John Suler's Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche
In the defense mechanism known as "reaction formation," we repress an emotion that we find anxiety-provoking or unacceptable, while consciously feeling and expressing the opposite emotion.
Just in case you're wondering, I didn't actually take this shot in a cemetery. The clown was copied from a photo of Memorial Day parade and pasted into the background image of the graveyard. The juxtaposition of a laughing clown with a cemetery scene seemed like an ideal way to capture the concept of reaction formation. A person might appear bubbly and happy on the outside, while depression or sadness lurks below. In fact, the sad clown has become something of a cultural symbol of pretending to be jolly while crying on the inside.
Confronting usI also find his taking a picture of us, the viewers, an interesting additional element of symbolism. Because we tend to experience the emotion of a person's reaction formation as overly intense, dramatic, or a bit false, we may feel self-conscious about how to respond to it. The person may put us "on the spot" to respond in a way that confirms his conscious feeling while helping him deny the unconscious threatening feeling. The simulated TTV ("through the viewfinder") frame echoes the shape and concept of his camera, suggesting that we, in return, are taking a picture of him because we sense the play-acted qualities of his emotion.
On a more technical note, I'll mention that the shots of the clown and cemetery were both taken from a low camera angle, which made the composite more realistic. From the perspective of psychology, I'll also mention that research indicates many children are in fact afraid of clowns, probably due to their extreme appearance. And so, while we may, as adults, perceive a clown in a graveyard as as anomalous combination, our childhood memories of clowns might very well resonate with this scenario.
Would you like to read or participate in a discussion about this image in flickr?
If you enjoyed this article in Photographic Psychology you might also like these:
"This self-help book adapts the basic methods of psychodynamic psychotherapy to a guided course in self-exploration, highlighting the universal role of defense mechanisms in warding off emotional pain. Even the best self-help books tend to stay on the surface, helping readers to modify their conscious thoughts and behaviors. Why Do I Do That? instead probes deeply into the unconscious.With easy-to-understand explanations, the first part teaches you about the unconscious mind and the role of psychological defenses in excluding difficult feelings from awareness. Individual chapters in the longer middle section explore the primary defense mechanisms one by one, with exercises to help you identify your own defenses at work. The final part offers guidance for how to "disarm" your defenses and cope more effectively with the unconscious feelings behind them." (available on Amazon)
Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche