A journey into the unconscious
I have always been fascinated by how the mind works – how people think, what makes them tick, where do thoughts come from, what makes a person’s personality what it is? As a teenager, I spent a lot of time dipping into psychology textbooks and poring over expressionist art – neither of which had anything to do with what I was meant to be studying. Fast forward 20 years, and I reached a turning point in my life, quitting my job in IT and embarking on re-training as a counsellor. At the same time as exploring my new vocation, I started making self-portraits, as a way of exploring my identity in the light of significant change. Another 3 years on, counselling training has been put on pause but the exploratory journey continues. ‘Mind Games’ is one specific strand within my ongoing self-portrait project. Above all, it is about seeing and feeling, and exploring the relationship between those two things.
Through making pictures, I delve into what psychoanalysts call the subconscious and the unconscious – those parts of a person’s mind which are unknown even to themselves, residing deep inside their personalities and not within the grasp of their familiar day-to-day awareness. This is the realm where the Id and the Super-ego battle over control of the Ego, the place where our instinctive desires struggle against our conscience without us even being aware what is happening. These hidden parts of the mind are incredibly powerful, a source of both creativity and destructiveness. They drive much of our thinking and behaviour. It is a world which manifests itself in dreams, archetypes, symbolism and other imagery.
This series of self-portraits seeks to chart the emotional and psychological landscape, where the real and the imaginary are not two separate or opposite things but two different realities which are intertwined. The emotional world is at least as real as the visible, physical world. Dreams and fantasy are often the mind’s way of processing deep emotional and psychological realities. But how to capture what goes on inside the mind in a photograph? It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words but pictures can be used to express that which is even beyond words – this is one reason why counsellors and therapists use pictures and picture making to help their clients express their feelings.
The images in this series are composed of two or three digital photographic images layered together, as if they were a film double-exposure, so that the viewer has no choice but to view more than one image simultaneously. This puts the images in a certain context, so they must be seen in relation to each other, making them inextricably combined. This expresses something of how human perception works – the way that our experience of the world around us, and ultimately our sense of self, is filtered and interpreted through our past experiences. We view current reality through the lens of our memories, so that the present combines with the past, and with our hopes and fears about the future. As these layers of experience and learning accumulate in our memories, they colour and shape our sense of who we are, moulding our very identity. For some people, usually in moments of very intense emotion, the present reality can even be perceived as being merged with images which a person already has in their mind.
Another inspiration for this series is the Jungian notion of integration – the idea of psychological wholeness being achieved when all the different parts of the personality come together harmoniously. This led me to explore ways to bring together two separate streams of my work – outward-looking street photography and inward-looking self-portraiture. Although the two genres are very different from each other, I am still the same person, regardless of the type of pictures I am making. The same unconscious mind from which my self-portraits emerge is determining the way that I see the street, influencing the subjects I am drawn to, and the way that I present them. This led me to combine images of myself with images from the street which have significant symbolism or particular resonance for me.
CJ Crosland 2012