John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

About John Suler, Ph.D

John Suler

John Suler is a writer, photographer, and Professor of Psychology at Rider University. Internationally recognized as an expert in emerging fields of psychology, he has published widely on topics related to eastern philosophy, psychotherapy, and cyberspace. His collected works are available online.

Research into visual imagery lies at the core of Suler’s work. He has written numerous professional articles and book chapters on such topics as the role of visual images in dreams, meditation, creativity, emotions, psychotherapy, personal growth, and online communication. As a founder of cyberpsychology, he was the first psychologist to engage in an intensive ethnographic study of one of the original avatar communities, The Palace, where he pioneered the study of how people use visual images to express their identities and interact socially with others. He also was the first psychologist to undertake a comprehensive ethnographic study of Flickr, one of the largest online photo-sharing communities. In his courses on film, psychotherapy, states of consciousness, and psychological testing, Suler emphasizes the importance of visual images in the expression and transformation of the human psyche.

In recent years Suler has applied his research on visual images to the development of a new field of psychology that he calls Photographic Psychology. It is the study of how people create, share, and react to images, especially using digital photography and in online photo-sharing communities. This work culminated in his online book Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche, an innovative hypertext book that is integrated into the Flickr social network. In his own Flickr photostream he offered fine art photography, along with commentaries on those images, as an ongoing meditation on ideas in photographic psychology. He often uses conceptual photography to illustrate important psychological issues concerning emotions, behavior, and human relationships. In the fall of 2012 at the Rider University Art Gallery, Suler presented a solo exhibition of his photography entitled, "Photographic Psychology: Forces that Shape the Psyche."

Suler's lecture at the International Center of Photography focussed on what is often considered the most critical concept in photography: The Decisive Moment. He describes how his research has identified the essential ingredients of this type of photograph, including the capture of a unique fleeting moment, the sensing of visual coalescence, the anticipation of closure, losing and creating oneself, and the portrayal of “little human moments” that point to the universal struggles and triumphs of the human condition.

His website devoted to photographic psychology caught the eye of Dick Zakia, a psychologist well-known in photography for his book Perception and Imaging: Photography as a Way of Seeing. They struck up an engaging correspondence via email, Zakia invited Suler to contribute sections to the new edition of his book, and after Zakia's death Suler was invited to write the fifth and last edition Perception and Imaging.

Suler's writings have been translated into a dozen languages and reported widely by national and international media, including the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, US News and World Report and The Chronicle of Higher Education. His lectures at the Smithsonian Institute featured his photos about states of consciousness.

Selected Bibliography

Suler, J. (2023). The psychology of cyberspace architecture. In I'll be Your Mirror: Art and the Digital Screen, A. Heart (ed.). Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, DelMonico Books.

Suler, J. (2013). Up close and personal: Photography displays in a physical space. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 10, 181-187.

Suler, J. (2013). Conceptual photography. Mindfulness in photography. Image therapeutics. Inside the psyche. Negative space. All are invited articles appearing in the 4th edition of Richard Zakia’s Perception and Imaging, Focal Press (Elsevier), Oxford.

Suler, J. (2012). The decisive moment. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 9, 372-375.

Suler, J. (2011). The psychological impact of image streams. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 9, 84-88..

Suler, J. (2011). Creating images for educational presentations: Insights from contemporary conceptual photography. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 8, 103-111.

Suler, J. (2009). The psychotherapeutics of online photosharing. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 6, 339-344.

Suler, J. (2008). Image, action, word: Interpersonal dynamics in a photo-sharing community. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 11, 555-560.

Suler, J.R. (2002). Identity Management in Cyberspace. Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 4, 455-460.

Suler, J.R. (2001). The psychology of avatars and graphical space in multimedia chat communities. In Chat Communication, Michael Beiswenger (ed.), pp. 305-344. Ibidem, Stuttgart, Germany.

Suler, J.R. (2000). Psychotherapy in cyberspace: A 5-dimension model of online and computer-mediated psychotherapy. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3, 151-160.

Suler, J.R. (1999). The Palace. New Observations: Cultures of Cyberspace, 120, 10.

Suler, J.R. (1996). Mental imagery in the organization and transformation of the self. Psychoanalytic Review, 83, 655-672.

Suler, J.R. (1991). The T'ai Chi Images: A model of psychotherapeutic change. Psychologia: An International Journal of Psychology in the Orient, 34, 18–27.

Suler, J.R. (1990). Wandering in search of a sign: A contemporary version of the Vision Quest. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 30, 73-88.

Suler, J.R. (1990). Images of self in Zen meditation. Journal of Mental Imagery, 14, 197–204.

Suler, J.R. (1989). Mental imagery in psychoanalytic treatment. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 6, 343-366.

Suler, J.R., & Katkin, E.S. (1988). Mental imagery of fear-related stimuli. Journal of Mental Imagery, 12, 115-124.

Suler, J.R. & Rizziello, J. (1987). Imagery and verbal processes in creativity. Journal of Creative Behavior, 21, 1-6.

Suler, J.R. (1985). Imagery ability and the experience of affect by free associative imagery. Journal of Mental Imagery, 9, 101-110.

Suler, J.R. (1985). Meditation and somatic arousal: A comment on Holmes review. American Psychologist, 40, 717.

Suler, J.R. (1980). Primary process thinking and creativity. Psychological Bulletin, 88, 144-165.

Suler has also worked with his students on a variety of research projects related to photography and psychology, including the following:

Psychological reactions to edited photos, with Jeremy Hargrave, 2013

Psychological exercises for individual, interpersonal, and group photograpy, with Ashley Levins, 2013

Psychological Reactions to Portrait Photography, with Kristine Kanellos, 2012

Psychological Factors that Affect the Perception of Photographs, Alex Titus, 2012

Visual Analyses of Group Dynamics, with Adam Natoli, 2012

Photograph Interpretation in Type A and B Personalites, with Joshua Samayoa, 2012

Psychological Reactions to Nature Photography, with Marga Guerrero, 2011

The Therapeutic Aspects of Photography, with Adam Natoli, 2011

Personal Photography in Facebook, with Stephanie Disbrow, 2011

Bipolar Disorder as Revealed in Photography, with Becky Spiezle, 2011

Psychological Reactions to Nature vs Industrialization Photography, with John Iko, 2011

Spirituality in Photography, with Tara Meyer, 2010

Relationships Between People and Dogs as Revealed in Photography, with Susan Gayley, 2010

Psychological Interpretations of the Seasons in Photography, with Liane Jaeger, 2010

Exploring Post-Processing Techniques on Expressions of Emotion in Photography, with Saarang Desai, 2009

Individual Differences in the Perception of Photographs, with Dani Kawa, 2009

The Psychology of Self Portrait Photography, with Corissa Gesicki, 2008

Body Language and Social Relationships in Photographs, with Nikki Apicella, 2008

These research projects employed Suler's Qualitative Research Methodology for Photographic Psychology (QRM-PP)

Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche