I used to be a camera freak between the age of 16 and 40. Alwyas glued to my camera inside or outside. Would not leave my house without a camera. Wild horses couldn’t drag me to a vacation, or a picnic without my camera. Never!!! I’d rather not go if I couldn’t take pictures. And then suddenly around 40, the feeling took a complete turn around. Now I don’t like clicking pictures. There is this sense of “I should, I must, but hmmmmm….I don’t feel like it.” And often if I have to force myself to take pictures – which I often do, because of my kids – I feel this reluctance, I’d rather not. It is obvious that I would have this need to delve deeper into the causation, of this sudden shift in my patterns of living. I can look at the changes in my life during this time period, and get a fair idea of what was going on before, and what went on after.
As a reflective background, lets start with comparing the camera and a human psyche. Arnold Mindell‘s book Quantum Mind explores some of the brain functionality that is mathematical in nature. The functions of camera are much like the functions of the mind as well. Like all external phenomenon, perhaps we created the camera out of the need to make manifest externally what was internalized. In its simplest form, it mimics the functions of the eye of course. In its zoom and telephoto functionality, it mimics the abilities of the mind to zoom into a problem, or take a distant, observer view, looking at the bigger picture. The camera can toggle between the right and left brain functionality (see an earlier blog on the functions of the left and right hemispphere of the brain) -zooming into and focussing on the individual and a close up, and thus acknowledging and enhancing the discrete differences – and also zooming out and taking the whole scene in, emphasing oneness and nonduality. By changing colors, exposures, speed, aperture, we can distort the external reality that is catured by the camera, in the same way the psyche has the ability to distort reality in response to external pressures. These are few of the parallels just to get you thinking, but lets now analyze why we may be driven to photography…
Jung states that at any time someone has a very strong emotional reaction to any external object or event, we should assume that a complex has been hit. With that bit of advice from my god of psychotherapy, I started exploring my past and realised that during most of this time, from the age of 18, I had a partner who was totally disconnected with life, his mind body connection had broken down early in life. So apart from my own contributory past, I had been forced into experiencing his broken connection in my own life as well. And most of my life during this period between 16 and 40 was lived at an amazing breakneck speed. Moving from place to place, meeting new people in every place, making friends, breaking friendships, moving again. Add to these vacations, temporary visits to out of town/state friends and family, wedding, job changes, relocations within India, international relocations to five different countries spread on three continents, suburb changes at each location – changes, changes, changes. I remember working 15 hour days most of my life, a senseless, directionless chase, a constant seeking that got nothing in return. And all those years I wanted to stop “time” and rest a bit by the sidewalk of life that was passing me by. But since I could not slow down my life, I did the next best thing that I could, I captured memories on paper. I couldn’t live life the way I wanted to, but I acquired the ability to collect those unlived moments externally, hoping someday I would connect with them, and experience them more fully. Kinda like the junk we collect in our garage – hoping it will become useful to us someday, if only we keep it long enough.
Avid photography, then, seems to arise of a desire to store the disconnected, unlived, unexperienced part of ourselves in the present moment, in a hope that one will be able to relive the experience and enjoy it some day. But what is it that prevents a person from living in the moment to such an extent that one is so compelled to hoard the moment? Now this is where I leave the realm of my personal experiences and examine this part more holistically so a universal understanding may emerge. From here onwards, I will write from my reverie – I write pretty much whatever comes to mind – an autonomously created piece.
So what is it that may prevent one from engaging in the moment ? Obviously in some such cases there is an impediment, a psychic blockage that probably prevents the person from engaging in the moment, in such a way so as to utilize the moment fully, and exhaust its mystery and possibilities fully. What possibly could that blockage be?
In some cases, as probably it was in my case. it is a disbelief in the present, and a uneasy dissatisfaction with the current moment. The current lifestyle is not what is wished for, but the person is, for whatever reason, unable to effect the secretly coveted change. And so the psyche intervenes to maintain the desirable status quo. Photography attempts to create an idealised version of the existing reality. In this way consciousness can be manipulated into submission because reality within the picture frame seems to acquire the flavor of perfection. Watching the pictures, the person is fooled into forgetting for a while his inner discomfort, and dissatisfaction with the status quo.
In addition to the above, our deterministic past also impacts the existing moment. Our moment to moment interaction in the present is modelled mostly after our moment to moment interaction in infancy. And disconnection with the present moment, or in the present moment then would indicate some kind of moment to moment disconnection in the past. This disconnection in the past probably creates inner fragmentation and fractures, that causes dissociative phenomenon, islands of memory traces float around disconnected and ungrounded from everything, from the everyday memories . These islands contain memory traces of trapped experiences, and these experiences are inaccessible to the ego, and to the Self. They’re not conscious and cannot be retreived by consciousness but they are live and operational in the unconscious. So often we will react to situations based on these experiences from our past, but we have no awareness of why we are doing what we are doing, because consciousness cannot access these experiences.
