Reconstituting Memory

Deriving Solace through Therapeutic Photography


How can daydreams, the place of refuge and creativity, turn against us, becoming halls of horrors that consume and drag the self into self-loathing and depression? What are the root causes of these changes and how can artistic practice be used to repair the injured mind?

What is memory? And how do the traumas of the past create so much turbulence in the present? Can the memories of the past be reconstituted in the present to quiet them in the future? What role does narrative play in memory and in the self? And are there tools available, which can improve both mental and physical health?

Working as a photographer in the 1970’s Jo Spence would have had no idea how important photography would become in her life, or in the lives of those who would ultimately be impacted by her work. Are there parallels that can be drawn between the practice of Spence and the practice of Louise Bourgeois considering how different both their work and traumas appear to be?

Judy Weiser’s and Del Loewenthal’s ground breaking research into PhotoTherapy and Therapeutic Photography became the starting point in the development of research and understanding in the nuanced terminologies that differentiate between the different forms of Art Therapies. In a field filled with so many unique practices, research has been focused on attempting to divine a core set of practices that could serve as a working model or toolkit, if so, could the toolkit be used to sustain an artist who is currently working outside the guidance of a therapist?   

The Daydream

Outside in a café a group of people share a conversation over a coffee and a tapa. There are moments of serious discussion and laughter as the conversation drifts organically between relationships, work and family. As lull washes across the group one of the men’s faces stirs, abruptly sad and frustrated, his mind drifts away from the table. The group laughs, recovering his attention, he too laughs and picks back up in the conversation with his associates.

In social interactions, the consciousness is split in multiple directions both passive and active. Hopefully, to the people we are chatting with, we are partaking in the conversation, actively listening and driving the conversation forward rather than waiting for our turn to speak. However, internally, a range of conscious and subconscious motivations are at play causing distraction and occasionally taking us away to another world altogether.

Daydreams can be creative places for the mind to wander, plan and make sense of the world before snapping back to the situation at hand. However, if our mental health deteriorates, these once pleasant encounters with the unconscious become halls of regret and guilt, where duelling monologues wage hypothetical wars, filling every inattentive moment with malaise. Social interactions eventually become challenging as these daydreams become more frequent and intrusive, with time becoming the new normal, from which social interactions distract.

Daydreaming is conceived as ‘nonworking thought that is either spontaneous or fanciful’ and it is considered the default of the mind. As mental baseline, daydreaming is a frequent phenomenon. Estimates suggest that we spend 30-50% of our mental activity during waking hours in thoughts that are neither related to what we are doing at that moment nor to the immediate surrounding environment. Daydreaming, especially if characterized by negative cognitions, has been associated with symptoms of psychopathology, such as depression. Furthermore, in a laboratory setting, individuals with subclinical levels of depression exhibited more accessible periods of mindwandering while encoding verbal material, greater attentional control failures and higher physiological response than euthymic individuals. Levels of depressive symptoms correlated only with the rate of episodes of daydreaming that occurred without the participants’ awareness of being off task (e.g., I “Zoned Out”) but not with those episodes the participant was aware of (e.g., “tuned out”) (Marchetti, Vande Putte, Koster, 2014).

Marchetti et al. (2012) showed that individuals’ levels of depressive symptoms were not correlated with daydreaming, but the former moderated the later in predicting the accessibility of negative thinking. They proposed a comprehensive model that could explain the depressogenic role of daydreaming via contribution of multiple cognitive risk factors, such as rumination, and that higher levels of internal focus during resting state predicted increased levels of rumination that would explain a temporary worsening in mood. Rumination, in turn, has been consistently found to enhance depressive symptoms. The reduced processing of external distractions could augment repetitive thinking (Marchetti, Vande Putte, Koster, 2014).

Daydreaming seems to be a phenomenon during which evaluative and judgmental self-referential thinking occurs and although it is focused on the daydreamers narrative self (e.g. action, feelings, past events, etc.), it is not associated with any immediate beneficial outcome, rather it is the ideal condition for detrimental ruminative self-focus to occur. In the cited study it was found that levels of daydreaming and depressive symptoms were statistically independent, though daydreaming did predict depressive outcomes, but only to the extent which self-focus and brooding were involved too. Apparently, both self-focus and maladaptive rumination were necessary components for daydreaming to impact on depressive symptoms (Marchetti, Vande Putte, Koster, 2014).

As the repetitive narratives of the dark ruminations consume the once safe corners of consciousness, the self-generated thoughts associated with the default mode of the mind take on the mantle of fear, suffocating the sufferer’s ability to successfully complete everyday tasks. Going to pick up the kids quickly dissolves into a high blood-pressure, high heartrate panic attack. Psychologists recommend a daily dose of exercise as part of a healthy mental-health routine, yet going for a walk is the perfect environment for the malformed daydream. This problem creates an opportunity for the design of an appropriate therapeutic intervention.

Photography as Therapy

In a therapy context, traditional art (drawing, painting, sculpting, et al.) and photography can be seen in the same way. They are both catalysts for conversation within which a therapist can encourage their patient to engage in a conversation that would otherwise not take place in the context of traditional talking therapies. From this point, traditional art and photography tend to diverge in both important and interesting ways beyond the why you made this picture or painted this painting.

Photographs offer up a slippery surface of meanings to reflect upon and project onto, and contain a myriad of latent narratives.

(Martin, 2013).

“While the making of art can certainly be “therapeutic” (healing) for those doing it, can this be accurately called “therapy” if there is no end-part of the session where it is de-briefed so that a cognitive-conscious anchoring can be achieved?” The art-as-therapy approach of Therapeutic Photo-Art-Activities is somewhat different to the art-during-therapy approach of PhotoTherapy or Art-Therapy in that it does not require but can benefit from “the help of a therapist to help “finish” what has come to light” (Weiser, 2014).

Photography’s relationship with memory and the real gives it a unique characteristic when compared with traditional art. Barthes’ discourse around the photograph of his mother or Thomas Struth’s collection of family photographs lean on the same Freudian foundations of family and parental relationships. In a therapy setting the client’s family photographs create a doorway to the exploration of these issues and related complexities. However, in the case of Struth, the family photograph project’s genesis was “Ingo Hartmann, a psychoanalyst working in Düsseldorf who became an important friend and mentor of Struth’s”. Hartmann occasionally asked new patients to bring some of their own family photographs as a means of exploring how they might represent certain dynamics within their family life. Struth created prints, all in the same format and size, so that they could function better as a tool for comparative analysis. “We were hoping to retrieve and present what was legible and understandable, to see what narratives about family life could be reconstructed from this evidence” (Struth, 2010).

The collection and dissemination of photographic imagery within the context of therapy has created a situation where photographs can be used as an icebreaker, to trigger emotion and to explore childhood and family dynamics. Like a deck of cards, photographs can be shuffled, grouped, or singled out to lead the conversation even though they were not created by or with the subject of the therapy. The creation of photographic images within the context of a therapy session has been rare due to the relative cost of equipment and training. Therapists would loan out point-and-shoot cameras to participants with a brief to document their everyday lives. Photographs would then be printed and edited down to manageable number, before continuing with the related therapies. This has changed however since the proliferation of cameras on mobile devices, which will, over time, lead to a greater proliferation of related research

Art/Photographic therapies are based on trust and often hold fragile truths that are sensitive and deeply personal. The therapeutic process needs to be completed before any of the work can be shared. Consequently, almost all the works remain private. For the artist, the desire to communicate universal elements of the human condition, pushes them forward. “We chose to exhibit some key images from our practice, because we wanted to share these ideas. The chosen images speak to the social and cultural formations of subjectivities and can activate a personal or collective memory for the spectator.” (Martin, 2013).

Jo Spence

I used my camera as a third eye, almost as a separate part of me, which was ever watchful, analytical and critical yet remaining attached to the emotional and frightening experiences I was undergoing – my camera must shoot on auto pilot at these times I question the photographs later.

(Spence, quoted in Dennett, 2011)

Spence, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1982, was not a first-time photographer, having had a successful career in portraiture and becoming well known in the 1970’s for her explorations of family and self-image. The family albums that she inherited led her to argue for an expanded version of the family album – “one through which we can pass on the broader picture of our lives”, after finding that not only did she have only one photograph of her father at work but none of her mother outside of the usual celebratory events (Dennett, 2011). At the time of her diagnosis treatment was limited to surgeries and drugs with counseling unavailable due to cutbacks in her region. Not having enough money to explore more expensive options she was forced to create “her own independent cancer survival programme assisted by the Bristol Cancer Centre” (Dennett, 2011).

The Body is the Hero. Spence, Dennet, 1983

The photograph should serve as a jumping off point to direct us to real life situations existing outside the photographic frame. Our Photographs should present the viewer with questions, the work we do will only have a final ‘reality effect’ when it functions as an arena for discussion and, more importantly, acts as a call to action.

(Spence, quoted in Dennett, 2011)

The development of Spence’s strategies came about when she was introduced to the idea of “using photos as an aid to meditation and stress control by a fellow cancer patient who was exploring visualization and meditation as part of a treatment protocol based upon the ‘directed daydream’ method of mental imaging”. She later combined photography with a series of illness diaries and, over time, incorporated methodologies from Dr Ira Pragoff’s pioneering Intensive Journal method. Throughout her illnesses and recoveries Spence actively researched, attended workshops and, with the help of a trained therapist, developed a complex series of patterns through which she created her work (Dennett, 2011).

Photography transforms a living scene into a piece of two-dimensional graphic art – a representation of the moment but drained of all life, sound and smell – an abstraction, a fragment of the moment but unlike our ephemeral memory it can be shared. It is a physical object we can hold it, pass round, discuss and archive for posterity. So I see Photography as a magical process.

(Spence, quoted in Dennett, 2011)

Rosy Martin began collaborating with Spence in 1983 creating photographic representations through photographic re-enactments. Martin met Spence while attending a series of co-counselling training courses. “We worked together in an experimental and creative way and maintained the therapeutic framework to work through the emotions that making and viewing these images released. We soon realised that we had discovered a very powerful technique” (Martin, 2013). They worked together to look behind the “screen memories”, which Freud referred to as “those fixed images from childhood that haunt each individual” (Bate, 2010). For Martin (2013) and Spence screen memories represented the “simplifications and myths of others, too long accepted as our histories […] exploring the self as a series of fictions”.

Louise Bourgeois

The children grabbed him [the father] and put him on the table. And he became the food. They took him apart, dismembered him. Ate him up. And so he was liquidated…the same way he liquidated his children. The sculpture represents both a table and a bed .

(Bourgeois, cited in Bergstrom-Katz, 2009)

Louise Bourgeois “was motivated by emotional struggles and she came up with visual imagery that would help her deal with these emotional struggles” (Wye, 2017). Bourgeois had been in intensive psychoanalysis for many years (1952-1985), a fact that she had denied throughout her career until 2004, when her long-time assistant Jerry Gorovoy found a box of papers in the back of a closet and brought them to her attention. A second box was discovered in 2010. In all, these boxes contained nearly a thousand sheets of writings that Bourgeois had made during her psychoanalysis. After they were found, she reengaged with them, asking that they be read aloud to her. Since that time, about a hundred examples have been made available, in the two-volume book titled “The Return of the Repressed” (Wye, 2017).

The Destruction of the Father. Bourgeois 1974

I need memories. They are my documents. I keep watch over them. They are my provocacy and I am intensely jealous of them.

(Louise Bourgeois, Cited in Oliveira, 2017).

