Using a diary I recorded thoughts and experiences. Then for this assignment, I selected one idea to interpret into a photographic project.
I recently became aware of the word Gaslighting. It derives from Patrick Hamilton’s 1939 play ‘Gaslight’ in which the husband, Mr Manningham, manipulates his wife into doubting her sanity. His tactics include hiding objects, using undermining language and falsely accusing her of hurting their dog.
As part of my research, I read the play and saw it at Bath’s Theatre Royal. Interestingly, the dimming of the gaslights was not, as is commonly assumed, part of Mr Manningham’s manipulative behaviour. They dimmed as a result of his nightly attic searches.
A study of Gaslighting inevitably leads one to the subject of Narcissism. For example, Professor Preston Ni writes ‘While each of these often destructive pathologies is unique, there are certain behavioural overlaps’. (Ni, 2017).
Dr Craig Malkin, a Clinical Psychologist and lecturer at Harvard Medical School, describes Narcissism as an almost universal human inclination to feel special (Malkin, 2015). All psychological conditions exist on a spectrum, in this case, the Narcissism Spectrum as Malkin calls it.
Thankfully most of us live in the mid-range, Healthy Narcissists, seamlessly oscillating between ‘self-absorption and caring attentiveness’. However, as we move up the scale, we become, as Malkin describes, ‘addicted’ to feeling special. At the extreme, we see the diagnoseable condition known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).
So I now had two ideas; Gaslighting and Narcissism.
The consequences of Gaslighting include a loss of self-esteem, feelings of self-doubt and of almost not existing anymore. So I considered creating a triptych showing a person (i.e. me) fading in each subsequent image to become almost invisible (using Photoshop layers with opacity adjustments). I rejected the idea for two reasons; I felt it may be too obvious and my inadequate Photoshop skills (I booked myself onto a Photoshop course in the new year).
I also considered photographing a light bulb and replicating it in a 3×3 grid. So, the same image nine times with the caption ‘If I am mad, be patient with me’ (Hamilton, 1939) in an attempt to create doubt in the viewer’s mind. I rejected this idea because, as previously mentioned, the dimming lights was not part of Mr Manningham’s manipulation in the original play. I, therefore, felt the idea lacked authenticity.
To diagnose patients, Clinical Psychologists use predefined criteria contained in a manual known as DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). A person has NPD if they exhibit five or more of the following behaviours:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance beauty or ideal love
- Believes that they are special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate, with other high-status people
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a sense of entitlement
- Is interpersonally exploitative
- Lacks empathy
- Is often envious of others or believe that others are envious of them
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes
I decided to produce a 3×3 grid using hand gestures with a two value Notan presentation to (hopefully) illustrate the nine DSM-5 criteria for NPD. This treatment follows my interest in, as described by Elina Brotherus, ‘giving a voice to topics that remain unspoken’ (Brotherus and Lund, 2019).
On 29 September I drove to Derby with my partner. We discussed the ideas for the DSM-5 308.81 hand gestures. While I drove, she called out the words and I spontaneously portrayed the emotion.
A grandiose sense of self-importance
It’s all about ME!
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance beauty or ideal love
The fist signifying POWER
Believes that they are special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate, with other high-status people
I’m HANDSHAKING important people
Requires excessive admiration
Look at ME (difficult to use both hands when driving!)
Has a sense of entitlement
Give THAT to ME
Is interpersonally exploitative
This was changed to a finger beckoning somebody
When using both hands it’s ‘So what? Do I care?’
Is often envious of others or believe that others are envious of them
Look at MY gold ring
Shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes
‘I haven’t got time for YOU’
(Excuse the language :))
American Psychiatric Association (2013). Desk reference to the diagnostic criteria from DSM-5. Arlington: American Psychiatric Association, p.327.
Brotherus, E. and Lund, C. (2019). Elina Brotherus Demystifying the Image. [Video] Available at: https://channel.louisiana.dk/video/elina-brotherus-demystystifying-the-image [Accessed 25 Nov. 2019]
Hamilton, P. (1939). Gaslight. London: Abacus, p.49.
Malkin, C. (2015). Rethinking Narcissism. New York: Harper Collins, p.9,32.
Ni, P. (2017). 6 Common Traits of Narcissists and Gaslighters. Psychology Today. [online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/communication-success/201707/6-common-traits-narcissists-and-gaslighters [Accessed 27 Nov. 2019].