Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Essay #011

"The Psychology of Photography
(or, Reflections of Self in the Field )"


by Dr. Ellen K. Rudolph


My students often ask me about the psychology of photography. After all, photography is what I do when I am not in the psychology classroom and it amuses them no end that I would rather be out 'roughing it' somewhere with a camera in hand than, um, grading papers.

I find myself constantly talking with students about not being so content to just take life as it comes. Sure, if you just sit there and wait something is bound to come along and sweep you off your feet - taxes and traffic are examples of this. Do you know that most people live out their lives within a hundred miles of where they were born? That many people rarely travel outside of their home state? Do you know that most of us marry the first person that we have a significant relationship with, usually at around the age of twenty? We know, too, that the average couple has 2.5 children and that 50% of all first-time marriages end in divorce around the 20th year. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

What this says is that the average person is prone to stick very close to home and they aren't risk-takers to start with. They live out their lives in the hustle and bustle of a very narrow slice of world that divides and subdivides into hours of sleep and hours of work, with a few treasured hours of play (maybe) thrown into the mix. Mortgages, car loans, insurance policies, work demands, taxes, PTA's and precarious bank balances punctuate their existence.

People often say to me, 'Oh, you sound like you have such fun in life!" And I do, not because LIFE inadvertently tosses things my way but because I grab hold of opportunities when they present themselves. After many years of outpatient practice, for example, I decided that I had had enough. The mental health domain was becoming increasingly bureaucratic and HMO's were exerting relentless control over my outpatient fees and what I could charge for clinical services. I saw it coming so I ducked. I cut my practice back to half time so that I could explore some creative options for myself. It wasn't long before I was cutting myself back to quarter time which wasn't easy because I was my sole support. But I had an agenda in mind...

I dumped my manual Minolta and bought the latest professional Nikon body with a few good lenses and I went looking for training and experience. I didn't really have becoming a photographer in mind, I merely wanted to find out if photography was all about and whether I would like it. I figured that if I could pull it off, psychology and photography would be a good combination of skills to add to my experiences as an animal and environmental activist.

Why photography? Photography is about taking risks. Every artistic venture is a risk because we don't know what will come of it. Sometimes nothing comes of it. That's what we risk-takers suffer in life but then again, we can also be mightily rewarded for it.

Life is what we make of it. I know that's how I think. We can either forge a rich and interesting life for ourselves, or a dull one. We don't necessarily need a lot of money to make an interesting life (it helps) but we do need to have a passion and gusto for life that makes us want to look under every rock to see what's there. A person with such passions never lets an interesting detail around them go unexplored. He or she constantly stretches himself or herself and strives to move beyond the normal yardsticks of life that imprison others. The impassioned person eats, drinks and sleeps with ideas stirring inside them and they don't stop for nuttin' until those ideas start blossoming.

As I see it a 'dull life' is one filled with sameness, with small if not suffocating concentric circles of friends, as well as with habits that keep one always ON TRACK....arrrrrgh! For such a life, duties and responsibilities come first. These people never stop to smell the roses, they are too busy being 'normal' or 'responsible.' Look in your kitchen cabinets right now. Are you using your mother's good china on a day-to-day basis or are you saving 'the good stuff' for special occasions like holidays or (cough) funerals? Do you eat your daily meals on paper plates? Are you saving all the treasures you have accumulated in life for extra special things instead of for special every day kind of things? Do you wait for Valentine's Day to tell someone special that you love them? Are you one of those who wrap all their love in some well-meaning Christmas gift instead of dispensing it in healthy doses throughout the year?

Have you always wanted to visit Australia but you just knew you never would?

If this hits home then I am talking to you. Life is short. We have to make the most of it on a daily basis to maximize our experience. Too many of us are frittering away life's most precious moments because of some misguided notions about what is right and wrong, good or bad, or 'possible' or not. As I see it, the sky's the limit!

How many Saturday or Sunday mornings do you allow yourself to just relax and sleep in? How often have you gotten up in the middle of the night just to look at an eclipse? Ever baked cookies or watched a movie at three a.m. just because you felt like it? Do you surround yourself with nurturing friends? Do you take the time to tell people that you care for them, and that you notice certain things about them that make you feel even more special when you are with them? Do you work hard at playing in some form? Do you delight in making things happen? Are you willing to sit or wait for days and weeks on end just to get what you want? Do you not give up?

If you do all of the above, and more, then maybe there is an artist in you after all because artists notice things and engage life. They are observers of the world around them. They reach out to touch what is there to touch and then they communicate with others about it. Their passions require it.

Photography is one of those things that anyone can do given the bare equipment essentials, even a pin-hole camera will do if need be. But the artistry of photography is quite another thing and it is not within everyone's reach. Why? Because photography as art is a way of being in the world, it is about one's approach to life. It reflects the self. Indeed, it tells one's story in a way that few other art forms can. Good photographers are inseparable from their work. They are what they photograph. Their photographic essays are essays about themselves. That's the psychology of photography, the who what when and where of the person pressing the shutter button.

It's a pity that the most popular photography magazines are so equipment focused. Or how to focused. I don't know which is worse because in my mind both approaches miss the point. As do most newsgroups. Photography is one of many different ways that an individual can choose to punctuate their life with creativity. It is about living. It is about how we choose to go about living. These magazines should be talking about US, the people behind the pictures, and about the personal ethics and the guiding principles that propel us to do what we do in the world.

That old TV show had it right, Have Gun Will Travel. Only photographers shoot with film and now we even bedazzle with pixels.



2002 Dr. Ellen K.Rudolph
Here is a news group for discussing the Outback Photo Essays.


For Comments post in our News Group

2000-2007 Digital Outback Photo