Friday, February 27, 2009

Little Briar Rose

For some time now, I have been trying for an image that would allow me to illustrate the story of Little Briar Rose. These tangled branches at Powerscourt Gardens provided me with the material to go with one of my favourite fairy tale. The point of the fairy tale is to demonstrate certain kinds of narcissistic relationships. Often in fairy tales, the princess who is either asleep, imprisoned or otherwise unapproachable keeps all her suitors at bay. Briar Rose lies behind a thicket of sharp thorns and this ensures that suitors are largely unsuccessful in trying to cut through the entanglement. Her prickles and spikes either discourage or mortally impale them. These represent the defences of the narcissistic person. Previous rejections predispose them to avoid the exploratory, trusting depths of true relationships. So the princess needs to surrender her pride, her feelings of high and mighty grandiosity to her true and more soft-hearted feelings. Little Briar Rose can be awakened by the kiss of the aggressive and determined suitor who is willing to risk life and limb, ignoring the dreadful sight of the bodies of previous suitors. In the story, the successful suitor does manage to break though the spikes and spines and kisses her. But the spell cast on Briar Rose only lasted for 100 years and his kiss coincided with its end. She awoke. Successful relationships do require determination. But we also need a bit of luck.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Numbers

I have left this chance shot of marble door numbers (taken at Powerscourt Gardens) exactly as it was. The light just fell on it this way. The numbers are always mysterious and the numbers of things are of the utmost importance. In this economic period, there is constant talk about numbers. Symbolically, multiples of numbers are of the same significance as the number itself. So when we speak of millions and billions these are multiples of a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand. Billions are merely multiples but they put extra stress on the significance of the giant losses of the banks, which dominates the news and indeed our lives. We didn't expect the banks to lose anything at all - so it's one big loss. In the photograph, two numbers are interesting. Thirteen jumps out at us because it's nearly obscured by light and seventeen (and twelve) calls attention to itself through its absence. Symbolically, thirteen is an ambivalent number. Although it's generally regarded as unlucky, it also has significant power. Christ and his apostles are thirteen in number. Zeus and the twelve Olympians are thirteen in total. But broadly, thirteen is aberrant. It's away from the normal order. Conversely, seventeen is of enormous significance in many cultures and is a positive symbol. Except in ancient Rome where the number is unlucky. In Roman numbering, seventeen is XVII giving an anagram VIXI - "I have lived".

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Artificial Stag

I must be touring public gardens presently, but I don't know why. Perhaps it's Spring. Powerscourt is a fine place to visit and just outside Enniskerry, it's very accessible from Dublin. But as well as decorative and landscaped gardens, it also has a very nice garden centre for the purchase of plants and garden accessories. You can even buy a fine stag like the one in the photograph. I wanted a striking image and a bit of under exposure got me this silhouette - which does the trick with a very nice sky for good measure. Although the stag is closely associated with Celtic traditions, its symbolism cuts across almost all civilisations. Mayan, Muslim, Hopis and many more revere the stag. Cernunnos the Gaul was often depicted sitting in a posture a bit like the Buddha, crowned with antlers and surrounded by stags. Of course in this culture, the stag party is the last night of independence for the bridegroom and I always thought it amusing that the famous Stag's Head pub in central Dublin banned stag parties for a while. It was said to have been a watering hole for the great writer James Joyce. What would he have thought - or written about that?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Snake on a Gate

This beautiful snake is part of an art nouveau gate in Airfield Gardens near Dundrum, South Dublin. The gardens are open to the public and present quite a surprise in what is a fairly built-up area of the city - very close to the new Dundrum Shopping Centre. I recommend a visit. The snake is of course the subject of much symbolism in many cultures. But the way in which this snake intertwines with the ironwork suggest the uroboros which is a tail-devouring snake. This is often seen as symbolic of integration and assimilation in the human psyche. For Erich Neumann, the tail-eating act of the uroboros suggests a coming to consciousness and a falling back into unconsciousness. In the beginning says Neumann, consciousness rises like an island, then drops away. Modern man represents a development of ego consciousness, primarily through will. The stronger the consciousness, the more can be done with it - but in its weaker state, things "just happen". So the uroboros can be said to be "a borderline state".

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hoodwinked landscaped

This image is so far away from the last urban setting. Or is it? As I took the shot, I was thinking of landscape painters with their incredibly romanticised images. I was always drawn to them in galleries because these hyper-real landscapes looked kind of "impossible". Walter Benjamin comments that landscape art only arrives at a historical point where the landscape has been conquered. In other words, the view of a rocky snow-capped mountain is only a pleasurable image if it does not present an obstacle to the viewer. Again, in psychotherapy, things (some of them seemingly pleasurable) often present an obstacle to the analysand. The analysand has to conquer his own landscape, through a new way of looking in which the interpretation of objects is balanced. In the picture above, we are not far from the city. This is in the garden to the rear of the Avoca garden centre and restaurant. It is far from natural and I guess the clue is on the left hand tree!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Grafton Street Shadows

A quick contre jour shot at the bottom of Grafton Street. The contre jour shot is taken looking into the light and can produce a dramatic effect. Shadows of course are the inevitable consequence of this type of shot. The shadow in psychoanalysis is a very important concept. It can refer to all aspects of the unconscious - everything of which the individual is not conscious. More specifically, it can be everything (traits and attitudes) which the individual does not recognise about his or herself. This can very easily be projected onto someone else - so if you find yourself hating something or somebody for no reason that you can think of, then that is likely to be within your own shadow. To some extent therefore, we all live in our own shadow - or out of it. Recognising our shadow is is one of the key tasks we have in psychoanalysis.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Girl in the Window

On my way from Dublin city centre, I rounded the corner from Duke Street onto Dawson Street. There's an art gallery there and in it I spotted this little girl. She was leaning into the window amongst the paintings for sale. It was irresistible - and as I pressed the shutter I prayed that the glass in the window hadn't confounded the autofocus. All went well. When I transferred the photograph I was reminded of Henri Lefebvre, the geographer, who had very specific views about what constitutes space. He thought that when we look at a portrait it's already looking out from its frame. Before it is looked at it looks out. I feel that the girl looking out of the gallery window unwittingly challenges not only the the two-dimensional facades of the portraits beside her but an area behind the shop facade which is normally condemned to invisibility. So it was in some sense, an exercise in the psychoanalysis of space.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Old Time Priestess

I have left this photograph pretty much as it was. No problems here because I had an excuse for taking it. There isn't much market for second hand digital lens yet, but here was an opportunity to buy one - so I saw a window of opportunity! This was a trial shot before purchase and directly in the frame of the new lens was this pleasant woman who was attending to her manual camera. She is an artist and uses her camera to record paintings. Not only that, but she uses slide (transparency) film - or E6 if you like. Surely there can't be many such diehards left. But she is right about the ability of transparency film to give an almost three dimensional look. Nothing can match it for colour saturation. She is definitely a high priestess. Jung comments that it was no chance that in ancient times high priestesses were the ones selected to communicate with the gods. Russian philosopher, Nicholas Berdiaeff thought that women were more closely linked to world soul. So perhaps women draw more closely to the soul, the intuition and the alchemy of the old photography whilst men like the mathematical reassurance of instant digital technology. My compliments to Dublin Camera Exchange which has provided me with equipment for nearly twenty years.

Monday, February 16, 2009

On Track

I couldn't resist another motorbike picture. This one is from Ducati track day at Mondello Park, west of Dublin. We could speculate about the colour red and these beautiful machines - they are certainly striking. But the race track offers a space where the normal rules don't apply. Riders can go fast and behave in a different manner from the way they do on the public road. The track offers a container where this can take place. That's not to say there are no rules! But most importantly, motorcycles are about freedom and independence. Motorcyclists feel unbeholden to others in the course of their progress and development. On the roads, they proceed - and if they get together, as in the picture, it's to do something very specific and it's always about biking. For motorcyclists, balance can only be maintained by forward motion - as in psychotherapy!

Only Bikes and Horses

Motorbikes are just astonishing machines. There is nothing quite like the sensation of travelling on one. I can't remember where I took this photograph though - it could have been County Wicklow somewhere or perhaps on the way to Newbridge. Symbolically the motorbike has very little to do with automobiles. It has more in common with the horse. The horse is said to emerge from the chthonian darkness (from the underworld) and represents both life and death. It carries men and women on its back and so the fate of both horse and rider is inextricable. If conflict arises between horse and rider, they may gallop to madness but if there is harmony then triumph ensues. Because of the sky and the marriage of blue and yellow, the picture suggests harmony. Pegasus the winged horse is associated with the sky and lofty virtues. Although he is born of the earth (via the Gorgon's blood) he takes thunderbolts to Zeus. He is the initiate who has acquired wisdom where intuition enlightens reason - and this is why it is important for all motorcyclists to be in harmony with their steeds - it is best not to set them on the wrong path.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Let's Dance

I seem to be on a museum trail this week. This shot is another display - and this time I experienced no difficulty. In fact, a museum attendant raced after me with my lens cap which I had dropped. The Tropenmuseum is a fine anthropological museum which no one should ever miss. I have been known to spend hours there. I was again on the floor, taking a photograph of an exhibit, when the picture took my eye. It was too good to miss. What can we say about this beautiful swirl of dress and colour? Dance is both celebration and communication - and Indian religious dancing in particular is a swirl of fabric, feet, sandals, hands and nails. Yeats' words express the fusion of body and soul in dance. "O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?” In India, the cosmic dance, tandava symbolised creation or destruction. And in Tantric Buddhism, Buddha Amoghasiddhi (lord of the current of life) is also known as the Lord of the Dance.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Window on the Wall

This looks like a window but it's just a trick. It's high up in the gallery of the museum of art and the panes are mirrored surfaces reflecting the real roof space opposite. This is very effective and a kind of trompe l'oeil. The eye is fooled and so we are asked a question about the nature of art and perception. For me it's quite the best bit of the museum. And this time, I didn't get into trouble for taking the shot. Symbolically the window is about receptivity but the mirror is associated with reflection. Many cultures associate mirrors with the soul - both dark and light sides. In Greek mythology, Zeus wanted Dionysos his son to rule the world. But the Titans were incited to attack Dionysos. Diverting his attention with a mirror the Titans pulled him from his throne, killed him, tore him to pieces and ate him. But Athena saved his heart, taking it to Zeus who caused Dionysos to be reborn. Zeus destroyed the Titans with a thunderbolt and the human race sprang up from the soot. So human beings are now half divine and half wicked - because the wicked Titans ate the divine Dionysos. No-one is entirely good ... or bad.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Just a picture in a frame

I got into trouble for taking this. I was in the art museum and this was an advertising display between galleries. I had reasoned to myself that I wasn't in contravention of regulations and it wasn't an exhibit per se. I just liked the way the chairs had been placed beside the display. I was on the floor and squinting through the viewfinder, framing the picture. But looking at the picture, how many frames are in the frame? When we put something in a frame we place it in a container. The container is designed to hold something and indeed analytical psychologists like to refer to containers as having distinct boundaries. The room where psychotherapy takes place is a container where two people work together. All is confidential so the container can be said to be a leak-tight one. Sometimes we refer to the alchemical tradition where two elements are placed in a container with the intention that the combination will lead to something new. And in the gestalt tradition, the client may "re-frame" elements of his or her life.
Addendum. My thanks to sister-in-law Laura, who tracked down the name of the painting. The title is "Man writing a letter" by 17th century Dutch painter, Gabriel Metsu (1629-67). She spotted the oriental carpet on the table, the black clothes and the pen, as typical of the period.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ghostly car in the Snow

This photograph as you can see was a mistake. The snow came and there were no tracks. I thought I could get the camera out of the bag and get a shot of the virgin snow - before cars came along the road. In my haste, a long and unintended shutter speed ensued! But the outcome was this rather ghostly image with its very distinctive shape. Many clients dream of being in cars and these can be very rich in detail, involving roads of different types, directions, signs, passengers - its an inexhaustible list. If you dream of being in a car, the characteristics of the car belong to you - whether its a luxury model, a classic, a vintage or an old jalopy. It is thought to illustrate how well the dreamer is adapted to his or her psychological environment. The position may be important - are you the driver, passenger or outside the vehicle? But these are merely guidelines. It all depends on your own associations to the vehicle and to how you feel in the dream. I always recommend keeping a dream notebook beside the bed and suggest a jotting down of the key components of any dream - along with how you felt. But this is a ghostly image and the image of a ghost in a dream suggests something of the unconscious - perhaps something that has been rejected by the dreamer.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Reality of Choice

When this was taken it was cold outside and this scene was such a contrast. A very high ASA was needed for the shot but the warm tones made it worthwhile. There is something comforting about being surrounded by shelves of food. There's lots of choice available here and that makes a difference. Yet we don't necessarily need all that choice, so we have to ask if it satisfies in some way. William Glasser the founder of Choice Theory, argues that choice comes from within. It's not forced upon us from outside but conditioned by our basic needs. These provide the foundation for all motivation - to be loving and connected to others, to achieve a sense of competence and personal power, to act with a degree of freedom and autonomy, to experience joy and fun ... and to survive. We don't need a great range of biscuits to survive! On the other hand it could be fun to make that selection. And no matter how pretty, advertisements and enticing displays don't make us buy things. We have more choice than we think.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tracks in the Snow


I couldn't resist the tyre tracks. Somewhere in a recent office development behind Morehampton Road in Donnybrook, cars had made a distinctive design in the snow. There was something pleasing about the tread. Same tyre, same car - three point turn? Every contact leaves a trace, as forensic scientists say. Psychotherapists tend to look at past traces. But cognitive psychotherapists believe that although things in the past may affect us strongly, we don't have to continue coping with them in the same way as we have always done. We build up patterns like the tyre tracks in the picture and the decisions we make can become automatic. So we need to learn from past experiences but not become overly attached to them. By identifying the way we respond to things we can begin to change. Metaphorically, it's time for a new set of tyres with a different tread.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Street ice

A few months ago I had another photograph of ice crystals. These however are quite different from Islay and were lying in Raglan Road! I think a car had broken the ice that had formed in the night and left this rather exotic shape. This year there's been a tendency for snow flurries which then give way to temperatures that hover around freezing. In consequence, there's never much build up of snow, but there's a lot of interesting shapes left behind. The ice crystals are fascinating because of their transparency, like Cinderella's glass slippers. According to the Zeitschrift fur celtische philologie, Celtic mythology features creatures from the Otherworld coming from the sea, travelling in crystal boats. These look like crystal boats to me, carving a passage through a freezing sea.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Umbrella in the Snow

No chance of automatic exposure in this weather. I made a few trial shots - the glory of digital cameras - and set it to manual on 1/125th at f8. That was quite adequate to capture this amiable gentleman on Raglan Road. I am sure he was joking about getting ten copies - we both laughed and went in our respective directions! Lets talk about the umbrella, a term which comes from the Latin umbra and ancient Greek ómbros. We shelter from the sun under a parasol and from the elements under an umbrella. But in the latter case we hunch up a bit, rather defensively. So symbolically, umbrellas are rather on the side of darkness. You could hardly say the brightly coloured device in in the picture is sombre in any way, but it is nonetheless a protection. We talk about an umbrella organisation for example. But inevitably, the organisations falling under the protection of a larger one, give up some of their independence. That's not the way counselling and psychotherapy works. That is a mutual alliance between two parties and although the relationship may appear to offer protection, the goal is independence and autonomy.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stuck here in the middle

Usually we refer to first and second floor but here at St Stephen's Green shopping centre it's top and middle. Middle isn't really the centre. The centre signifies many things and is never exclusively a single point. Middle is in between two other areas. It is rather vague because we might say "middling" in response to "How are you?". We refer to being "piggy in the middle" - an unenviable place all right. And it does remind me of the song by the Scottish band "Stealer's Wheel" in 1972 ... "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, Here I am, stuck in the middle with you." I wonder if we find the middle a disquieting place to be?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Social Space

Back to St Stephen's Green shopping centre for a rather wintry shot. It's one single arched vault in this shopping centre and the afternoon light gives it a cathedral look. It looks like a specialised operation this centre, with none of the pretence at being an "indoor street" as many centres try for these days. From this point of view on the stairway from first to second floor, we can see the various spatial directions of up, down, right, left and centre that we tend to take for granted. There seems to be a multiplicity of objects wherever we look. I particularly like the movement of people on the staircase - but more of that in a future blog! It is the architectural movement of circle and curves that is symbolically associated with the sky and this is what gives the building a cathedral look. Very often such vaulted spaces are grounded on a square or, as in this case, a rectangular foundation - it is representative of marriage of heaven and earth. Above there is light and consciousness and below, the body-bound world of the unconscious. In this case. above is light and airy whereas down below it's all about shopping!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Family in the City

For psychoanalysis, the city is maternal. It contains its citizens in a manner somewhat corresponding to a mother "holding" her child in the womb or early years. But the city is a mass unit and within its embrace, perhaps only the family is the remaining form of original groups like tribes and clans. This family passed me on the way up Baggot Street and there wasn't so much light for a photograph. The shutter speed wasn't quite up to the job, but the image was likeable, so I blurred it slightly. Now this family looks a little romantic, strolling through the city in the rosy glow of buildings and lights. But the city is in charge. It's impossible to stop the forward thrust of the city and any attempts to so do are doomed to failure. The development of the city is rooted in the development of the ego and consciousness. But in this society, man is atomised and isolated in a mass that offers him little psychic support and where personality values no longer count. In groups, though, the mutual knowledge that people have of one another helps reduce atomisation. So I like to think of this family here as representing a kind of benevolent mutuality.