If our moment to moment interaction with the environment, or the mother/caregiver, is not engaging enough, then our psyche first learns how to, and then subsequently knows how to overcome that trauma of subsequent disengagements in life. It does so by creating similar pockets of dissociation where momories of the painful moment (painful because the desired engagement with the environment/mother is not possible) had become trapped and unaccessible. By getting trapped and isolated, they cannot cause any damage to the ego and Self simply because the infant has not yet learnt to handle stress, except thru somatic expressions. Such people have a template of disconnected isolated bundles that applies to everything in their life, esp their relationships. They will, for example, have relationships that float around disconnected, ungrounded in feelings that are tethered by bonds, loyalties and commitments, but now I am digressing from photography.
If we examine the nature of photographs, we realise that they are isolated bundles of memory held together in external reality by our conscious effort. They seem to be the external correlates of those dissociated internal islands of experiences. Pockets of memory held in discrete, isolated forms, disconnected from each other and from us. Inaccessible to subsequent experience, except through conscious effort. A little different from the internal islands which are not accessible to conscious effort at all. Perhaps our forays into photography reprsent needs of the psyche. By externalising these unaccessible dissociated pockets of experiences, consciousness can have better access to them, outside of the powerful and sometimes debilitating influence of the unconscious. Photography may thus be a remedial effort put forth by consciousness to delay psychic dissociation which would cause permanent memory loss. Perhaps it represents an intermediate strategy which would make retrieval of the experience – which otherwise would be lost to consciousness – possible? Photographs seem to be externalized memory traces, preserved in the service of consciousness.
Sometimes, due to early experiences of constant disconnection with the mother, a person may lose the ability to connect with the external world totally, and his or her entire life may be spent in defending from that painful reality, and all future connections. Person traumatised in this way would be cut off from their feelings, will not feel close to others, and can understand feelings only cognitively, through learned adaptation. In other words, when they see someone crying, they know they have to comfort them because they remember being comforted, and they have seen others comfort those who cry. Since the psyche is crafted like a language (Lacan) hence their language development suffers as well, resulting in alexothymia, schizoid or autistic personality traits. In some cases people with this kind of trauma may be able to experience an inner sadness when someone is crying, but such sadness may be a response to the deadness, and the memories of inner loss due to that deadness. It may not be an empathic reaction due to mirroring abilities. Such a person will attempt to run away from reality that evokes emotions. For him, photography may become a way to avoid any contact and/or interaction with reality that involves connecting with the moment, with the situation, or with others. Photography becomes a crutch that helps them create and stay at a safe distance from reality. In addition to this, it allows them to have some control over reality – for objects in the picture may be controlled to suit their comfort level.
Photography, among many professions that thrive on dissociative phenomenon, becomes one possible healing vocation for such a person. The vocation is a survival strategy in an ongoing, tireless effort to bring forth healing. Hence following one’s talent is always the best philosophy when choosing a vocation. Talent for photography in such cases, is manifestation of their constant experience of dissociation in the world. They’re stuck in time as in the psyche, there is no concept of time, the past exists in the now and vice versa. Photography thus becomes a creative adaptation to trauma that was experienced in childhood, and also is experienced constantly due to learned disconnection from symbolic mothers. They’re constantly engaged in an effort to lure the dead mother back, as Andre Green would say. The fruits of such an effort are beautiful and creative, but the compensation always fails to achieve its objective. The need being so intense, the effort is ongoing. This is not to say any and all creative effort is pathological in its etiology, for creativity is a transcendental function and raises a person to their highest potential and beyond. But the will to create, I believe, arises as an adaptive defense strategy; it is a compensatory act much like a dream. In fact, art always represents a mode of psychic healing. And what else is spirituality and religiosity if not a striving for inner perfection and transcendence ?
In other cases, when disconnection in infancy has been sporadic, one may have sporadic periods of disconnections, and may develop a taste for photography as a hobby. Of course there may be hundreds of other reasons why a person may want to become a photographer or develop an interest in photography, but we’re concerning ourselves here with developmentally analyzable cases only.
It is interesting that I would use my camera especially when I was with friends and family, and on vacations. I seemed to have this inner need to collect everyone around and ensure those memories of being together were captured. Whereas everyone around me liked to be IN the pictures, I think I alone was driven to CLICK the pictures. So I rarely was in the pictures….
Knowing myself, the only way I can explain this is as a disturbance in a concept called Object Constancy. The child develops Object Constancy when it understands that even though the mother goes out of sight, she will eventually return. The confidence in the continual being of the object – the establishment of object permanence – is a developmental milestone. When there are disruptions in continuity of care of an infant, this feeling is not well developed, and the fear of loss becomes a dominant feature of such an adult. Perhaps I had an inner need to make sure everyone was safe, and would always be available. Or perhaps my Mother Complex got the better of me and I consented to becoming a clucking hen to all those who wanted to be in the picture.
