Dealing in Psychology When Not Taking Pictures

Alan Entin

Alan Entin

Intersection of art, creativity, photography, and phototherapy

Alan D Entin, PhD, ABPP

For me, balance means following my passion for art and creativity, and integrating them into my psychotherapy practice and personal life. Much like psychotherapy, creativity is a process and a journey; and it does not depend on the technology. I am often asked about the equipment, lens or settings I use, as if knowing these would enable taking amazing photos. I use a digital camera when I am interested in creating an accurate record of people, places or events. However, as beautiful as the resulting images may be, they are not art; they are simply records shot and reproducible by almost anyone.  Expressing a unique vision and telling your own story makes it art.

I use Holga, a plastic toy camera, which enables me to create magical and dreamlike impressionistic images that reflect my vision. The camera allows me to produce multiple exposures to create in-camera photographic collages (layered images) that can be read many times and in many ways to reveal the wealth of information they contain. Thus, I am able to break free from dependence on technology, precision, and sharpness to explore my inner world. I want my photographs to reflect my unique experience of time, place, and space and to simulate questions in the viewers’ mind as to why those pictures were taken and what thoughts and feelings they produced in the viewers.

In 1968, I joined the Department of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University to work with Murray Bowen, MD, a pioneer in family theory. My friend Tim Whitehead, artist and social worker, and I were both influenced by Bowen’s teachings. I presented a photo-essay on Tim’s art and how it changed as he studied his family of origin at the Georgetown Symposium on Family Theory and Family Psychotherapy in 1977. In a Q and A discussion afterward, I stated that I thought I could operationalize Bowen’s theory and apply it to understanding family photographs. Six presentations and two years later, I returned to Georgetown and presented an illustrated slide show The Differentiated Eye: The Use of Photographs in Family Psychotherapy demonstrating how Bowen’s concepts of triangles, self-differentiation, and emotional cutoffs could be translated into a visual language in family photographs.

My interests in using family photographs in family psychotherapy to understand family relationships converged with others into a field referred to as “phototherapy” (Entin, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985a). My writing about phototherapy resulted in considerable national and international print and electronic media coverage. My career went viral after Jane Brody’s (1984) New York Times article and exemplified the cliché that media begets media begets media. I lectured and wrote catalogs about family photographs for museums in conjunction with their art exhibits (Entin, 1985b, 1994).

Photography in my psychological career began in 1985 when I was appointed the first Historian of the Division of Independent Practice by President Arthur Kovacs, PhD, because he knew I loved taking pictures. Ever since, I have documented many APA events, including the groundbreaking ceremony for the first building, reproduced in the book 100 Years, The American Psychological Association, A Historical Perspective (1992) and Arlo Guthrie performing at the opening ceremony of the 2005 Convention for the ensuing CD.

My artistic career emerged gradually although I began taking photographs during childhood.  In 1967 two of my photographs were accepted for a juried Undiscovered Photographer’s Exhibition at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Richmond. Subsequently I joined the JCC Art Committee and served as its chair for many years and organized several art exhibitions including the Undiscovered Photographer’s Exhibitions.

The first show, Seven Artists, brought my first review. Richmond Times Dispatch art critic Merritt (1982) praised the exhibit but deafeningly referred to us as “craftsmen.” Still, it was fun to be quoted, and I knew as a media psychologist that getting publicity was a positive. Naturally, early on, I was reticent to show my work thinking that it was not strong enough, but, thanks to my artist friends who encouraged me to enter competitions, over the next 12 years I was in about 1 or 2 shows a year.

After a one-person show of a fire at a local church and the inclusion of two photographs in the 1995 Second APA Art Exhibit of Psychologists, I started to gain confidence in showing my work. Later that year, I tied for Best in Show at an Annual Small Works Juried Show. It was at this time that I started using plastic cameras. Using a 35 mm Nature Company panorama camera, I entered some photos in Cheap Shots: Fine Art Photography from Toy Cameras. One reviewer, McLeod (2000) wrote

Entin’s scenes are of France: a cluster of boats moored near a bridge in Chambord that seem to be receiving a blessing; two pigeons beneath a fan shaped bower observe the camera with customary disdain. France is a place where magic constantly interferes with formality, as it does in Entin’s photographs.

Le Carrousel au Parc de la Villette I

Photo 1. Le Carrousel au Parc de la Villette I

Le Carrousel au Parc de la Villette I won an Award in a show and was selected for the cover of Michael Roberts and Stephen Ilardi’s (2003) Handbook of Research Methods in Clinical Psychology (Photo 1). Le Carrousel au Parc de la Villette II was chosen by Margaret Cohn, Curator of Prints at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum, “for its sheer beauty” (Photo 2), for inclusion in the 2004 American Print Biennial at the University of Richmond. I was stunned to see the review of the show in the local cultural arts paper. The article’s backdrop was the photo and the reviewer Slipek (2004) said

Entin, a psychologist known nationally for his studies of what family snapshots reveal, is represented here by a shimmering, impressionistic photograph. It is understated in its coloration, but joyous in evoking the Paris of our minds where romance and beauty abound.

Le Carrousel au Parc de la Villette II

Photo 2. Le Carrousel au Parc de la Villette II

Another reviewer, Humphrey (2000) described it as “the best pure photography of the show.”  I thought it doesn’t get any better than that and I should quit while I was ahead. However, I am glad I didn’t. Since then, I have been in many shows and competitions each year — and have had five solo exhibits. My photos have appeared in newspapers, books, photography magazines (Photos 3 and 4) and catalogs, and are included in private and corporate collections, including the Chilean Embassy.

Transformations Imaginary Naturescapes

Photo 3. Transformations Imaginary Naturescapes

Homage to the Lincoln Brigade (Uncle Bernie)

Photo 4. Homage to the Lincoln Brigade (Uncle Bernie)

My art and psychology are inextricably linked. A photo caption of me at an opening quipped “I deal in psychology when not taking pictures” (Frost, 2003). So, being a psychologist and artist, a psychologist as artist and artist as psychologist, you can imagine that my greatest thrill was at the nexus of the two: the cover of the January 2006 American Psychologist (Photo 5).

Le Penseur Rouge

Photo 5. Le Penseur Rouge


Brody, J. E. (July 17, 1984). Photos Speak Volumes About Relationships. New York Times, Science Times, The Science Times [front page].

Entin, A.D. (1980). Photo Therapy: Family Albums and Multigenerational Portraits. Camera Lucida, 1, No. 2, 39-51.

Entin, A.D. (1982). Family Icons in family therapy: Photographs. In L. E. Abt and I. R. Stuart (Eds.), The Newer Therapies: A Sourcebook (pp. 207-227). NY: Van Nostrand.

Entin, A.D. (1983). The Family Photo Album as Icon: Photographs in Family Psychotherapy. In  J. Fryrear and D. Krauss (Eds.) Phototherapy in Mental Health (pp. 117-132). Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas.

Entin, A.D. (January,1985 a). Phototherapy: The Uses of Photography in Psychotherapy. American Psychological Association Convention. The Independent Practitioner, 5(1), 15-16.

Entin, A.D. (1985 b). The Family As Subject: Photographs by Emmet Gowin and David Levinson. Lecture and Exhibition Catalog. Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA.

Entin, A. D. (1992). Photograph of Groundbreaking ceremony on the site of the new APA headquarters building, Washington, DC. In R. Evans, V. Sexton, and T. Cadwallader, T. (Eds.) 100 Years, The American Psychological Association (p. 232). APA: Washington, DC.

Entin, A.D. (1994). The Psychology of the Photograph. The National African American Museum, A Project of the Smithsonian Institution, in conjunction with its First Exhibition, Imagining Families: Images and Voices. Washington, DC.

Entin, A.D. (2006). Le Penseur Rouge. American Psychologist, 61(1), Cover Photo.

Frost, Kim. (September, 2003). IMAGES. Fifty Plus. Richmond, VA, p 7.

Humphrey, T. (October 22, 2000) Artists and their Toys.

McLeod, D. (February 8, 2000). Shooting from the Hip. Style Weekly, Arts & Leisure, Richmond, VA, p. 31.

Merritt, R. (Jan 28, 1982). Seven Artists. Art Review. Richmond Times Dispatch, E-7.

Editor’s Note: Alan Entin received the 2008 Rosalee Weiss Award from Divisions 42 and 29, administered by the American Psychological Foundation, and the 2014 Distinguished Lifetime Contributions Award from the Society of Media and Technology. He is a founder of Division 46 and has served on the Board in many capacities including Treasurer, Council Representative and President. In October 2014 he was given a Presidential Citation from the Virginia Academy of Clinical Psychology in recognition of his exceptional dedication to the profession and his work on behalf of VACP.

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