Capturing the Psychological Moment: The Photopsychology of Erinn Cosby

The symbiosis of photographs and psychology in the eye of an expert.

Frank Farley
Temple University

Mona Sarshar
PhD Candidate, Temple University

Photographs have been a leading repository of personal, social and political memories since the 19th century.  They have captured the psychology of life in personal emotions and moods, family expressions, and public events (e.g., the assassinations of JFK and RFK).  In the 21st century they continue to be a prime source of psychological expression as shown, for example, in the website Instagrams, a global platform where personal photos are posted for the world to see, or the rise on the Internet more broadly of “selfies,” self-photos offered to the world!  With cell phones and many other mobile devices capable of photography and capturing the moment, the still photo remains an important source of psychohistory.

Photo by Erinn Cosby

Photo by Erinn Cosby

An international example of the power of the picture is the work of Erinn Chalene Cosby, inheritor of the insightful eye on the human condition of her father, storyteller, comedian extraordinaire, and educator Bill Cosby.  Erinn Cosby is a world-class photographer but also a PhD student in educational psychology.  This unique combination brings a special sensitivity to the capture of the cultural and personal conditions of our many journeys.  Travelling the world, camera in hand, she has fitted a global pictorial recording of our far-flung species in between academic courses and requirements, including the mounting of art gallery shows of her work in New York and Philadelphia.

Left to right, Valerie Gay, Owner, The Art Sanctuary, Philadelphia, Mona Sarshar, Erinn Cosby, Frank Farley.

Left to right, Valerie Gay, Owner, The Art Sanctuary, Philadelphia, Mona Sarshar, Erinn Cosby, Frank Farley.

In Ms. Cosby’s most recent show, at the Art Sanctuary Gallery of Philadelphia, in a collection of over 70 mounted photographs, from page-sized to massive human-sized, she reports the story of everyday people and places in India, Senegal and Cuba.  This and all her showings are set to live improvisational music, complementing one art form with another in the hands of accomplished pianist and composer Stephen Page.  Her story of India’s people ranged over Dehradum, Doon Valley, Spiti, Old Manali and New Delhi.  Her focus in Senegal, Africa was on the people or places of Goree Island, and in Cuba it was Havana, Santiago and Baracoa.  In what might be seen as a re-telling in photographs of some of the main themes of an introduction to psychology textbook, the emotions of joy, happiness, sadness, the power of family are depicted; but also the trappings of spirituality, with many monks from teenage monks-in-training to elderly monks in serious contemplation or in outbursts of spontaneous laughter; people at work, at river’s edge washing clothes, shepherds in that ancient occupation managing sheep in the snarl of 21st century traffic; native dancers at the height of vital muscular joy oblivious to gravity; and everywhere kids, kids, and more kids, the shining expectant faces of the world’s future in the global village, a positive humanistic psychology hopefully aborning!

Photographs in the world of media psychology receive little attention from scholars.  Entin (2004) and a handful of others have shown their psychological significance.  In all of our lives, we store many of our deepest felt psychological connections in a photograph.  This medium retains a powerful role in our personal and cultural lives, and beckons more research into its enduringness.


Entin, A.D. (2004, Spring/Summer). Photography as visual media.  The Amplifier, Newsletter of the Division 46 of the American Psychological Association.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.