Did psychoanalysis help her? No, it didn’t. She never sought therapeutic help or looked to psychoanalysis for a cure. So, what did she get? Bourgeois, with her analyst Henry Lowenfeld, created Louise’s analysis, what could be described as a training analysis, though not one to become a psychoanalyst—a thought she did entertain once—but one to be an artist. Her clinical development and training was intensive and life-long. Her “self” or “auto” analysis could only have come about with this extensive experience. Psychoanalysts and artists both work with unconscious processes, Louise kept all her traumatic sensations alive to find the right visual, not verbal, cure through her work. She kept them alive in this way because it was who she was as an artist. Art made her sane but it did not end her agonies, she needed them for her art. Through this and the auto-traumatization process, Louise opened herself up to all the fragility and vulnerability associated with trauma and its memory. She, deliberately, went into and stayed within the trauma. She could control some aspects like the impetus for the work, but not others, like the insomnia or the rages, the latter of which she became well known for (Mitchell, 2017. Appearing in Wye, 2017).

“People in despair do not make art. Bourgeois fallow period, when she was in intense analysis, was connected to depression. She may not have been cured by her analysis, but I do believe it helped her to identify her anger and create a parable to explain her volatile feelings” (Hustvedt, 2017. Appearing in Wye, 2017). As Bourgeois put it “A steady rage can be productive” (Bourgeois, quoted by Hustvedt, 2017).

She saw the function of her art as “her tool of survival and her guarantee of sanity” (Wye, 2017). When asked about the diversity of her work and the reference to one work developing after another she explained “I understand myself better and better”. Through her research and understanding of psychoanalysis she created a mythology in her work of “jealousy, sex and betrayal, guaranteed to attract attention as a good story and provide a screen for what she wanted to remain hidden. The appearance of telling can be a convenient mask” (Hustvedt, 2017. Appearing in Wye, 2017).

In order to liberate myself from the past I have to reconstruct it. Ponder about it. Make a statue out of it and get rid of it. Through making sculpture I am able to forget it afterwards. I have paid my debt to the past and I am liberated

(Louise Bourgeois, cited in Harding, 2013).

Bourgeois knew that the female artist who embraces the body, emotion and autobiography in her work is usually denigrated. “[H]er art’s provocative, barefaced content — personal, confessional, bitter, feminist, nurturing, overtly sexual, and confrontational — hits you with mallet force, its subject matter long ringing both between your legs and between your ears. […] The story of her life feels like an excuse for art that amounts to little more than therapeutic exorcism” (Esplund, 2008). Bourgeois not being a photographer allows us to abstract the process from the work through comparison. The processes of Spence and Bourgeois are similar yet completely different. They both, identify the trauma, develop an understanding of it, make something from it and communicate the result in a public forum. Where the two processes diverge is in their chosen media and methods of communication.  The drawing, print-making and sculpture preferred by Bourgeois are slow mediums. The conversation between a drawing and the thing been drawn opens a window for dialogue between the conscious and the unconscious. The process of reflection breathing throughout the process, the narrative for which being sealed through reflective writing. The same is also equally true for sculpture and print-making, where the processes are also slow and evolutionary. The decisive moment of photography trends toward the fast, yet Spence developed a process of mirror therapy, staging and construction that slowed the process, creating a space for reflection to get a foothold within the arena of making a photograph, balancing out the perceived gaps between traditional art and photography. Bourgeois’s work eludes to a way of being through suggestion and the framing of text, which serves as an aside. This communicates in a different way to that of Spence, whose work performs directly, drawing attention to the subject, the text reinforcing the message of the photographic image. What is inseparable in processes of the two artists is the position of memory as a catalyst for igniting their practice. 


It can be easy to talk about and remember something that happened when we were, eleven, for instance. It is what is referred to as an autobiographical experience that has, over time, become a narrative in life. Much earlier, traumatic experiences may not even be imprinted in autobiographical memory, which is explicit memory. In this area, neurobiology has validated Freud, who argued that there is no original memory. In remembering, we do not ever retrieve an original memory, instead, what we retrieve is the last time we checked that memory out. Memories are reconsolidated at a molecular level and when they are reconsolidated they are done so by emotion. As a result, what we remember from our childhood are emotionally powerful memories. Memories that are not part of autobiographical memories (trauma) may not be explicitly remembered, but are remembered in the body, manifesting for example as flashbacks. This type of memory may occasionally have a visual component, but typically no words, as they are imprinted on another part of the brain that is not hippocampal memory (Hustvedt, 2017. Appearing in Wye, 2017). “The theory of memory is both the place of the past coming into the future, but also the future reshaping our memory” (Mitchell, 2017. Appearing in Wye, 2017).

This idea that there is no original memory, that the memory we recall is an artefact of the last time it was retrieved, flows into the interaction of photography and memory. Though of the past, “that-has-been”, photography cannot bring the past to memory because any human experience, even memory, always happens in the present, where paradoxically we experience the presence of the past. The decoding upon which the photograph is dependant no longer belongs to the image or the past, but to the present, where it is experienced (Martins, 2017). This view advances the opinion of Susan Sontag in “On Photography”, where, “A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. The picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what is in the picture” (1977). With photographs, memory is both fixed and fluid. As sites of memory, photographic images do not offer a view on history, but, as mnemic devices, are perceptual phenomena upon which a historical representation may be constructed (Bate, 2010).

The photograph joins in the poetic dance of evolving memory as its context advances over time, in the hands of the imagination. “Memory and imagination do not admit dissociations, and if for some reason the two collide, imagination wins because, as stated by Durand, the Imaginary is insensitive to rational rebuttal. By demanding that the material image and the mental image coincide, the imaginary uses photography as a crucible in which, memories (past) and desires (future) are alchemically merged. The collective imaginary guides the construction of memory in the direction of its desires” (Martins, 2017). Image and memory have been used by nation states and religious organisations for millennia in the creation of memorials to evoke memories of past events, whose narratives have been created and placed in memory through indoctrination or education. These cultural memories are derived to aid the creation of a common belief system, from which communities, countries and civilisations can relate and grow. The introduction of photography created both a point of reinforcement, where photographs can add to the cultural canon, and a point of failure, from which the link between memorial and narrative is broken, freeing the photographic image of the weight of its contents’ cultural associations. Once relieved of its original context the photographic image is free to adopt new contexts as it moves through time, creating new memories along its journey.


Drawn to the window of my father’s studio by the sound of sirens we could see police passing quickly up the road. Sometime later the Army sped past followed by trucks. Then, as fast as it began it was quiet. As memories go, this one is as clear as the last time it was recalled, as is the memory of a loud bang and the very vivid memory of a black and white photograph featuring an overturned car beside a crater in a narrow road. The connection between those three memories constructs a narrative that informs me that I remember the day Christopher Ewart-Biggs, the British ambassador to Ireland, was killed on the 21st of July 1976. Perhaps, if greater effort was made to recall more information about the events of that day, more detail could have emerged.

The memory of the image of the car is clearly a 1930’s Ford, but the ambassador was driving a 1970’s Jaguar. The loud bang was in the morning, but my memory is at night. Loud bangs where not entirely rare in 1970’s Ireland. The memory of my father at the window, where he worked and took photographs every day, is clear, though the only visual memory of the event through the window is my memory of the photographs my father took that morning. Many years later, when he found the contact sheet, he told me the story while we examined it through a loop. Are any of my memories of that day from that day? No, the narrative connecting the three memories match the story of the events that day, but whatever was experienced has been rewritten with photographic attachments as my mind reconstructs its autobiographical narrative.

“A constructivist epistemology posits that individuals do not merely internalize an objective external reality, but rather subjectively construct meaning from the ‘‘raw material’’ of their experiences.” Narrative theorists have built upon this epistemology by asserting that humans make sense of—or create meaning from—their lives by constructing credible, coherent accounts of the key events they encounter. This ‘‘master narrative” is theorized to be central to humans’ identity-making processes (Jirek, 2016).

Our master narrative, or autobiographical narrative as referred to earlier, is not constructed in a vacuum; rather, individuals draw selectively from a range of discourses validated by their families, social groups, communities and cultures. Therefore, individuals’ identities and life stories are perpetually shaped by historical, political, cultural and social forces. As we move through our lives, new encounters and events continuously challenge, reaffirm and re-shape our narrative and, in doing so, reshape the self. These developments that smoothly incorporate into the individual’s life story do so with minimal disruption to our master narrative (Jirek, 2016).

Like a novel that loses a central character in the middle chapters, the life story disrupted by loss must be … rewritten, to find a new strand of continuity that bridges the past with the future in an intelligible fashion.

(Jirek, 2016).

Traumatic life events create a consequential “plot twist” in an individual’s autobiographical narrative, threatening the coherence of both their story and their sense of identity. These events may shatter assumptions about how the world works and their place in it and can also, paradoxically, provide an opportunity to revise life’s narratives in positive ways, redefining their identities and roles within society. This restructuring of their narratives makes them more resilient as they restructure their understanding of the world. (Jirek, 2016)

“Writing therapy is an evidence based treatment for post-traumatic-stress and constitutes a useful treatment alternative for patients who do not respond to other evidence-based treatments” (Emmerik, Reijntjes, Kamphuis, 2012). Several well controlled studies have demonstrated that therapeutic journal writing helps people to find meaning in adversity and enhances physical and psychological health. Participants who wrote about both the emotional and cognitive aspects of their trauma experienced significant increases in post-traumatic-growth (PTG) (Jirek, 2016). Interestingly, Pennebaker (2017) found: “participants who had had any kind of trauma, but had kept it a secret, were those most likely to have a variety of health problems”. Those who kept journals four days per week, fifteen minutes per day visited the health centre half as often as the control group over a six-month period.

Their life narratives evolved over time, as they incorporated new experiences and reached new understandings regarding their sense of self and their pasts. The crucial component was that a coherent, reconstructed, post-trauma narrative was developed, placing the narrator within a life story that continued on.

In the case of Jo Spence and Rosy Martin (2013) “We began to tell and explore ways of making visible the complexity and contradictions of our own stories, from our points of view, by re-enacting memories, key scenarios with emotional resonance and imagining possible futures”.

Photography, Narrative and Emotional Trauma: Binding Memory

The photograph is a small voice, at best but sometimes – just sometimes – one photograph or a group of them can lure our senses into awareness. Much depends on the viewer; in some, photographs can summon enough emotion to be a catalyst to thought

(Smith, quoted in Wheeler, 2013).

Maternity hospitals across the UK have, for several years, offered instant Polaroid photographs of stillborn infants. In situations like this one, where there has been no time to build a relationship or to build memories, photographs in these instances create a platform upon which the grieving process can find meaning in the trauma, providing the family with an opportunity to integrate their dead child into the context of their autobiographical narrative.

As an adult, I need to somehow give material presence to my memories in order to ‘see’ what was inside my head and give solidity to my ‘fleeting and formless memories’

(Meyer, quoted in Simmons, 2013).

How might a person who suffers re-traumatisation through the maladaptive ruminations of daydreams relocate their demons and free their mind? Could they use phototherapies or therapeutic photography to reconstitute the memories associated with the ruminations? The trauma, at the heart of the rumination, that disrupts the daydream can be seen as a block of narrative that is unconnected to the master narrative, crashing around like a free radical, unstable and highly reactive, causing havoc in the unconscious. As the unconscious becomes conscious, mindfulness would suggest breathing and emptying the mind of the disruptive thought. In a therapeutic photography setting the idea can be brought forward and addressed creatively by making a photograph of it, or at least the location of the realisation that the daydream had happened.

A creative photographic approach can be used to harness the things that are at the fore in those moments, enabling us to interpret and express our thoughts and feelings creatively, and placing us in a new relationship with our feelings (Simmons, 2013).

The photograph taken at the end of the daydream represents both the associated memory or trauma and the location at which it was realised. The chaotic narrative chunk needs to find its way into the autobiographical narrative before it can be understood and quieted. The photograph becomes the catalyst for the exploration and understanding of memory, from which the process of building an appropriate therapeutic process can be built. In the case of Jo Spence it was intensive journaling combined with therapeutic photographic exploration and in the case of Louise Bourgeois it was to reconstruct it, ponder about it, make a statue out of it and get rid of it. The catharsis of the process binds the photograph with the memory and emotion of recovery, creating a new narrative block that fits neatly into the master narrative and healing the self.  

This realignment of the photograph relocates the memory of the past to the location of the photograph. Reflective writing on the moment: the memory and the photograph tie the bond, creating solace. “The old saying: ‘We bring our lares with us’ has many variations… Through dreams, the various dwelling-places in our lives co-penetrate and retain the treasures of former days.” (Bachelard, cited in Speaks, 2009) In my own context, when I move I bring my demons with me. Displaced and unsettled, my demons’ troublesome manifestations, infect and corrode everyday experience. By relocating them, through the act of photography, the visual memory of their new home aids in softening their expression, creating a space within which the mind can recover. Additionally, when viewing the associated photographs, evocation is split between the memory of the location and the memory of the recalled moment, or demon, over time, softening the encounter, like nodding to a stranger we have seen before on the train to work.

Technical Note

Even today I love the theory—even though I never found a shred of evidence that supported it. Theories are grand but never take them too seriously. Their importance is in guiding research. If your data do not support your theory, trust the data more than your theory

(Pennebaker, 2017).

The interconnections between the visual and emotional systems are extensive, which makes the psychotherapies that use visual material extremely interesting. In the area of neuroimaging however, there has been little interest in the field of psychotherapy let alone phototherapy, reflecting the distinctions between biological and humanistic research areas. For now, neurobiology can only differentiate between basic emotions. It will be some time before scientific research can verify or falsify psychological theories. (Karlsson, 2013) Did Pennebaker find data to support his theory? Yes, twenty years after he asked the question in 1997.


The processes of Jo Spence and Louis Bourgeois twist and turn around each other but overlap to reveal a process that revolves around four key elements: memory, narrative, the body of work and time. Spence worked through her process to understand what she was experiencing and to give a voice to those who might find themselves in a similar situation. Bourgeois’ process created a tempered pressure pot of emotion, that served as a catalyst, from which her work emerged, while also suffering the negative side effects of auto-traumatisation.

As a process of Therapeutic Photography, memory and narrative are augmented by both the photographic image and the pondering that is intertwined through time. This creates the bond that seats the reconstituted memory into the autobiographical narrative of the artist. This process serves as a loop that refines, reflects and reduces until the reason to continue has resolved. The secret becomes the test; can the artwork be shared or do shadows, that ask for the work to be held back, remain? In the case of the latter the loop is still open and more work can be done. Time is the hidden ingredient that allows the mind to heal.

The hypothesis of a four-point process for Therapeutic Photography creates a starting point for further research and artistic development. However, the fifth element is that of a therapist whose expertise guides the participant through the secure closing of each opened loop and aids in navigating the perils of auto-traumatisation.

The daydream may never return to the quiet escape of childhood, the maladaptive ruminations of the unconscious show little difficulty in revising their list of potential artistic inspirations. For now, it has one less knife to twist in the heart of the self. Our master narrative is an evolving story being written with no perception of time, always in the present, written by our emotional self. With time, emotion is tempered by this therapeutic process and regular reflective writing can ease the burdens of memory, lightening our unconscious load and maintaining order within the autobiographical narrative of the self.


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