Academic journal article Afterimage

The Performative Body: Phototherapy and Re-Enactment. (Feature)

Academic journal article Afterimage

The Performative Body: Phototherapy and Re-Enactment. (Feature)

Article excerpt

In the everyday world most people deal with the parts of themselves that they cannot face by psychically splitting these off and projecting them out onto others. We are all exposed to an endless stream of images in the media, chosen to confront or seduce our gaze, to elicit feelings of horror, fear, grief, loss, desire, pleasure, envy, inadequacy, joy and catharsis. Turn on the television for the news: another disaster, another starving child, followed by the adverts peopled by beautiful women, handsome men, happy families all orchestrated around desirable objects, then the soap opera, the police drama, the sit-com, the horror movie; we are offered an endless flow of visual stories in which archetypes and stereotypes play out our unconscious dramas. But within this hegemony only the dominant cultural stories are regularly told--so much remains unsaid, and unseen.

So what would it be like to be the protagonist within a series of filmic stills that symoblically represent aspects of your own story, by consciously replacing yourself within the roles that you have played and the roles played by significant others in your life--to make visible and face up to the drama of the everyday, and transform your inner psychic realities in a dress rehearsal of new possibilities?

"Phototherapy" (1) refers broadly to the use of photographic representations within a context in which the intention is therapeutic: to promote self-awareness and healing. Starting in 1983, together with the late Jo Spence, I developed a new photographic practice called re-enactment phototherapy. (2) Having deconstructed the existing visual representations of our lives in great detail and having thus become acutely aware of the structured absences and the paucity of representations that were available to us, as middle-aged, working-class women, Jo and I began the task of reconstruction by creating images that explored the multiplicity of our identities. Our work was grounded in our analyses of photographic discourses, our extensive reading in the fields of cultural studies and visual culture, our experience as practitioners and critics of the links between images and image-making, and notions of conscious and unconscious identities, to which we added therapeutic skills. Exploring the self as a series of ficti ons, as a web of inter-related stories told to us and about us, we used therapeutic techniques to look behind the "screen memories," the simplifications and myths of others, too long accepted as our own histories. We began to tell our stories through our therapeutic relationship and together we explored ways of making visible the complexity and contradictions of our own stories from our points of view. (3) We were always concerned to place the individual's issues within a societal frame, to address the politics of specific identity formations and the personal as political. We aimed to uncover the elisions that had silenced our experiences, for example, as working class women, and in Jo's case, as someone living with cancer. Rather than viewing these issues as privatized experiences of distress, we aimed to make visible the effects of institutional gazes and societal frames through their impact upon the individual.

This work brings together photography and therapy, using the knowledge bases and techniques of both disciplines in radical new ways. It is intentionally a practice that uses cross-disciplinary approaches. It also bridges the theory-practice divide and the separation between private and public discourses. It involves the creation of new photographic images within the therapeutic relationship. "Reenactment" is used to make the link with psychodrama and is not here intended to speak only of the past; it is possible to enact a projection toward the future, or a different outcome from that remembered. It is not repetition, rather, it has close links to notions of the performative body, as subsequently theorized by Judith Butler (4) and Peggy Phelan. …

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