz Heider and Harold Kelley. Attributions are guesses about the causes of observed behavior and are either dispositional or situational. Speculations about the answers to questions like "What does it mean that a person would take this particular photograph, of this subject matter, from this point of view, using these methods?" can produce useful evidence for Reading Pictures.

Thematic Analysis (TA) Being alert and responsive to the themes evidenced in photographs is important for constructing a working model of the maker's experiential world. For instance what is to be said about a photographer whose main theme is to take photographs of babies?

Genre and Skill Level(GSL) Landscape, still-life, portraiture, documentary, straight, surreal, are examples of genre. Skill level is revealed by the degree of mastery over the medium and the sophistication of topics chosen for study. Higher skill levels signal clearer intent and greater eloquence.

Levels of Articulation (LOA). Refers metaphorically to the degree of eloquence encountered in sets of photographs. In the same sense that writers express themselves with words, sculptors with forms and painters with images, photographers vary in the degree to which their cognitive and emotional experience are expressed in their photographs. Professor Morgovosky proposes that photographers become more articulate as they reach one of three stages of artistic development, which he calls Innocents (the millions of camera owners who periodically takes pictures for personal reasons; that is most of us) , Amateurs (people who overtly enjoy photography, who join photography clubs and societies, who read photography magazines and who analyze and discuss matters photographic.), and Mature photographers (Mature photographers consciously use the medium as a means of creative self-expression).

Photo Analysis

According to Dr. Gabriel, Photoanalysis is a sub- branch of body language analysis. Contrary to body language – which is part of behavior science – dealing with live people, photo-analysis uncoveres personality, human interaction and relationships, based on statistical and other details found in still photos. http://www.photo-analysis.net/pa_family.asp

Professor Morgovosky refers to a therapeutic approach called Photo Therapy which Dr. Akeret describes in his book entitled Photoanalysis (1973). Dr. Akeret describes methods for analyzing family photographs to extract indirect information they contained about interpersonal dynamics within the family.

Therapeutic Photography (Spence, 1986) encourages the making of self-portraits which then become tools for studying body image with the goal of coming to terms with physical appearance and, consequently, self-acceptance.

The Future of Photographic Psychology (Fact or Fiction?)

A Japanese electronics firm has unveiled a futuristic new digital camera that unveils and photographs “the inner you.” It is called a Soul Camera. It will reveal the inner beauty instead of external beauty. That means that people who are gorgeous on the outside may look deformed and ugly as the camera reveals their inner ugliness. On the other hand, people who might be homely on the outside, may appear to have great beauty as their inner beauty is captured by this digital soul camera. http://derekclontz.com/2008/01/08/soul-camera-photographs-your-face-and-body-but-reveals-the-inner-you-say-inventors/


Please see also:

Medical Imaging: Important Inventions in Photography

What If the Camera was not Invented?

More by this Author


Comments 27 comments

James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

This is a very interesting Hub. I enjoyed it very much and I enjoy photography a lot—both viewing it and shooting it. Thanks!


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

James, thanks for stopping by and for your comments. Photography is indeed an interesting past time and subject matter for research.

I realize that you like taking pictures as you've shared some great ones with us through your posts. Thanks for sharing them. You photographs of Israel allowed the viewers to take the trip with you, if only from a partial perspective.


RosWebbART profile image

RosWebbART 6 years ago from Ireland

That's really good info, thanks for sharing. Very good piece of writing.


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

Thanks RosWebbART. I appreciate your visit and comment. Photography is definitely an interesting art.


tim-tim profile image

tim-tim 6 years ago from Normal, Illinois

This is very interesting and informative! I love taking pictures but have no idea of the Psycology of it! Thanks for sharing your knowledge!


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

tim-tim, thanks for your visit and your comment. The psychology of photography is something I read while I was doing the reseach on photography and thought that it would be interesting to find out more about the topic. It is quite fascinating what one can derive from looking at body language in photography.


shikha Mittal 5 years ago

Need Your email Id . I need to discuss a Project where I am starting ART BASED CORPORATE TRAINING and the modules I am developing is based on Photography . my email is shikha@thebe-cause.com


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

shikha, your website is very futuristic, interesting, cutting edge and intelligent. I had a pleasant experience looking around. I am by no means a photography, I'm merely fascinated by the technology and it's psychology.

