“What are you Taking a Picture of?”: Constructivist Psychology and the Photographic Image

By Spencer McWilliams.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Constructivist Psychology regards the viewer’s experience of a photographic image as a combination of sensation, perception and the construction of personal meaning-making, resulting from an interaction between the viewer and the created image. This perspective contrasts with a Foundationalist view that an image “represents” something that already exists, whether an emotion or attitude of the photographer or an inherent external entity, and that the skillful viewer directly perceives. For example, the expression “taking a picture of” something, assumes that a “thing” exists in a particular fixed form in reality, and that the image either directly represents that object or communicates a feeling or attitude from the photographer to the viewer. A constructivist, or post-modern, view, perhaps expressed as “creating an image,” suggests that an image stands on its own, a particular organization of material, one of many alternative possible organizations, that does not necessarily conceal hidden content or essence, express its creator’s feelings or meaning, nor represent an external reality. This presentation will explore a distinction between “taking pictures” and “creating images” by elaborating Constructivist and Foundationalist views of ontology, epistemology, and art, within the context of historical developments in photography as an art form, American Pragmatism, and French Postmodernists’ views of photography. Finally, it will describe the application of Personal Construct Psychology to the psychologist/photographer author’s process of creating photographic images.

Keywords: Constructivist Psychology, Creative Photography, Postmodern Photography, Personal Construct Psychology

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 1, Issue 4, pp.153-172. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 31.979MB).

Dr. Spencer McWilliams

Professor of Psychology, Department of Psychology, California State University San Marcos, San Marcos, California, USA