John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

- Derealization -


In derealization, a person perceives the world as somehow unreal. It may seem distorted, distant, flat, or mechanical, as if one is in a dream, cartoon, or fantasy, or looking through glass or water. As one type of “dissociation,” the experience can be harmless and caused by mild levels of stress. In more extreme cases it might be caused by traumatic experiences or drug use.

Surreal and other fantastical images are very useful in illustrating concepts in psychology related to altered states of consciousness, such as dreams, hypnosis, psychosis, and even spiritual experiences. The imaginary visual effects can be created during post-processing using a wide variety of image editing techniques. Imaginative shooting also can lead to some very fantastic results. Reflections in glass, metal, and, in this case, water are especially popular and fascinating to explore.

During a family vacation in Maui, I went for a stroll one night, expecting to do some photography of the setting sun and the illuminated plant life. I did some of that, and then noticed the marvelous reflections in the swimming pool. The surfaces of the nearby building glowed under the oblique rays of the sun and were clearly visible in the pool. But despite the vibrancy of those colors, the reality created still looked liquidy, distant, and dreamy, as water reflections usually do. By tilting the camera, I enhanced the surreal appearance by creating a variety of disorienting diagonal lines, as if reality is no longer straightforward, but bent and crooked. The inclusion of a person in the shot prevented the image from going totally abstract while retaining the human element of this strange reality: the experience is a product of a disoriented human mind. The fact that the subject seems to be disintegrating creates a creepy sensation, as derealization often is. This type of dissociation involves a breakdown in the mind's ability to decipher what is real and what isn't. Like the subject in the image, the person feels surrounded by a world that is disjointed and purposeless.


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Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche