In my response to the question, I will be discussing photography, painting & film.
My motivation in wanting to tackle this question came out of a desire to understand why some people are treated differently and why there are particular attitudes to some cultures. For me I had to start at the beginning, I wanted to know; what are those ideas, how are they assimilated, and where do they reside.
In examining those ideas, I came across a wealth of preconceived ideas. Just 14 ideas are presented here, all at best sometimes just funny, sometimes just controlling sometimes just damaging. Not just funny, controlling or damaging, but dangerous. They are dangerous partly because they remove idea of the right to be an individual, but also because sometimes these ideas are believed.
Some of these ideas reside in the unconscious mind and are sometimes assimilated unknowingly in doing so they become part of our individual and national psyche.
In taking a look at the how of those ideas – we take a look at the mind and its mechanisms; the mind is divided into two parts. The conscious mind and the unconscious mind. The conscious is responsible for reason and logic and controls all the intended actions whilst being conscious. The ego, exist both in the conscious and the unconscious mind, it is responsible for our perceptions, thoughts and judgements. The super ego, exist both in the conscious and the unconscious mind, develops at the age of 4 and is responsible for our moral compass i.e. our belief systems. The ID is the larger part of the mind and exits below the surface of consciousness, it is responsible for our involuntary reactions such as the heartbeat and breathing including other bodily functions which we are not aware of, it is the unconscious parts of our minds where our personalities reside memories, beliefs, drives instincts and primitive Urges.
In Freudian theory, he compares himself to an archaeologist digging away layers of the human mind. In his theory he distinguishes between the conscious mind consisting of the mental processes we are aware of. The unconscious mind in his theory is further divided into the pre conscious mind, this area of the mind contain memories that can be recalled to consciousness and the true unconscious which contain biological instincts and primitive urges, these instincts are not accessible to consciousness.
What is particularly notable about the construction of the mind is how much larger the unconscious mind is, as compared to that of the conscious mind. Its size implies more information resides there that we are not unaware of.
Freudian theory goes on to propose the idea of emotional defence mechanisms .
The conscious mind is known to be the gate keeper to the unconscious mind; i.e. if someone tries to present a belief that doesn’t match the belief system, then the conscious mind will filter that belief, however the key to that filtering – is being aware of what is being presented, so that in effect – what is being presented does not slip into your unconscious unnoticed. The unconscious mind uses various mechanisms to defend itself against deep anxieties, conflicts, ideas and notions which are painful.
- Denial – refusal to admit an unpleasant fact
- Repression – an inability to remember unpleasant facts
- Displacement – redirecting a strong emotion such as anger from one person to another
- Formation – adopting an attitude which is opposite to how we really feel
- Sublimation– channelling strong emotion into creativity activity
- Regression – in which we use childlike behaviour to comfort ourselves
My favourite of these defence mechanisms are dreams, partly because Freud introduces them in such a grand manor; Dreams, according to Freud are the
royal road to knowledge, of the activity of, the unconscious mind.
When deep anxieties break though into our dreams they are processed through what Freud calls dream-work, this is where the mind takes what ever is upsetting through one or other process in order to dilute and manage the upset. The process it might be one or a combination of the following:
- Displacement – one thing is manifest as another so it can happily be destroyed.
- Condensation – two people who upset can be morphed into one fictional person.
- Symbolism – when one object represents another, and finally
- Secondary elaboration – the last stage of dream-work is where the unconscious mind strings together a series of images creating a logical story or credible story which can managed emotionally.
The last stages accounts for a visual language which when illustrated, manifests in an illusionary dreamlike image, vision is blurred, emotions are dulled, the state of mind is hypnotic, and somehow there is comfort in feeling nothing bad can happen.
Salvador Dali a surrealist had Freudian symbolism at the heart of his work, here the illusionary dreamlike state comes to the fore in Dali’s The Hand The Remorse of Conscience paintings were designed to make viewers question their own belief in a fixed reality, by portraying dreams, the unconscious and the irrational.
