Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jeffrey Rosen

Subject Categories

Aesthetics | Clinical Psychology | Modern Literature


aesthetic value, Kiki Dimoula, memory, mourning, photography, psychoanalysis


The project at hand explores some of the psychological functions of photography as both an everyday and an artistic cultural practice from a psychoanalytic perspective. It is proposed that, contrary to commonsensical opinion, photographs are not accurate depositories of memory, but rather function as a functional equivalent of screen memories, thus channeling the subject's memory in ways that are objectively distorted and distorting, but psychologically meaningful and important; moreover, they are a special kind of screen memory in that they are often created pre-emptively and are physically instantiated.

Additionally, it is suggested that, by dint of their materiality, photographs achieve a degree of autonomy from the purposes of their creators and viewers, with the result that they can also trigger unwanted and potentially traumatic recollections, along the lines of the Freudian notion of `deferred action'. Specifically, different ways in which photographs can enter into the experiencing and processing of loss are explored. It is proposed that photographs can either facilitate normal mourning or impede it. They can be used to either disavow loss, to repetitively fixate on it in a sadomasochistic manner, or to facilitate the transition to an acceptance of loss and moving on. Parallels are drawn between these various uses of photographs and three types of physical/emotionally charged objects: fetishes, transitional objects, and what I term `masochistic objects'.

The paradox of the accrual of aesthetic value on certain photographs and not others is explored next. The attainment of aesthetic value is separated from the conscious intentions of the photographer, and is instead linked to certain underlying psychological parameters, primarily, the acceptance of the depressive position and of the separateness of the libidinal object, as well as the capacity to achieve a controlled surrender to primary-process functioning. These conceptualizations are illustrated by reference to specific photographs (taken by the author, who is also a recognized photographer), as well as through an analysis of several poems of the Greek poet Kiki Dimoula, in whose oeuvre photography is a prominent and recurrent theme.