Photo Essay

The Psychology of an Image

The Key

Photographers... there are millions of us: the artist, the amateur, the snapshooter, the professional, the equipment measurbator, and the online expert. The level of expertise may divide us, but the psychology of photography renders us just one great big 'kingdom-phylum-class-order-family-genus-species' or... photogs.

We take pictures for a thousand reasons: for money, for pleasure, for entertainment, for documentation, for art, for history, for escape, for class, for comparison and that's just scratching the surface. Still, we all have favorite subjects that we revisit and we all have a unique way of viewing the world... a view we want to share and for which we want validation.

We describe our photos in terms of depth of field and tones and perspective and point of view and f-stops and focal lengths and film and pixels and shutter speed and ISO and white balance and focus. We provide information about our images; what, when, where, why, who, and how. And we think that is all of it. Defined in this way, it makes the whole business rather robotic. But we are not robots therefore bits and pieces of us engraft in each image.

With this as my prod, I started examining my photos, first sorting then grouping then looking for similarities in style and nuance. Through the process, I discovered that many of my portraits where cut in half with shadow or cropping and the rest were chopped up in one way or another. I saw windows without panes and doors opening inward, and stairs going up more than down and a large collection of geometric shapes and unfamiliar houses and lots of water and frames and antiques and objects from my past. And I wondered why I was drawn to these images, this style, and this way of capturing objects in time.

Bottom line... I had no idea why I do what I do with a camera. Consciously I was clueless. Perhaps my subconscious could shed some light. Art is often used effectively in therapy to unlock the subconscious. And what is photography if not art. Knowing that dreams are the 'art' of subconscious thought, I Googled 'dream dictionary' and started my research.

I went through my photos in jpg and listed the 20 most common themes and objects. Then I counted the number of photos in which the similarity appeared. Then I referenced the dream dictionary and wrote down the meaning of each. Ordered from most common to least common, I read the results to myself. It was a real eye-opener and my truth squared.

The Results:

105 frames (boundaries, limitations, and/or vanity)

93 windows - broken or missing (a distorted view or outlook on life) - Intact windows (insight, intuition, and point of view)

63 geometric shapes - 29 triangles (potential and truth); 12 circles (an indication one is overly guarded)

55 of children (repressed desires and unfulfilled hopes)

52 faces partially or completely hidden, cropped away, or absent (searching for one's identity or rejecting/hiding parts of self)

46 of water (emotional state of mind, transitions from subconscious to conscious awareness)

37 houses - houses represent soul or self; all 37 were unfamiliar (repressed memories), 25 abandoned (emotional and psychological clutter), 25 empty (insecurity)

35 objects from the past (something genuine or proven)

32 musical instruments - 5 pianos (no one playing) - uncertainty about how to express yourself or voice your beliefs. The remaining 27 stringed instruments - 3 violin (peace and harmony), and 24 guitar (passion and emotion)

24 repeating patterns (lack of identity)

12 distorted images (undeveloped aspects of self)

The subconscious analysis of my images is right on and the message is consistent. These are the images of a photographer looking for self through a mountain of unclaimed baggage... a photographer with potential who is intuitive, passionate, emotional and a seeker of truth.

I will continue to learn and grow in my photography, but these are the things that call my name, and now I know why.

My guess is you're more than a little curious about what your subconscious is exposing in your images.

A good place to start looking:

30 responses

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (24 May 2012):

    One of the finest & most tantalizing stories here (including those published)! Thanks for baring yourself. WONDERFUL! Compelling photos too, I love the people ones!

  • Brendan Kelly

    Brendan Kelly (Deleted) gave props (24 May 2012):

    Great story to go with some great photography. You have a beautiful gift. Thank you for sharing!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (24 May 2012):

    Thank you Michele for your generous compliments and for the nomination. Given the demands of life, I appreciate the time it takes to read a story and view the images. I am so honored.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (24 May 2012):

    Hey Brendan. Thank you for slidin' over here and takin' a peek. From one storyteller to another, I appreciate your input and adore the compliments.

  • Tom Harvey

    Tom Harvey gave props (25 May 2012):

    What a great story - excellent concept, well written. I have often thought about the psychology of the image and what they reveal about the photographer, but you have realised a unique way of actually interpreting this. Nicely done!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (25 May 2012):

    Hi Tom ~ Thank you for taking the time to read this and comment. I was more than surprised by the accuracy of what was revealed. The way I see it, this trumps $50k and ten years of therapy (grin).

  • kil roy metters

    kil roy metters said (26 May 2012):

    one of the better photo stories posted on this site.......with the photos to back it up

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (26 May 2012):

    Thank you kil roy. You have no idea how pumped I was when I read your email. That there is work out there that reflects this type of thinking tells me that this is a valid concept, theory, and method of collecting data. Thank you, thank you, thank you for reading, propping and validating. Booyah!

  • Amanda Garrett

    Amanda Garrett (Deleted) gave props (31 May 2012):

    Loved this story!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (3 Jun 2012):

    Thank you Amanda, for the nod and submission. I am glad you enjoyed the story. Again, thanks.

  • Cheryl Andrews

    Cheryl Andrews   said (4 Jun 2012):

    Way more than curious. I am going to follow your lead, Bailey, and devote a little time to discovering the psychology of the images that repeat in my JPG gallery. Wonderful story, filled with your discovery for truth. Impressive and got my vote!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (4 Jun 2012):

    Hi Cheryl ~ Thank you for your lovely words and support. I am glad you found the it has application in your life. That, in and of itself, makes writing the essay so worth it. Learning is a life long journey. Sometimes we are the student, at other times the teacher. Sharing what we have learned is part of what life is all about.