Thanks for the thought.


funmontrealgirl profile image

funmontrealgirl 5 years ago from Montreal

I like this hub. Fantastic. Keep it up!


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

funmontrealgirl, thanks for your visit and comment. Pictures are awesome reminders of real or imagine life. I love them.


PierAllegro profile image

PierAllegro 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Dear Sir, while reading your article I copied quotations and pasted them on a separate sheet so I could share these words of wisdom with my friends later (particularly quotes fom Zawadzki) Then I realized that I nearly copied your entire article. I will be then forwarding it my buddies in its entirety. Great job! And where can I get hold of some books and/or articles by Zawadzki

Peter


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

PierAllegro, thanks for your visit and your comments. I found ed Zawadzki's decription of photography on line and thought it was appororiate to the post that I was writing.

Regards to his work, if you put his name and 'photography' in a search engine you will find information about him. I believe he is located in Philadephia, USA.


PierAllegro profile image

PierAllegro 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Thanks again. Great article. Thanks for sharing.


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

PierAllegro, you are most welcome.


Carmen 5 years ago

I will soon be giving a talk at a local college about the psychology of photography and found this read quite useful.


PierAllegro profile image

PierAllegro 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Hi Carmen, why don't you share with us? I've been trying to contact Ed Zawadzki for more insightful thoughts. So far no luck


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

Carmen, I hope that your presentation goes well. I'm happy that you've found my article useful. Like PierAllegro says, let us know how it goes.


Rujuta 5 years ago

A very helpful article. I feel lucky! :)


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

Rujuta, thanks for your visit and your comment. It is amazing how much one can learn from photography.


vidhimayur profile image

vidhimayur 5 years ago

A lot of hard work n research has gone into making of this hub and that is very much visible. Your hubs are very informative. Voted up and useful. Following you now on. Thanks


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

vidhimayur, thanks for your kind comment. It is amazing when curiosity gets the best of you what you can find in your search. Photography is just very fascinating.

Thanks for your feedback.


Udaya 4 years ago

Thanks for your good information, I am now interested more on Family Photo analysis, which I feel allows to understand the behavior and many human attributes


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

Udaya,Isb't it great how photography can tell us so much about life? The best are candid shots taken when the person is caught off guard. Those are my best photos. Whenever I pose for picture, it feels so forced and farse, and I can always find something to criticise with it. I believe that I hold my breath and that makes the picture looks unrelaxed.

Try it some time; take a picture of someon who is not lookin or posing and compare the difference. You will see the real person shining through.

Cheers!


Mark Wheeler 4 years ago

I'm glad you mentioned Jo Spence; meeting her in '84 led to my practice of phototherapy. Her friend Judy Weiser runs the most comprehensive website http://www.phototherapy-centre.com/ with hundreds of archived articles by practitioners and students. There are many articles about the psychology of photography, from Arnheim to my own, that examine the unconscious dimensions of making and looking at photos that seduce us into paying so much attention to these little scraps of card or digital files, see http://www.phototherapy.org.uk/pdf/photo-psycho-pr... It's good to se so much thought now being applied to thinking about photography, which brings us to Burgin :), so thanks for writing your well thought post


Mark Wheeler 4 years ago

I'm glad you mentioned Jo Spence; meeting her in '84 led to my practice of phototherapy. Her friend Judy Weiser runs the most comprehensive website http://www.phototherapy-centre.com/ with hundreds of archived articles by practitioners and students. There are many articles about the psychology of photography, from Arnheim to my own, that examine the unconscious dimensions of making and looking at photos that seduce us into paying so much attention to these little scraps of card or digital files, see http://www.phototherapy.org.uk/pdf/photo-psycho-pr... It's good to se so much thought now being applied to thinking about photography, which brings us to Burgin :), so thanks for writing your well thought post [reposted due to broken url]


DynamicS profile image

DynamicS 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada Author

Mark, thanks for your visit and for your kind comment. I will be checking out the sites referred. Photography is very fascinating and can help to unlock the mystery of humanity. Not to mention the pleasure of reliving experiences through photography.

Thank you.


Johnb236 2 years ago

Magnificent site. Plenty of useful information here. I'm sending it to some friends ans additionally sharing in delicious. And certainly, thanks in your sweat! aedgabgegeee

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working