Phototherapy in mirror of history:
The first documentation of treatment based on photographs is from the year 1856.
 Dr. Hugh Diamond has noticed positive changes that occurred in patients with various mental illnesses and their response for photographs and portraits that he took.
Subsequently, he proposed to the Royal Society, the Royal College of medicine, to use of photography as a part of: “ Society of Medicine”.
During the 1970s, pioneers of phototherapy have developed and published tools and techniques in phototherapy
In Cleveland,  David Krauss 
Using Visual imagery as a way to show how the person experiences the world, past and present, and as a catalyst allowing the fundamental issues touching the patient.
The phototherapy uses symbols and implications as a basic technique or treatment tool.
Its goal is to create positive change in thoughts, feelings and behaviors of the patient.”
From Vancouver Canada: Judy Weiser
 psychologist, Phototherapy Centre Manager, and manages the Web site assembles information from the world regarding phototherapy

Phototherapy a tool for self-exploration and self-discovery. With Phototherapy, a person can explore different parts of their personality and bring them up to the surface if they are not normally visible in their everyday life. There are many different techniques, and while some of them make full use of the discipline of photography (ie. client and therapist engage in photographic sessions together), others merely use photographs as a finished product. “ Despite its catchy name, Phototherapy is not a therapy unto itself or a particular modality or school of thought: rather, it is a comprehensive system of techniques that has been found to work successfully, often in cases where nothing else has, using photography as a medium for communication, expression, and reflection”. (J. Weiser, C.E. Schaefer: 1988)

Phototherapy is a new area within the complex treatment of the arts, recognizing the value of the medium of photography. Phototherapy will give you an opportunity, as a therapist, to use an image as an interactive tool, helping you to achieve a stronger connection with your patient and allow the patient to have an insight over his feelings and deep memories which are sometimes complex to be reached

The camera, like the eye, sees, chooses and records images, conveys the unique perspective of the individual and reflects the emotional state. Photographic language is accessible and familiar, and can be through bypass protection and nonverbal communication reveal pre-existing details or patterns of their lives which were already there.

We can literally say that photography allows you to create focus, to reflect, to develop and to reframe. Phototherapy using materials (projective photographs, family photographs) or active photography in treatment, to enable psychological growth. Phototherapy offers a new way of looking and opening channels of expression to create a dialogue between the internal and external reality of the person.

Each and every workshop will provide you with the tools and methods/techniques, which will be used creatively in the process of phototherapy. The most effective application of these techniques will occur when they are creatively combined – because they comprise an integrally interconnected system that is far more useful as a whole, than in any linear summation of its parts. Since Phototherapy involves people interacting with their own unique visual constructions of reality (using photography more as an activating verb than as a passive/reflective noun), these techniques can be particularly successful with people for whom verbal communication is physical, mental, or emotional limited, socioculturally marginalized, or situationally inappropriate due to misunderstanding of nonverbal cues. And, since Phototherapy is about photography-as-communication rather than photography-as-art, no prior experience with cameras is required for effective therapeutic use. (Weiser, 2008).

Phototherapy in the world:

  • Judi Weiser: Phototherapy Techniques:


  • Creating a positive body image: Ellen Fisher Turk

New-York based photographer Ellen Fisher Turk helps women overcome the poor body image that springs from eating disorders and sexual abuse. She has also worked with cancer patients. The idea is that by showing women suffering with anorexia, bulimia, and over-eating difficulties some well-made images of themselves, she can help them accept their bodies. “Even if there are just a few frames that a woman likes,” says Turk, “she will think that there must be something lovely about her.” (E.Fisher-Turk:2011/a)
New York Post journalist Amy Worden, who wrote an article on the subject in 1998, explains that It’s part of a therapeutic treatment process called The Fisher Turk Method that Turk developed with her partner, massage therapist Lisa Berkley. Apparently the idea originated when Berkley, a rape victim, approached her friend asking to pose naked. She hoped that seeing her body in a new light might improve her self-image; that a nurturing photo session would erase negative feelings she had about her body having been violently “captured” years before. Fisher-Turk says: “As we worked, I looked for what was unique and authentic about her – the realness of who she was. I found that in her lines and her form, the way light hit her face, the angles of her body. When I saw these things, I captured them. It soon became apparent that how I saw her was different from how she saw herself. Gradually she started describing herself the way I would.”
It worked, and gradually the camera changed the way Berkley saw herself. Ellen Fisher Turk has since used the same technique with more than 100 women. The New York photographer is now helping other women confront their problems and develop a more positive image through photography and journal keeping; in some cases, this method appears to be succeeding where traditional therapy has failed. (A. Worden:1998)
“I call my work Phototherapy” writes Fisher-Turk in The International Journal of Healing and caring – “Phototherapy combines black and white photography and journal writing as tools for changing women’s negative self-image. I ask women to keep a journal when they decide to be photographed through six weeks afterward. Women start the photographing clothed and disrobe during the session. Everywhere we look, in magazines, on television, the images are retouched They look perfect How should we feel? Phototherapy is about how women take back the appraisal of what is beauty.
Phototherapy uses a woman’s multiple images to shift her negative self-perceptions. By being seen and not judged, by being photographed nude and seeing what they’re most afraid of seeing, women have had the opportunity to reconstruct how they see themselves.
I photograph all women. Some suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. Others are overweight. Some have negative feelings about their bodies caused by rape, incest, sexual abuse, or surgery. The rest are, perhaps, like you and me – ordinary women who have been spared trauma, but not the reality of aging or having expectations of being more perfect.
During the past ten years, I have worked with over 100 women and have seen my use of photography transform their self-image and the way they perceive their bodies. It has also empowered their lives. I’ve seen them change their way of dressing, their friends, their partners, their jobs. The photography seems to jump start their lives.
I photograph women as works of art. I see ordinary women as divinely inspired. They choose where they’ll be photographed and in what position. Many of them are nude. That vulnerability makes their sessions more powerful. They’re given contact sheets with 36 pictures on a page and are asked to keep journals of the experience of being photographed, of looking at their photographs, and their thoughts about these experiences. Through this process, they are able – many for the very first time in their lives – to experience their beauty as well as a sense of their potential, strength, individuality, and uniqueness. The ’gaze’ is now used by the ’Object’ Instead of comparing themselves with the cultural standard, they see themselves, their uniqueness. They are now the one doing the gazing. They are now the source of what’s beautiful. None of these women are movie stars. All are ordinary women, photographed as works of art. We are what we believe we are. (E.Fisher-Turk:2011/b)
What happens during a session:
Ellen Fisher Turk’s brand of Phototherapy works by using women’s multiple images to change their negative perceptions about themselves and their bodies. By being seen and not judged, by being photographed nude and seeing what they’re most afraid of seeing, women have had the opportunity to reconstruct how they see themselves. (E.Fisher-Turk: 2011/b)
Fisher Turk has done a lot of work on young women suffering from eating disorders. Dr Ira Sacker, internationally known expert in the field of eating disorders and author of ‘Regaining Your Self’ and ‘Dying to be Thin’, has referred many patients to her with great success. Dr Sacker says while these photo-sessions do not cure eating disorders they can help shift entrenched negative perceptions. “For more than 70 per cent of patients I’ve referred, it’s been effective.” However, he warns that it’s important to be in therapy at the same time because you need an eating disorders expert with whom to process the experience. “This isn’t something you play with. You need to understand what you’re dealing with”. Turk agrees: “Don’t try this yourself. People might take terrible pictures and make things worse. It could feel like a confirmation of ‘lousy me.'”(E.Fisher-Turk: 2011/a)
Ellen Fisher Turk’s practice doesn’t stop at eating disorders though: her moist poignant work is conducted with women who have suffered from sexual abuse of any kind. In her website some of her clients share the ‘journals’ that Turks asks them to keep, where they write about their own reaction to the photographs of their bodies.
“I wonder what my parents will say…” says a woman in her Incest Journal “I haven’t confronted them with the sexual abuse memories I’ve been having. Well a funny thing happened when I saw myself in those pictures. I saw a beautiful, sad, complicated, courageous woman. I realized the worst was really not so bad. There was nothing wrong with me. I didn’t look like a “Playboy” centerfold but I didn’t care. For the first time I had sympathy for this somewhat tragic girl staring at me in all her naked vulnerable beauty. I finally started to see me as a person, not as this thing. The pictures helped me see it! They were tangible! I could hold myself in my own hands and see me in black and white, so that I couldn’t explain it away, blame my feelings on my body, how fat I thought I was, or how small my breasts were. It was the start of a new relationship with my body.” (E.Fisher-Turk:2011/a)
Ellen Fisher Turk also runs “Make peace with your body” workshops, teaching therapists, photographers and college students her Phototherapy techniques. (Granato,2011)