My mother was hospitalized right after I was born, so such a defensive reaction to threat of annhilation in an infant can be a possible template in my psyche, even if I do not have any conscious recollection of ever experiencing object impermanence. And I have felt threatened by object loss only once in my life, and that was very recently. However, even though I had concerned and loving caregivers at home, that disconnection with my mom so soon after my birth must have caused some level of inner fragmentation. I also wonder if such disconnections have any correlation to the way memories are captures, organized and retreived. I wonder if photography may be a way to relieve the psyche from the burdens of rememberance ? It is very possible that the capacity and the processes for memory capturing, organizing and retreiving are developed through early interaction with the mother as the interaction must stimulate the brain, allowing for and enabling growth of brain cells of every kind. As it happens I do have, and always have had a less than perfect memory about certain detail oriented jobs. It isn’t serious, but I am more forgetful than most in accessing spatial memory, a left brain function. Whether it is the result of my mother’s hospitalization or simply a genetically coded and neurobiologically enabled truth of my existence, a predisposition to such stress, or some vitamin deficiency – I guess I will never know for sure.
This learned strategy of disconnecting from the present – so successful in ensuring survival of an infant – comes to rescue us later at any stage where the psyche perceives the need for such rescuing. As adults, when contact with the present moment is not deemed possible – because of genuine unavailability of the object, or because of impairment in social functioning skill – the psyche longs for, but cannot achieve its heart’s desire, the connection. In order to repress the pain of this need, it accesses the same bag of tricks that had helped it survive earlier. It brings forth the strategy that has been most adaptive. In extreme cases this may include severe dissociative strategies, but in normal everyday living, within the spectrum of “normal behaviors,” we handle this by pulling out our camera and clicking. This would fulfil many psychic needs – the first : by doing so we are spared any interaction with the current moment – which may be a learned defense towards a psychic threat in infancy. And second : we are also ensuring we meet our needs of object constancy – that the moment, the objects within that moments, will never get out of our sight, it will never be forgotten. And perhaps as discussed earlier, there may be a third advantage: it relieves the burdens on the storage unit of the psyche, our memory that may have been adversely affected or weakened, by early experiences of disconnection, or otherwise.
Of course these are simple, logical deductions that I make. I have no empirical proof, no neurobilogical findings that I have attempted to find. I have not looked for writings that may support or prove my thinking process..it is just an interesting exploration….I did not wish to turn it into an investigation…
However, if photography represents an adaptation, if it is a symptom of a deeper psychic phenomenon, what happens when that adaptation is redundant, when the psychic phenomenon does not exist ? An interesting fact, that which lends validity to my line of thought, is the massive change in me over the last 10 years. I first started meditating in 2002. In 2003 my life changed for the better and the pace of my life slowed down significantly. No longer was I working for 15 hours a day round the year. Time became a precious commodity, I could allow it to slow down, to come to a standstill. For the first time in my life I could smell the metaphorical roses. In 2004 I started my Master’s program where the assignments were personal reflections and writing of them. At the same time I entered analysis/therapy. This multi-pronged strategy may have worked well as these processes – meditation, writing, analysis, slow pace of life – all cohere the psyche, healing the inner fragmentation. In addition to cohering the psyche, the greatest gift of meditation is its ability to allow the person to remain fully engaged in, aware of and alive in the current moment. And I believe it is this, more than anything else, that may have led this change within where the symptoms – my obsession with photography – underwent a drastic change. The symptoms of inner discontent simply dropped off. I no longer wished to capture the moment, but to be aware of it, to experience it, and to live it fully. My now repaired psyche probably rebels against any dissociative strategies. What was ego syntonic – in clinical terms – has now become ego dystonic. It is distressing for me to dissociate myself. turn away from the symbolic mothers of nature that are always engaged with me. I find it difficult to turn away from the moment that I am experiencing and that which is experiencing me fully, even long enough to click a picture. I always feel photography takes me away from my experience of the moment that I seem to be enjoying at the time – the touch of air against my skin, the gaze that takes the beauty of the surroundings in, the smell of the surroundings – it feels alive, and into such aliveness enters the thought of handling the camera, that would turn my attention away, transforming me into a robot, forcing me to capture the sunset rather than experience it, for example. In the past I would spend looong time composing, and selecting the right parameters that would enable a perfect photograph, but unlike then, now I click quickly, not caring about the picture quality, or composition too much. I would spend hours selecting the albums, and creating scrap books. Losing a scene, or a photograph, or losing a photo shoot opportunity meant being wounded. Handing over my picture to a friend or a family member for keeps made me feel horrible. It seemed like an irretreivable loss. I probably was handing over my dream to them, a dream that I would someday overcome the inner deadness. How could I not have felt sad? Now I never bother to print the photographs, and am not overly bothered if I lose a few, or even many. If I forget to take a camera on a vacation, or forget to charge its batteries, I am ok (even relieved!) because I know I will carry the images, the experiences in my heart, I will have lived every moment, and I have faith that there will be other opportunities to take more pictures. And if not, it is still ok. The world will not come to an end. I don’t need pictures to remind myself, and the world, that I exist, that I am alive, and happy. I live that existence and happiness within. every single moment.
This transformation feels extremely powerful, and indicative of significant internal change – positive, fulfilling, life validating and enhancing growth. After years of struggle, I now experience what it means to be alive in the moment ! Life finally flows in now, not as a tomorrow.
Whoever thought our hobbies could be analyzable? But I know that the psyche is very frugal and economical in its allocation of resources. It never does anything unless the internal cost benefit equation is positive. There is always, always, always a reason why we do what we do!