LESSONS IN PHOTO PSYCHOLOGY

LESSONS IN PHOTO PSYCHOLOGY

Joel Morgovsky

Photographic Presentations

Spring 2020

This is a complete list of the presentations I can deliver to your group. The newest programs are indicated in red but all of them are available. It is also possible for me to create new programs to fit your particular needs. Contact me to discuss the possibilities.

The Tao of Photography”

One way of thinking about the ancient wisdom of Tao is to dwell on the idea of a middle way between Yin and Yang. In “The Tao of Photogaphy” several opposites that are relevant to our practice of photography are described. For example: images that are contemporary or stale, romantic or edgy, formal or disorganized, balanced or awkward, surprising or familiar, and more. Finding a middle way can result in images that evoke feelings in the viewer, reveal the unique/personal ways that the photographer perceives the world, and photographs that have impact on the viewer so that they continue to think about it long after the picture has been seen. Simultaneously, this talk describes some guiding principles that guide my thinking when evaluating photographs as a judge.

What is a Photograph”?

What most people would consider a rather simple question actually requires a rather complex answer. For example, Jonathan Green writes that “our experience of a photograph is not unlike our experience of the world, but it is not our experience of the world, it is our experience of the photograph.” “What is a Photograph” will challenge you to think again about what photographs are and how they work. Using quotes from writers in many fields plus selected photographs as talking points, this session drives the issue of pictures being paradoxical things that one writer calls “impossible.” And yet we make them all the time and in great quantity without ever taking on the riddle.

“The Photographic State of Mind”

How can our minds be more open and clear when out in the field making photographs? In this workshop we will learn from photographers, psychologists, and writers from the art world what states of mind accompany the creative process. Minor White, Cartier-Bresson, Steven Shore and others have described their frames of mind while in the field. From them it becomes clear that awareness of feelings – the emotional response – is centrally important and therefore we will practice brief mindfulness meditations to improve our skills in recognizing the feelings activated when “out there”. From psychological research we will learn about the “receptive mode” of consciousness associated with creative work. And finally we will analyze the STRUCTURE of photographs to prepare us for going out to make pictures with meaning. The best photographs come from places where we feel “pricked” by something in the environment – Roland Barthes’s “punctum”.

PhotoPsychology” History

PhotoPsychology is the study of the many points of contact between photography and psychology from the early days (1856) to today. In the beginning photographs were used to capture the faces of madness, a trend that continued into the early part of the 20th century. Today there are several forms of Photo-Therapy which this lecture describes briefly, but one, in particular is analyzed in greater detail. Two modern research studies on how photographs are understood differently by novices and experts is also explained. The lecture concludes with an explanation of Reading Pictures which is this presenter’s method for finding the maker in his or her photographs.

Reading PicturesApplied PhotoPsychology

This lecture explains the mechanisms by which personal information becomes infused into all of our photographs and teaches the mindsets essential for getting some of that personal information back out – by “reading pictures.” It contains an introduction to several basic psychological concepts as they apply to looking at photographs. The idea that photographers reveal as much about themselves in their photographs as they do about their pictures’ contents is the fundamental premise of Reading Pictures. The psychologically pertinent topics of perception, projection and attribution are explained and then you will look at portfolios by famous and unknown photographers with the goal of practicing how to identify the private, subjective world of the photographers. Learning to “read pictures” helps you to think past the actual picture content to discover the maker of the photographs as well. (Also available as a workshop)

Inner Visions: A lesson in Reading Pictures using photographs by Lester Davidson.

If you have ever wondered how to look at photographs really deeply so that you can discover their deeper layers of meaning this presentation is just what you’ve been waiting for. Inner Visions is a guided tour, a programmed lesson on how to study pictures using a specific series of steps that will result in an enhanced understanding of the work and the photographer who made it. Inner Visions take the theoretical content of Reading Pictures and converts it into a practical guide for enhanced photographic appreciation.

Editing, Part 1- “Are We There Yet?”

This program is the first of two lessons about going through constantly expanding collections to find very good photographs. Editing is challenging, it is a skill and it can be learned. Nevertheless, here are few opportunities for amateurs to acquire knowledge of a useful process that takes you from a pile of pictures to a carefully selected group of the best photographs. This program is about the fundamentals of editing starting from first impressions then to technical issues and elements of composition. The conclusions rest on an understanding of what is a good photograph.

Editing Part 2 – “Finding the Treasure”

Updated in 2020, this program is about higher-order evaluation of your photographs for the sake of finding the very best images in your collections. Assuming you have been whittling down your collection of hundreds of pictures from an event or trip to 20 or 30 that are strong and that you really like. How can you possibly get to the point of selecting the best 5 to submit for the club project? As a camera club judge, I have done exactly that for a couple of decades and am able to describe some of my methodology. You won’t be surprised that elements of Reading Pictures and Inner Visions comes out during this and the other sessions.

Workshop: Writing a Photographic Review

There are several well-known and acclaimed writers about photography. When they review a new photography exhibit or book, their essays are very rich and informative, often starting by describing individual photographs, then moving on to place it in the context of photography at large, and teaching us about the photographer’s life and previous works. In this workshop we will study how writers such as Vicki Goldberg, A.D. Coleman, Elisabeth Biondi, Teju Cole and others craft their photo reviews and then each workshop member will write one of their own to share with the group.

Workshop: Making Meaningful Judgments about Photographs

When it comes to photographs, and much of art in general, initial responses are usually evaluative, e.g. “that’s so nice!” or “how boring”. While everyone has opinions and are entitled to them, opinions are not the same as judgments.

To be meaningful, judgments must be based on

  • close examination of the picture content,

  • the links among the pictures elements,

  • the emotional tone of pictures and

  • an assessment of the degree to which technique contributes to revealing the picture’s purpose. 

Learning about and applying these evaluative steps are the goals of this workshop.

Workshop: Writing a Photographic Review

There are several well-known and acclaimed writers about photography. When they review a new photography exhibit or book, their essays are very rich and informative, often starting by describing individual photographs, then moving on to place it in the context of photography at large, and teaching us about the photographer’s life and previous works. In this workshop we will study how writers such as Vicki Goldberg, A.D. Coleman, Elisabeth Biondi, Teju Cole and others craft their photo reviews and then each workshop member will write one of their own to share with the group.

Photography as Art”

Perhaps a better title for this talk would be “what do photographs look like?” Primarily an examination of the relationship between photography and photo-realistic painting, this presentation also examines the shifting historical definitions, within photographic circles, of what photographs should be. At the heart of the lecture is the fact that photo realist painters (a movement originating in the 1970s and continuing to today) often choose to paint canvases that look like photographs of the most mundane kind. Why? What do they admire so much about ordinary-looking photographs? At the completion of this talk, you’ll feel closer to the answer.

Us and Them: Expanding the Range of Acceptance”

Us and Them refers to basic psychological processes by which we come to view people in the world as being part of “our” group – US – or everybody else – “them”. Not surprisingly, research shows that we like our people more than we like the others. This happens naturally and automatically but leads to the formation of categories, stereotypes and prejudice. When we look at photographs by artists who are part of subcultures different from ours, we carry all the same psychological tendencies with us to the enterprise. The photographs in this program are taken from the Spring 2015 issue of Aperture, titled Queer. The psychology studied in this program comes from Art as Therapy by A. de Booton and J. Armstrong. Integrating the two is one goal of this presentation. Expanding our range of acceptance is the other.

Her Point of View”

This program considers the question of whether accomplished women photographers project a discernable, particular point of view in their professional work that is due largely to their gender identity as women. While women are “the other” for fully half of the population, they nonetheless exist in a special subculture in that women’s status and roles in our society have changed in this century, especially since the 1970s. The psychology of stereotypes, in-group biases and prejudice apply fully in this case and accounts for many of the issues women explore in their photographic art. Images by Judy Dater, Nan Goldin, Tina Barney, Sally Mann, Rineke Dijkstra, Joyce Tenneson and Zanele Muholi form the basis for this presentation.

Cindy Sherman through the lens of Identity”

This program is a journey through more than 30 years of photographs by Cindy Sherman. The extent of Sherman’s work is breathtaking, possibly unique in the annals of photography, and yet, for all the variations in her opus, the consistency of her themes is astonishing. Always, she plumbs the depths of the psychology of identity as it is shaped by the social influences in each era since the late 1970s. She consistently pokes and prods and digs deeply into the meaning of appearances and the special way that photographs reveal them. This presentation’s detailed look at nearly the totality of her work, will lead to better understanding of the many layers that every picture and series exposes to study.

“Judging 101”

The most frequently asked questions directed to me when judging are “Isn’t judging just a matter of personal opinion?” or “Do galleries, colleges and camera clubs evaluate pictures in different ways?” This lecture will examine the criteria used by many judges in academic and gallery settings and relate those to camera club/Federation judging strategies. Education, experience, exposure and talent are crucial elements in the making of a skilled judge. Education in the history of photography, experience with judging in several contexts, exposure to many galleries and museums, and talent for articulating photographic criticism in a constructive fashion — these elements are the focus of this lecture

Modern Color Photographers

This lecture introduces the audience to the shifting currents in the realm of color photography beginning with the “straight color” photographers of the 1970s. This genre combines several previous classic aspects of photography: classic view photography, small camera street photography, and snapshot photography. It also holds deep ties to mid-19th century landscape painting and 20th century color field painting. Works by many of the very best color photographers of modern times are included and framed in their artistic contexts. Sometimes of the photographs touted by galleries and museums seem too “empty” or even “wrong” according to the usual standards. This talk takes a detailed look at portfolios from three highly regarded modern color photographers in order to discover what’s special in their genre. [Walker Evans, William Christenberry, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Joel Meyerowitz, and Richard Misrach]

The Chelsea District Gallery Walk A walking tour of photographic galleries in the Chelsea district of Manhattan is a wonderful way to challenge your opinions about the definition of good pictures. This guided field trip will familiarize you with a host of issues related to the contemporary photographic scene. You will gain familiarity with the Chelsea district’s most illustrious photo galleries and have the opportunity to study, first-hand, the images being produced and exhibited by famous and up-and-coming photographic artists. You will learn how photographs are displayed in first-rate gallery settings and have opportunities to speak with staff members at those galleries, and much more. Tour must be arranged individually and can accommodate only about 15 people. Two Chelsea District Gallery Walks will be scheduled during the year.

A Virtual Gallery Tour”

Can’t make it to a real, live Chelsea tour? The Virtual Gallery Tour is meant to be a simulation of a walk through many of my favorite and important photography galleries in New York’s Chelsea District. Imagine that we start out with a good breakfast in a local diner and then set out walking on a course that takes us to as many galleries as time and energies allow. Along the way we discuss the work we are seeing, how the shows relate to all of our workshops and also how they push us to open our minds to even more discoveries, thereby increasing our range of acceptance for photography of all kinds. This virtual tour has an advantage over a walking tour however, because it includes written commentary by photographic critics and teachers, statements about the shows by the galleries themselves, and even statements from some of the photographers’ own websites. By paying attention to those writings we will learn how meaningful statements describing and interpreting new, complex photographic projects are constructed.

“Out of Focus”

Several contemporary photographers have been receiving critical acclaim for bodies of work consisting of large photographs which are, to put it bluntly, out of focus. Uta Barth, Bill Jacobson, Bill Armstrong and David Armstrong have made landscapes and even portraits, both in black-and-white and color, that share the superficial characteristic of lack of sharpness. This lecture will give you the opportunity to look at these works, think about them and talk about them. The artists who made them are motivated by several artistic and philosophical issues which I will discuss with you.

Imogen Cunningham: In her own Words”

Imogen Cunningham was a wonderful woman who was actively photographing and exhibiting into her 90s. Thanks to the John Stevenson Gallery (now closed) in New York, a major retrospective her work was mounted in 2009 complete with an autobiographical video that was produced in coordination with the exhibition of her photographs at that gallery at that time. This presentation reviews some of the milestones in her career and presents the video which is narrated my Imogen herself. This is a women who was in the forefront of photography during its Pictorial period and who was a part of the small group of photographers surrounding Alfred Stieglitz at the turn of the century. After attending this lecture you will have a deep appreciation and knowledge about the life and times of Imogen Cunningham.