John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

- Childhood Trauma -

The effects of childhood trauma may last long into adulthood, even though the person may not remember the trauma itself. Some psychologists believe that the stressful experience is preserved in the unconscious, or embedded in the pathways of the brain, inflexible and unchanged.

In this image, the wagon serves as a clear symbol of childhood and the child's sense of self. Resting heavily within it, the square block of concrete represents the intractable trauma. The high saturation of colors, the brittle sharpness of the image, and the resulting course textures all point to the intensity of the emotions generated by the trauma. The large black frame magnifies the "pop" of the colors and sharpness, while also, perhaps paradoxically, suggesting things enclosed and hidden - a suggestion reinforced by how the square shape of the frame echoes that of the stone. The image has a subliminal uneasy and precarious feeling generated by its slight tilt and by the wagon handle that seems to hang in space without any support. The wagon itself is cut off and visually incomplete, just as the child's development is thwarted by the trauma. Although an early trauma indeed can weigh up a person's life like a block of concrete, it also may contain many intricate details, as suggested by the complex array of pebbles within the slab of concrete. Despite the visual gravity of the image, a promise of hope could be offered by the wagon handle. It's the way the damaged person might be lead toward healing, a way of "getting a handle" on the trauma.

I took this shot in the back lot of a foundry, where the workers had desposited a wide variety of miscellaneous objects. While some people might categorize it as a "junk yard," I saw it as an exciting field of precious photographic possibilities.


Would you like to read or participate in a discussion about this image in flickr?

Here are some other articles in Photographic Psychology that are related to this photo and essay:

Image Shaping ("post-processing")
Symbolism: What does it mean?


in an unpsoken voice levine

In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness - Peter Levine

"In this culmination of his life’s work, Peter A. Levine draws on his broad experience as a clinician, a student of comparative brain research, a stress scientist and a keen observer of the naturalistic animal world to explain the nature and transformation of trauma in the body, brain and psyche. In an Unspoken Voice is based on the idea that trauma is neither a disease nor a disorder, but rather an injury caused by fright, helplessness and loss that can be healed by engaging our innate capacity to self-regulate high states of arousal and intense emotions. Enriched with a coherent theoretical framework and compelling case examples, the book elegantly blends the latest findings in biology, neuroscience and body-oriented psychotherapy to show that when we bring together animal instinct and reason, we can become more whole human beings." (available on Amazon).

Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche