John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

- Deindividuation -


When people immerse themselves into a group, they can lose their sense of individuality and are not perceived as individuals. They yield to the emotions of the group, sometimes losing a sense of personal responsibility that leads to antisocial acts.

Although this group of people at a high school graduation were certainly not antisocial, they did provide me an opportunity to illustrate the concept of deindividuation. In the original form of the photo, the top tier of people actually appeared to the left of the bottom tier. I cut that left side and repositioned it above the bottom layer to create a block-like mass of people, a shape that reminded me of the undifferentiated collective mind of the machine-like aliens in Star Trek know as the Borg, whose space ship look like a giant cube. The deindividuated crowd can be powerfully solid, abruptly edged, and unyielding.

Because colors tend to be unique to personal style, desaturating the image seemed to be a good way to homogenize the individual identities of the people in the shot. The similarly dark, monolithic background adds to the ominous atmosphere, reminding us of the potentially menacing consequences of deindividuation. I also wanted to create a high contrast look to represent the harshly stark feelings that can surface in a deindividuated crowd. At first glance, the image does look like a very textured abstract. But I also like how the high contrast enables us, if we look closely, to see what the individuals are doing – as if it is possible to reach and empathize with each person who joins the crowd.

If you lean in for that close-up view, you’ll see that the people appear rather calm, distracted, and even a bit bored as the names of the long list of graduates are being called. But it’s hard to see that unless you look carefully. In this image size, they all blend together into one mass, which is what deindividuation is all about.


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:

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

Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche