Art and Photography

 email page    print page

All Topic Reviews
1000 Families2 ¼32 Stories365 Days51 Months5x7A Child's Life and Other StoriesA Couple of Ways of Doing SomethingA Lifetime of SecretsA Storybook LifeA Treasury of Victorian MurderActing OutAddiction and ArtAEIOUAfter PhotographyAliveAlive with Alzheimer'sAlone Together POCAltered StatesAmazing WomenAmelia's WorldAmerica at HomeAmerican AlphabetsAmnesiaAn American LensAn Exact MindAngel's WorldAngry Youth Comix #2Anjos ProibidosAnthony GoicoleaArchitecture of AuthorityArt After Conceptual ArtArt and HomosexualityArt and PhotographyArt in Three DimensionsArt Photography NowArt, Self and KnowledgeArt/PornAs We AreAsylumAttitudeAutoportraitBecoming Edvard MunchBeg the QuestionBelugaBerkoBig Rabbit's Bad MoodBill HensonBlab!Blab! 13BLAB! Vol. 14BLAB! Vol. 15BlanketsBoneyardBoneyardBoy StoriesBreakdownsBright EarthBrüselBurn, Bitchy, BurnBus OdysseyBut Is It Art?CanvasCaricatureChildrenChris VereneChristy ReportCinema PanopticumClass PicturesClick DoubleclickCloserClumsyClyde Fans CoincidencesComing of AgeComing of Age in Ancient GreeceConceptual Art and PaintingConfessions of a Cereal EaterConsider LoveCouch FictionCrumpleCzech EdenCzech Photographic Avant-Garde, 1918-1948Dan & LarryDargerDays With My FatherDead EndDear MomDeus Ex MachinaDigital DiariesDirty StoriesDisasters of WarDixie RoadDomestic VacationsDon't Go Where I Can't FollowDon't You Feel BetterDr. Jekyll & Mr. HydeDrawingsDriftlessEarly ExposuresEcstasyEdouard VuillardEnduring CreationEngland, My EnglandEntering GermanyEpilepticErwin OlafEscape from "Special"EVAEverything Will DisappearEvidenceExploring the Self through PhotographyExposureExpressionism Exquisite CorpseFamilyFamilyFamily LifeFandomaniaFaster than a Speeding BulletFictionsFigure and GroundFragile DVDFred the ClownFreud at WorkFridaFrom Girls to GrrlzFun HomeGeneration DadaGirl CultureGirls, Some Boys and Other CookiesGoing Into TownGood-ByeGraphic WomenGrave MattersGreat Hiking Trails of the WorldH R GigerHans BellmerHappy Halloween, Li'L SantaHauntedHere Is New YorkHey, Wait...High Art LiteHollywood CowboyHouse of JavaHow Art WorksI Am Not This BodyI Love You But I've Chosen RockI Thought I Could FlyI'll Be Your MirrorI'm CrazyIllumineIn My Darkest HourIn Search Of DignityIn the Floyd ArchivesIn the Line of DutyInformation ArtsIntenseInvisible No MoreIt Was A Dark And Silly NightJack Cole and Plastic ManJimmy CorriganJock SturgesJock SturgesJust Between UsKafkaKatharina SieverdingLacan at the SceneLaura Numeroff's 10-Step Guide to Living with Your MonsterLife's a BitchLight in the Dark RoomLine of Beauty and GraceListening to CementLittle LitLi’l SantaLoadsLooking For MayaLost GirlLouis FaurerLouise BourgeoisLove and DesireLove Lust DesireLuckyManufactured LandscapesMass ObservationMaster BreastsMetacreationMisty DawnMnemosyneMomeMona KuhnMy Brain is Hanging Upside DownMy DepressionMy Family AlbumNatural BeautiesNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew and Used BLAB!New York September 11Night FisherNightswimmingNo More ShavesNot My ShameNotes from a DefeatistNothing ObviousNothing to HideNudes and PortraitsOliviaOlivia Saves the CircusOn City StreetsOne EyeOnly a Promise of HappinessOptic NerveOptic Nerve #11Optic Nerve #9Outlaws, Rebels, Freethinkers & PiratesOutsider ArtOutsider Art and Art TherapyPanic at Toad HallPatrolPaul M. SmithPeculiaPeekPeople Love PhotosPerfect ExamplePersepolisPhilosophersPhonesexPhoto ArtPhoto Icons I (1827-1926)Photographers, Writers, and the American ScenePhotography and LiteraturePhotography and PhilosophyPhotography and SciencePhotography and the USA Photography RebornPicturing DisabilityPlaytimePOPismPortraits of ResiliencePostmodernismprettycitynewyorkPsychedelicQuestions without answersRaptors Raw YouthRay's a LaughRazmatazReclining NudeRed SnowRemembering GeorgyRequisite DistanceRineke DijkstraRippleRobert Doisneau 1912-1994Robert MaxwellRoom to PlayRXSame Difference & Other StoriesSanctumSatan's Sex BookSatellitesSchizophreniaSee Me Feel MeSelf-Taught and Outsider ArtSexSexual ArtSexyBookShadow ChamberSidewalk StoriesSkin DeepSleepwalkSmall FavorsSmile of the BuddhaSpectral EvidenceSpentSshhhh!Stranded in CantonStrange Stories for Strange Kids Stranger PassingStripped BareSummer BlondeSurrealismSymbols in ArtTestimonyThe Aesthetics of DisengagementThe AlcoholicThe Art InstinctThe Art of Adolf WolfliThe Art of MedicineThe BabiesThe Birthday RiotsThe Blue Day BookThe Blue NotebookThe BodyThe Body as ProtestThe Boulevard of Broken DreamsThe Breast BookThe Breathing FieldThe Bristol Board JungleThe Clouds AboveThe Devil and Daniel JohnstonThe Diary of a Teenage GirlThe Education of SophieThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Face in the LensThe Illustrated Story of OThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Madonna of the FutureThe Mirror of LoveThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New LifeThe Other PlaceThe PervertThe Philosophy of Andy WarholThe Places We LiveThe Psychology of Art and the Evolution of the Conscious BrainThe Push Man and Other StoriesThe Scar of VisibilityThe September 11 Photo ProjectThe Shiniest JewelThe Speed AbaterThe Steerage and Alfred StieglitzThe Story of Frog Belly Rat BoneThe Story of SexThe Stuff of LifeThe Three ParadoxesThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Transparent CityThe TravelersThe ValleyThe Van Gogh BluesThe Wolves in the WallsThe Yellow HouseThinThings as They AreThinking of YouTierney GearonTime and SilenceTina's MouthTits, Ass, and Real EstateTransitionTrauma and Documentary Photography of the FSATravelersTropical BlendTwentieth Century EightballTwilightUnlikelyVagina WarriorsVernacular VisionariesVietnam At PeaceVisual CultureVitamin PhWar Is Only Half the StoryWhat Are You Looking At?What Art IsWhat Good Are the Arts?What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally MannWho Am I, What Am I, Where Am I?Why Comics?William KentridgeWillie DohertyWithWriters on ArtistsYoung PhotographerZip Zip My Brain Harts

