This study examines the way photographs can trigger memories, help us revisit lived experiences and re-evaluate the past. Specifically, it explores how fragments of past experience survive in somebody’s internal world, what actually happens during recollection and how photographs shape someone’s narrative and their construction of meaning about life. The dynamics of memory formation in psychoanalytic theory, schema theory and cognitive neuroscience is discussed, alongside its impact on subjectivity during retrieval and reconstruction. Additionally, the study draws upon the main theories on photographic images and on studies using visual data, which provide a more pluralistic perspective that entails both a subjective and a historical dimension. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with three individuals aged 43-78, of both genders, who were asked to select photographs indicative of significant events in their lives. The transcribed interview material was processed by Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), which revealed that a sense of Self-Empowerment was the main function that past photographs have in the life of the participants when revisiting experiences. This function was revealed through four distinct themes (a) evidence of lived experience, (b) sense of control over recollection (c) contribution to family history and heritage for posterity, and (d) compensation for loss and bereavement. The results underscore the significance of visual data in the current research on subjective experience and suggest that personal photographs can provide an additional interpretative tool in psychotherapeutic practice.


Photographs, Lived Experience, Revisiting Memories, Narrative Construction, Resignification

Author Bio(s)

Constantinos D. Nikiforos is a Counselor of Mental Health-Psychotherapist and a Portrait-photographer based in Athens, Greece. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Economy and Social Structures from the University of Paris–X, an MSc in Counseling Psychology and Psychotherapy from Deree, The American College of Greece, and an MA in Political Economy and Social Structures from the New School for Social Research. His research concentrates on long-term memory, the personal narrative, and meaning attribution in relation to the photographic depiction of subjective experience and social interaction. Chryssoula Karakitsou received her Ph.D. in developmental psychology and her MSc in health psychology, both from Stirling University. She is a member of the Deree Psychology faculty since 2000, teaching undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and she has served as Programme manager for three years. She has worked as a research consultant at centers for rehabilitative education and adolescent mental health, and she was a member of the International Advisory Board for the European Internet Addictive Behaviors research projects for three years. Her research and academic interests are in the area of developmental psychology with emphasis on socio-emotional competencies of adolescents and emerging adults, and in qualitative methodologies. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Constantinos D. Nikiforos, Department of Psychology, Deree, The American College of Greece, K.Nikiforos@acg.edu


We would like to thank Dr. Lena Pateraki, Dr. Nikos Takis and Dr. Tinia Apergi for their helpful comments and encouragement throughout this project. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 4th World Conference on Qualitative Research (WCQR2019) in Oporto, Portugal, October 16th to 18th 2019. https://2019.wcqr.info/world-conference-on-qualitative-research/

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