During his surrealist period Dali consolidated the motifs and symbols which were to became part of his artistic vocabulary; Ants, crutches, keys, watches, lobsters, bread, eggs and other clues were all painted to be interpreted through the lens of Freudian psychology.
Encrypted imagery as seen in Hans Holbein’s – The Ambassadors 1553 or Juan Sánchez Cotán – Quince Cabbage Melon, and Cucumber c.1600, allowed Dali to paint shocking and taboo subjects.
Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision – Salvador Dalí.
Dir. Orson Wells, The Stranger,1946 in post war America is a film about the hunt for Nazi war criminals. There are three main characters the Nazi criminal, the wife and the authorities. The film pivots distinctly between the wife’s view of her America; filmed in daylight, with upper class gatherings and polite society accompanied by a jolly sound track; with the world of her husband, his interactions with the authorities are filmed at night in deep shadow with small areas of light, accompanied by a sharp unmelodious and disturbing sound track, all is not well.
This film is base on war and justice, these ideas are mediated through notions of the American way of life, played by the female which is delicate and light and is to be protected from the dark and disturbing atrocities of strangers e.g. Nazi foreigners – the enemy. American Authority is played by Edward G. Robinson – a very manly man – who is strong, authoritative and determined to protect the American way of life.
At the beginning of the film the female America is deeply in love with her husband the Nazi and cannot believe that he could commit such atrocities. The film is laden with psychoanalytic signs and symbols illustrating national anxiety, strange angles, strange close-ups, clocks ticking marking time and swords of justice. Over time she relents in her belief in her husband, a broken string of pearls symbolises the wife’s nervous breakdown as the beads scatters across the floor – she was said to be in two minds. She later starts to stand up to her husband and is instrumental in his capture, her being of two minds, seems to mirror America’s late arrival in WWII – two years after the conflict had started in 1941.
From that moment of the breakdown, the film is all dark and the anxiety builds in the musical score until the end of the film when good triumphs over evil.
I recently came across the work of two photographers whose work intrigues me the first of these is Julie Cockburn, originally trained as a sculptor. She typically works with found portraits which she transforms in order to hint at hidden characteristics of the unknown sitter for her the indexical nature of the photographic portrait are an ‘incomplete truth’.
In subverting the photograph, Cockburn poses questions of the viewer, in creating layers of suggestion she asked the viewer to embark on an imaginary journey, querying who subject was, rather than accepting the photograph as evidence. In attempting to unearth something which isn’t being said her interventions raises questions as to the limits of the photograph.
The other photographer is Darren Harvey-Regan whose work intrigues me. In a recent example is his work ‘Phrase (a fragment), Fragment (a phrase)’ a rock is mounted on a wall above a photograph of the rock, this brings into question the relationship between the rock and the photograph.
Although the rock is the same object in the photograph, they look different as the rock is subject to the play of light and shadows and can be viewed from different angles, the photograph on the other hand is not subject to that interplay, we only see it from one point of view.
In seeing these objects side by side his work punctuates the idea of ambiguity in the photograph. He has illustrated what Berger calls a of discontinuity of place, which produces ambiguity in its interpretation. It is this ambiguity which is not always apparent when viewing the photograph, we forget that what we see is subject to to the photographers’ eye.
During this presentation we have seen, when an image is presented the way people look at it is mediated through a series of learned internal assumptions concerning: Beauty, truth, genius, civilisation, form, status, taste, both at the conscious and unconscious mind.
In answer to the question posed, these mechanisms, assumptions, signs and symbols which embody ideas are usefully recognised as the viewer in understanding context and motive in the thing that we are being presented. These mechanisms are also usefully utilised in photographic practice in order to develop a personal visual vocabulary in order to communicate creative ideas.
12. Peer Review
An area for improvement would be to have greater interaction with the audience presenting. However the overall view from the peers were that the presentation was clear and precise, with good use of visuals which was well presented. People felt that subject was easily understood and that they learnt something new. One person stating that after the the presentation they had finally understood their lectures on the subject. Finally I enjoyed the Q&A session at the end of the presentation the most. Scoring ranged between 70 – 90% for the overall presentation.