  • Phototherapy and Youth Work

Phototherapy can and should be used in youth work to pursue two different avenues. On the one hand, Phototherapy can help young people express themselves and get to know the hidden, not obvious aspects of their personality at a time (adolescence) when the formation of identity is a core problem. On the other hand, Phototherapy and photography can also be used as an empowering tool for youth to tell their own story, to communicate without words and show their life, their environment and their relationships by taking pictures of them. This is sometimes called Participatory Photography: a creative modality that asks participants to represent and analyze themselves using photography. Many of the youth projects shown below do just that: they teach young people how to use a camera, and then they ask them to go and photograph what really matters to them, what surrounds them, what defines them. As the AYA Project’s website explains, “visual arts-based programming helps youth build cultural literacy and discuss social tension in a non-threatening manner, in a way that encourages reflective thinking and understanding about oneself and others.” ( All information on the following projects comes directly from the single organizations’ websites, and is copyrighted by them. Ph15, Argentina The name of this project, Ph15, comes from Ph= photography and 15, the name designated to identify the slum “Ciudad Oculta”, or Hidden City, located at the edge of Buenos Aires. Ph15 is a space where a group of kids and adolescents are encouraged to express their personal views through the use of photography. In this art workshop, they explore who they are and what they feel. Ph15 is formed by a group of photographers that believe in education through visual arts and the use of art as a means to promote social inclusion. It offers workshops that possess a completely innovative character, from the didactic nature of the classes to their role as a space where underserved youth can develop their identity and artistic expression. The project started in August of 2000 at the initiative of a group of adolescents from the”Ciudad Oculta”, or Hidden City, who wanted to learn photography. The workshop activities aim to spread photographic creativity. Through learning how to look at and depict the different realities of their lives, both as individuals and in a group, the students learn to explore everything that surrounds them and to express themselves through their personal views, and with a new perspective. Without ever leaving aside the search for artistic quality, ph15 generates a space where adolescents can develop their identities, and subsequently, improve their social and cultural conditions. Ph15 uses the creative power of photography to open an alternative route for students that transmits values and cultural understanding that belong to them and are not imposed by others. Ph15 helps the students to take full ownership of the neighborhood in which they live, to discover new spaces through field trips organized by the Foundation, and to better interact with their surroundings. Through Ph15 activities, the students not only leave the neighborhood, but also learn how to move around the city and know places where they usually don’t go or do not have access. Ph15 students are aged 11 to 26. (ph15:2011) You can find out more about this project at: (Granato,2011)


  • Phototherapy and disability- Meredith Kooi

In her paper “Pictures of Health, Pictures of Illness”, Meredith Kooi examines the relationship between the subject and the photographer when the subject is a disable person. This relationship, she writes, is particularly complex when you ask yourself how the photographer can represent a disabled subject without exploiting metaphors of illness or adversity, especially in the face of the long history of medical illustration, where the subject of a photograph is not a person, an individual, but merely a ‘case’. This is the same dehumanization which plagued Jo Spence when she was hospitalIzed and ‘handled’ by the doctors during her cancer treatment. This problem for photography, says Kooi, may lie within the power structure of the portrait, between the photographer and the subject. As Craig Owens claims, “despite his or her benevolence in representing those who have been denied access to the means of representation, the photographer inevitably functions as an agent of the system of power that silenced these people in the first place.” (Owens:1983) The issue of representation and of the multiplicity of selves brought up by Spence and Martin becomes even more important in this case. In my own Phototherapy practice, a young woman who was disabled once asked me to photograph her with purple hair. She had dyed her hair purple on purpose and was going to keep it that way. “I don’t want people referring to me as ‘that girl in the wheelchair’ ” she told me “So now they can say ‘that girl with purple hair’”. Kooi also explains how the re-enactment of old family photographs can be helpful in the case of disabled subjects. First, she says, they find a photograph of themselves from the past. Then they re-create the scene from the photograph they had found, using props and accessories. This practice can be effective in the exploration of the disabled subject’s personal narrative. It is similar to the work of Ellen Fisher Turk: it’s another way of getting to like yourself, your body, and seeing it in a new light. Spence and Martin firmly believed that this Phototherapy practice is initially about changing the images in our heads and hearts, but also represents the first step for us as individuals towards broader social and economic change. To them, photography is an important tool in the creation of identity, including bodily identity. (M. Kooi:2011)(Granato,2011)


©2015, Tali Thur& Anat Botzer