  • JamesHarmon McQuilkin

    JamesHarmon McQuilkin   gave props (7 Jun 2012):

    You ARE 'Forever Young'

  • Mandy Wetherhold

    Mandy Wetherhold gave props (30 Jun 2012):

    Interesting and well written article! Definitely made me want to start searching through my pictures.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (30 Jun 2012):

    James ~ I don't know how your prop and words slip past me. I do apologize. Thank you for taking the time to read and post. I so apreciate it. Regarding 'Forever Young', We certainly are. Hugs my friend.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (30 Jun 2012):

    Mandy ~ Thank you for the nomination. Smiling from ear to ear on this side of the screen. There are people who want to know more... about others... about themselves. For this group, we are always walking around our perception of self, looking over it and under it, and holding it up to the light and trying to see it it glows in the dark. This story is just one more way to figure out what makes us tick and I, for one, was amazed by the accuracy of the results. Thank you for the generous compliments and I hope your search helps uncover some nuances.

  • Litz Go

    Litz Go said (6 Jul 2012):

    This analysis/information is so interesting, so are you! You are so great with your photo essays (which I've been dreaming to be one). I love how images that we shoot or shot have some meanings behind it. Like Mandy, you made me want to look at my photos and see what is behind each one of them. I might discover something that I'm not consciously aware of myself. Thank you for the insight. :-). Looking forward to more photo essays!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (6 Jul 2012):

    Litz ~ Your response is exactly why I wrote this. I think we all have a little piece and if we put them all together, we have the whole pie. I'm always dissecting myself... looking for new and improved ways of figuring out the oddities that animate me. I found this credible and interesting and thought there might be other jpg-ers that would as well.

    It's funny... now that I know why I'm doing what I do, you'd think that I'd move on, but that hasn't happened. When I have my camera in hand, the camera becomes a divining rod for all things Bailey. It points, and I shoot.

    Thanks for reading, for taking the time to comment. You know I appreciate it. If you do start dissecting your photos this way, I'd love to know the accuracy of the results. Love you baby girl.

  • Gregory Spayd

    Gregory Spayd gave props (24 Mar 2014):

    Well written and insightful article- I really enjoyed reading this. As a psychoanalyst and photographer, I find great truth in the points you make. Now I'll be analyzing each potential photo before I make it! I highly doubt the truth of my last statement, but I know I'll be looking through my photos to see what they may reveal. Thanks for writing this!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (24 Mar 2014):

    Greg ~ I love that these words have application for you... the precise reason for writing it. I'd be interested in finding out what your photography reveals about you. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Nancy Richard

    Nancy Richard gave props (5 Oct 2014):

    OK, now that you've psychoanalyzed photographers, I still don't know why I like to take photos. LOL ! The important thing is that I just plain enjoy capturing the moment. (Perhaps Kodak had it right, right along.) It's like looking at the sky. That single moment will never repeat itself. Loved this essay.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (5 Oct 2014):

    Thanks for the nom Nancy. Glad you enjoyed my ramblings. Love your work. Love you.

  • Pamela Haberman

    Pamela Haberman gave props (5 Oct 2014):

    Hey Bailey. You know I rarely peruse the stories. The ones that do catch my eye are invariably yours. Your ability to dissect things is what attracts me to your work, especially the more ethereal of your images. For myself, I take and process images in an effort to provoke thought in the viewer, in other words, what ELSE do you see here? You once described me as a hologram. That, to me, was the ultimate compliment. Your photos rock. Your words rock. You rock.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (5 Oct 2014):

    PH ~ Being able to recognize a singer (Sinatra, Amrstrong, Pavarotti, Willie, Waits, Sly, J.Taylor, Jerry Lee, k.d., Morrison, Holly, Joplin) a few words into a song defines greatness. I think the same applies to photographers. I know it's you when I catch even a thumbnail of your work in my peripheral. Greatness? Yup...

    Thanks for taking the time.

  • Susan Littlefield

    Susan Littlefield gave props (7 Oct 2014):

    You don't just take a photo and slap it up on the site. Girl, you work it, work it, work it!! I'm guessing your IQ is in the 140 range. I'm always so taken in by what you see and what you say. Definitely gets my vote!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (8 Oct 2014):

    SL ~ I wish I'd have known that back in high school. I graduated 33rd from the bottom of a class of 400... sigh. You know what they say about the crazies, right, fine line and all. That's probably what we're talkin' about here.

    Thanks for proppin' the old girl up. She's smilin'...

  • rekha nag

    rekha nag gave props (8 Oct 2014):

    Very interesting indeed! After going through the article I am really thinking about going through my photos again...what was I thinking while photographing a moment LOL still don't know! Your essay made me think. Thanks for posting!! Voted!

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (9 Oct 2014):

    Rekha ~ Well thank you darlin'. Much cheaper than psychotherapy, that's for sure. Have fun figuring things out and thanks for stoppin' by.

  • Nancy Richard

    Nancy Richard gave props (3 Nov 2014):

    I haven't the slightest idea why something appeals to me, and I abhor looking for hidden meanings. Perhaps it evolves from my mood for the day, and perhaps I just had a little indigestion last night. Who knows??? LOL! But I do know this....your insight and introspection goes beyond the norm. So, just flow with the moment, Bailey. You are a very, very talented person.

  • Bailey Cooper

    Bailey Cooper said (8 Nov 2014):

    Nancy ~ Abhor hidden meanings? Well you got that right. What's the point? I prefer cookies on the bottom shelf. But curiosity has always been my thorn, thus the essay.

    Thanks for the flattery. It WILL get you everywhere. And I didn't need a dream dictionary to figure that out :-)

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