John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

- Integrity versus Despair -

integrity versus despair

According to Erikson’s theory about the stages of psychosocial development, the last stage involves the challenge of integrity versus despair. Do you look back over your life and believe that it was a good one, that you lived it well. Or do you carry a sense of regret, feeling the weight of missed opportunities and bad decisions?

I took this shot at an amusement park as people were waiting to enter one of the attractions. The atmosphere was filled with excitment and fun. Here's an example of how the post-processing of an image can quite radically transformed the feeling of a scene. I intended its darkness and the placement of the elderly woman on the far right as symbolic of the last stage of life, approaching the transition that is death. So too, the cropping of her body at the knees, which usually is considered poor photographic technique, suggests the cutting off of this life and the entry into the next realm.

Some people interpret the vast field of black in a negative way, as if the life behind her was somehow dark and tragic. But I didn't necessarily intend it that way. Instead, for me, the empty or "negative" space remains a mystery. Her past life could have been one of despair, or one of joy and fulfillment. We just don't know. Her body posture too is intriguingly ambiguous. Does she appear tense, relaxed, impatient, thoughtful? We can read it in a variety of ways.

In terms of composition, the use of a wide expanse of negative space might be considered unusual and uncomfortable. And yet, it does roughly follow the rule of thirds. The woman occupies one third of the space, while the blackness takes up the remaining two thirds. As a result, the picture might feel, perhaps on a subconscious level, proportionally balanced. Again, that dual possibility of experiencing the image as subtly balanced or uneasy symbolically represents both options of interpreting one's life with integrity or desspair.


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:

Breaking Rules
Negative Space
Rule of Thirds


development through life newman

Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach - Barbara Newman and Philip Newman

"Newman and Newman take a chronological approach to the study of the life span, drawing on the psychosocial theory of Erik Erikson to provide a conceptual framework for the text. Newman and Newman address physical, intellectual, social, and emotional growth in all life stages, focusing on the idea that development results from the interdependence of these areas at every stage, and placing special emphasis on optimal development through life. The text is noted for its clear organization, providing instructors and students with a coherent structure for tracing development over the life span.

The text integrates theory and research with application, making the rich material of development useful for emerging professionals. Each life stage chapter ends with an applied topic that helps students connect the developmental themes of that stage with critical societal issues. The use of case material throughout offers a way to balance information about general patterns of development with information about individual differences and life stories. Human diversity is introduced in the very first chapter and is a continuing theme, reflected in research coverage, theoretical analysis, illustrations, and boxes. Through a variety of pedagogical strategies including the illustrations and captions, points for further reflection, and case analysis, the Newmans have created a text that encourages the reader to engage in ongoing integration and critical analysis." (available on Amazon)

Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche