Rezension zu Edward Bibring Photographs the Psychoanalysts of his Time, 1932-1938

Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association

Rezension von Moisy Shopper

This small book is obviously a labor of love, infused with respect and historical sensibility. The photographs were taken by Edward Bibring with a Rolleiflex small enough to be used unobtrusively and almost candidly. They were taken at the IPA Congresses of 1932 in Wiesbaden, 1934 in Lucerne, 1936 in Marienbad, 1937 at the Vierlandertagung in Budapest, and 1938 in Paris.

I dont think that Edward Bibring had any aspirations to be an artistic photographer. The photos are strikingly ordinary, the sort the average tourist might take of friends and traveling companions when visiting a new city or when finding some interesting architectural background. Ordinary photographs of extraordinary people. While we no longer believe we can read personality from the bumps and irregularities of a persons head, I looked to these photos to offer specific insight into the character of the person photographed or some insight into the relationship of those framed together. I found myself scanning the faces, postures, and clothing of these icons of analysis, hoping to decipher some greater knowledge of these people. After this rather futile exercise, I found it more sensible to first view a photo and then imbue it with all the qualities of that person as he or she is known from scientific contributions, biographies, and analytic gossip. Nevertheless, these photos, perhaps because of their ordinariness, serve to remind us that these were, in their day and also in ours, historical persons of great note, psychic adventurers creating innovative theories, practices, and techniques and ultimately engendering controversies, some of which continue to this day. These are people whose lives and articles we have studied intensely and debated with passion. And in a sense these pictures are our family album, portraying our family of origin, the grandparents of us all.

As such we will keep them on our psychological mantelpiece, give them the veneration that is their due, and then rush to take sides in our current controversies. Yet to have these venerable ancestors staring down at us, evaluating and commenting on our analytic lives and work, can at times be pleasant, though at other times less so.

The great portrait painters aimed not simply to paint a recognizable portrait of their patron, but to depict the essential character of the person. However, what degree of self censorship was needed when further commissions were often at the whim of the patron? The more modern portrait photographer gets to know his subject from research beforehand, as well as during the sitting. The ensuing portrait, through its use of lighting, composition, setting, and pose, is meant to convey a distilled essence of the subjects character and personality. While the photographic exposure involves but a split second, the portrait aims to convey some durable truths about the person in front of us. However, does the viewer see what the photographer sees or even what the photographer wants to convey? In a sense a portrait is a created black-and-white Rorschach, occasionally with some color to emphasize emotional context. The great portrait photographers have a certain signature to their work that makes it identifiable as quintessentially theirs. Each has a characteristic way of seeing and framing the total composition in a clearly identifiable manner as unique as their written signature.

As we interpret clues about the subject of the photograph, so too can we hope to interpret clues about the photographer, particularly if, as in this instance, the photographer is innocent of intent and desires more to record his subjects than to communicate anything about himself. But whenever choices are made, the resultant decisions may well be informative of the photographer himself. If so, what is revealed? The photos were seldom posed and often included »unidentified person(s)« who despite archival research remain so. There are few formally composed photos, and most are taken in a casual, candid manner. Perhaps much like free association itself, the shutter button is pushed when it seems it should be. Complementing the photos are thirty one pages of brief biographical information detailing who married whom, who was in analysis with whom, where and how they trained, when they fled the spreading power of the Nazi regime, where they migrated, and a brief mention of their contribution to the development of psychoanalysis both as a body of theory and as an organization dedicated to the spread of its knowledge and influence. For analysts with historical inclinations, thirty-one pages may be too little. For most of us, however, it will serve as part of our family album, concise notations about this very special cast of characters. Every institute should have an Edward Bibring to record the ordinariness of the exceptionally talented and devoted people who make up our profession, particularly as we parent and grandparent future generations of analysts.

Quelle: Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, Volume 56, No 1, März 2008.

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