Understanding the body voice ———–Reflections on oneself through photography


Photography is one of the rare art forms that combine both the artistic and scientific process. The activity of taking photographs, either analogue or digital and afterwards the processing of film or digital manipulation involve technology. According to Churchland (1978) ‘The function of science… is to provide us with a superior and (in the long run) perhaps profoundly different conception of the world even at the perceptual level’. Similarly one of the aims of photography, amongst capturing and freezing the moment, is to show the world in an unfamiliar and innovative way. The photographer is also one of the few professions in which expertise and practical training do not grant superiority over the untrained, indeed the unexpected and a chance is often valued more.

Irving Singer (1977) writes that ‘It is photography’s dependence upon the automatic technology of the camera that prevents it from interpreting, digesting, or absorbing experience as ‘ideal art’ does.’ Flusser (2000) however argues that there is no such thing as ‘naïve, non-conceptual photography’ and that all photographs are images of concepts.

Barthes (2010) claims that the photographs represent a moment in which the portrait of the person is neither a subject nor object, he describes it as a ‘micro-version’ of death, ‘of truly becoming a specter’. Does it mean that the observation of this process perhaps involve a kind of ‘metamorphosis’ process that can be applied in therapy? Interestingly Barthes (2010) also compares the motionless image to a fastened butterfly – a symbol of change.

In the last few decades a new form of art therapy has emerged in Canada and United States, called PhotoTherapy. The aim of this therapy is to reconnect with feelings, memories and beliefs through family photographs during the counseling sessions. Also the work of Jo Spence has proved that the photographs of oneself during or after illness have stimulated acceptance and increased self-awareness. Notably, the visual language of pain, suffering and afterwards recovery can increase understanding and empathy in doctor-patient relationship, in ways not possible during verbal dialogue alone. The visual images can express a lot more than written text or speech.

I am looking to investigate the notion of the body and the reflection and acceptance of oneself through photography as a mirror – the inner voyage of self-awareness. I am intending to investigate whether the emotions that are caught on the camera transform our knowledge of ourselves and alter our thought patterns. I am planning to photograph people including myself and then show these photographs back to the people themselves. Even though the process will involve editing and finding the right moment and place, I feel that the outcome can be very empowering to both the viewer and the person who is photographed. Can the camera show us something that is normally hidden to the eye of the person or in any other day-to-day activity? How can a technology show that and enable us to see this transformation/metamorphosis? There is an old saying that photograph is an illusion, but perhaps it tells more truth that the ‘reality’ experienced through ourselves. The reflection of the self in an image might be a lot more powerful that we may think. The outcome of my project will be a book of photographs and daily writings that will encourage the dialogue between the observer and the observed and visual image and text.

Now that almost everyone can have access to camera, such as digital cameras and in-built mobile telephone cameras, the importance of photography as a therapeutic process I feel should be investigated further.


Barthes, R. (2010). Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (Reprint.). Hill and Wang.

Churchland, P. M. (1986). Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind. Cambridge University Press.

Flusser, V. (2000). Towards a Philosophy of Photography (0 ed.). Reaktion Books.

Friday, J. (2005). André Bazin’s Ontology of Photographic and Film Imagery. Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism, 63(4), 339–350. doi:10.1111/j.0021-8529.2005.00216.x

Singer, I. (1977). Santayana and the Ontology of the Photographic Image. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 36(1), 39–43. doi:10.2307/430747

Sontag, S. (2001). On Photography (1st ed.). Picador.

Spence, J. (1988). Putting Myself in the Picture (2nd ed.). Real Comet Pr.


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