John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche

- The Unconscious -

the unconscious mind Freud psychoanalysis

The unconscious is hidden from our everyday mind. It's the realm of childhood memories, wishes, and fears that we'd rather forget. But what is repressed does not stay so forever. The unconscious seeks to express itself, often in a disguised and surprising form.

As you may have discovered in other articles here in Photographic Psychology, I sometimes use "clones" to illustrate psychological concepts. Principles in psychoanalytic theory lend themselves especially well to images where one's persona is duplicated to represent the different facets of the self as described by that theory. Here we see the conscious self lying on top of the table, conveniently reading Freud, the founder of the theory of the unconscious, while the unconscious aspects of the psyche lie below. The thumb-sucker represents the infantile self and forgotten childhood memories, while the "see no evil" clone symbolizes the unconscious as a realm of anxiety-provoking thoughts, wishes, and emotions that we'd rather not acknowledge. However, as psychoanalytic theory suggests, the unconscious never remains completely repressed. It always seeks to express itself, often in disguised, indirect, and mysterious ways - as indicated by the curious sculpture that the third clone places onto the conscious plane. The conscious self notices it, although he appears a bit perplexed about what it is and where it came from, which is often the case with unconscious derivatives. I chose the sculpture rather than, say, some other household item, to convey how artistic works often channel repressed ideas and feelings through the process known as "sublimation." Freud staring at us from the book cover invites us into this scene, reminding us that this same situation plays out in all our lives, even though we may not always realize it.

Bounce flash for the separate clone shots provided the diffuse lighting that was necessary to combine them into one image without inconsistent shadows. By wearing dark clothes, I was able to merge the clones below without having to worry about any of their body edges clashing in ways that made the composite look phony. The overall dark and undifferentiated blending of those clones also is consistent with the concept of the unconscious as an obscure domain of the psyche. The only difficult part of taking these shots was my having to repeatedly scramble under the table before the self-timer on the camera expired. I worked up a sweat doing that.


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:

Shooting Clones
Inside the Psyche
Symbolism: What does it mean?


elementary textbook of psychoanalysis brenner

An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis - Charles Brenner

The standard introduction to traditional psychoanalytic theory. Brenner explanations are concise, lucid, and captivating. A must-read for anyone who wants to understand the essential elements of one of the most powerful theories in the history of psychology.

Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche