An exploration of pathography within phototherapy : an analysis of the photographic self-portrait

Rowell, Spencer (2017) An exploration of pathography within phototherapy : an analysis of the photographic self-portrait. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This thesis presents and develops an advanced method of self-exploration for artists. The method, which incorporates the process of self-representation, enables a more authentic identification of the psyche of the artist to be created. The objective of the research is to develop a restorative and valid therapeutic process that artists can apply to achieve further authenticity in terms of the work that they conduct. The process that is developed as a product of this research is an advancement of ‘pathography’, a term used by Sigmund Freud in 1910 in the final chapter of Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood, to describe the psychoanalytic study of an artist through the works produced by the artist.

The specific method employed in the research involved myself as artist creating a photographic self-portrait, sharing this image with two psychoanalytic psychotherapists, who each then responded with their written analysis of the image. This led to the creation of a series of twenty-four images, informed by the written interpretations provided by the analysts, at approximate intervals of once a month over two years. This method allows the interaction of artist, artworks and analysts to develop dynamically. This collaborative process where the written word is generated from the viewing of visual information, allows patterns or themes relevant to the research to be identified.

The research findings contribute to the existing body of knowledge by revisiting of ‘pathography’ and developing a new method within phototherapy, and, in doing so, provide a material progression in the context of the artist as a photographer. Recommendations are also made in respect of the implementation of this new method. Guidance is provided for researchers who wish to further investigate this area, particularly in terms of the research processes that can be adopted. I conclude that making photographic self-portraits in this way can be a restorative and valid therapeutic process.

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