Related Topics
Light in the Dark RoomReview - Light in the Dark Room
Photography and Loss
by Jay Prosser
University of Minnesota Press, 2004
Review by Mark Welch, Ph.D.
Mar 1st 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 9)

It is often said that if a person's house is burning down among the things of highest priority to be rescued, after pets and children (or maybe before, I don't know), are photographs. In some respects this seems very odd. Why should this be? What is about photographs that seems so precious, so irreplaceable? How do they resonate with our sense of self? How do photographs connect us with our past, how do they link us with memory?

Photographs adorn family fridges and are found, frayed and bent in wallets. In hospitals when people personalize their tiny space, or their bedside locker, photographs are often the first things to be placed there. They are sometimes put up around unconscious patients as though those in the photograph can somehow bring a ministering or supportive presence.

There is increasing interest in photo-narratives as a therapeutic means of expressing the self and experience, and making it accessible and understandable to others. This, it seems is beginning to approach the meaning we try to capture in a photograph.

Often in grief counseling we are told to bring in some photographs of a loved one as if they will still be there in some way through the medium. In some cemeteries you will find photographs of the interred. Usually they show them when they were young, it might even be a wedding day. There appears to be something in the nature of a photograph, often a family snapshot rather than a posed portrait that brings us close to our selves.

Jay Prosser suggests that we treat photographs in a way that seem to bring the past into the present. We have photographs on our mantelpieces, we have albums of them, we take them on special occasions -- births, marriages, but not deaths. But, he argues, photographs are not a sign of presence in our lives, they are a sign of absence. They indicate loss.

Every photograph is of a past moment. Something happened and has now gone, although its one time existence has been recorded. Photographs do not show "the presence of the past, but the pastness of the present" as Prosser argues. They are reminders of our mortality, rather than our continuing life; and within that they become meditative.

For Prosser this is not a sad thing, not something to be mourned. Rather, it is rich in possibility and he tries to show this by describing in detail four very different articulated experiences of loss, by four very different figures with widely divergent histories, perspectives and outlooks. The things that link them together are loss, photography and curiously enough, some experience of Brazil (all the people involved spent time in Brazil and their particular loss is sometimes associated with that period of their life).

Prosser describes the reflections of the philosopher Roland Barthes on the death of his mother, the experience of the structuralist anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss in observing the death of a culture, the meditations of the photo-journalist Gordon Parks on the loss of youth and innocence, and the impact felt by the poet Elizabeth Bishop on the death of her lover. He uses considerable amounts of original material from each, and interweaves his own commentary on the meaning of loss for them, the experience of taking and looking at photographs and the great sadness, and perhaps enlightenment they can bring.

One can imagine a kitchen table strewn with old photographs, some perhaps faded now, being picked over and discussed -- "How young we were", "I'd quite forgotten that", "This was the day we left" - and here Prosser's point that they act as memento mori, reminders of death, appears at its most perceptive.

However, his prose is not always as clear as that insight. His academic orientation, and postmodern tendencies sometimes obscure a point when a simple and direct manner would be better. Sometimes the delicacy of his point is lost in the heaviness of the writing. He devotes a whole chapter to himself and his reflections on the writing of an earlier book, which seems rather an indulgence. He finds within each of his subject chapters a palinode, i.e., a poem of retraction and return, which in itself becomes a motif for his book as he returns and reflects in each essay. However, the integrity and consistency of this idea is not completely compelling. There are times at which he appears to be inducing the thesis, rather than deducing it; he may be trying to persuade the reader rather than let the conclusions become obvious. Of course, others may feel differently.

Nevertheless the book is not without merit. It makes the reader look anew at the photographs that may surround him or her at the moment of reading. It puts forward some intriguing ideas and its treatment, or at least the arrangement of the principal characters is thought provoking. Perhaps the best of these is Gordon Parks, but as a photographer himself, he had some added experience to the way photography can both capture and obscure meaning.

It would not be a book for the beginning reader, although there is one there to be written for this is a most interesting subject.


© 2006 Mark Welch


Mark Welch, Ph.D. Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta and Co-Director of the PAHO/WHO Collaborating Centre for Nursing & Mental Health.


Welcome to Metapsychology.

Note that Metapsychology will be moving to a new server in January 2020. We will not put up new reviews during the transition. We thank you for your support and look forward to coming back with a revised format.

We feature over 8300 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than twenty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from for purchases through this site, which helps us send review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your purchases through our Amazon links. We thank you for your support!

Join our Google Group!

Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? To apply, write to our editor.

Metapsychology Online Reviews

Promote your Page too

Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716