What Is Photo Psychology?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2020
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Photo psychology is a field of psychological research that seeks to examine the history and practice of photography through the lens of psychology. Researchers in the field of photo psychology also work to develop new methods of using photography in psychological research and therapy. Topics of interest to the field may include the motivations of the photographer or the emotional content communicated through a given photograph. In some cases, particularly in photo psychology based in Freudian psychoanalytic thought, photographs may be analyzed with the intent of unearthing unconscious processes in the psyche of the photographer.

The history of photography is full of psychological significance and is, therefore, a common area of study in photo psychology. Many people, for instance, found the fact that people could capture images of them to be quite disturbing early in the history of photography. Additionally, photographs have been used in psychological research for quite some time, though the particular use of such photographs has evolved. Photography has been used in psychological experiments related to perception, emotion, and a range of other topics.


Researchers in photo psychology also examine the potential application of photographs to psychological therapy. By examining personal photographs, psychotherapists can often identify important points of conflict or emotional intensity in a patient's life. In some cases, these may simply provide good points of discussion that may eventually reveal major issues in the patient's life. Some psychotherapists actually encourage patients to start taking photographs as a form of therapy. The content of such photographs can be analyzed similarly to older photographs and the patient can often explain his motivation for choosing to take particular pictures.

Some schools of thought in psychology, most notably psychoanalysis, the psychological field pioneered by Sigmund Freud, view art as a window to the artist's psyche. The same concept applies to photography. Research in photo psychology sometimes involves probing the content of photographs for evidence of unconscious psychical content. Subject matter, compositional choices, and a whole range of other decisions can all provide valuable psychological information about the photographer.

Cheap and easy-to-use cameras and widespread Internet access allow many people to take and share photographs, greatly increasing the material available to photo psychology researchers. Photographs, for instance, play a major part in the development of an "Internet identity" on social networking sites. People also choose to publicly post some pictures while deleting others or keeping them private. All of these choices can be analyzed by a photo psychology researcher. Selection and sharing of photographs can be just as revealing as their contents.


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