In 2016, photographer Carrie Elizabeth Thompson published Notes from My Therapist, a book of photographs that throws open the door to her life in relationship with others. One of these others is Thompson’s therapist, who takes portraits of the photographer during their sessions together. The portraits by Thompson’s therapist accumulate in the book, creating a compelling chronicle of emotion, process and ultimately, privacy: we never overhear what happens in the room (although we see handwritten notes for Thompson from her therapist). We never see an image of her therapist. We only know that the photographer and the therapist are deep in the work, together.
We were curious about Thompson’s choice to hand over her camera to her therapist, and asked her about it. She replied:
“When I finally decided to go to therapy I was very broken. However, I did not want to go. Growing up my mom was a therapist so I was very apprehensive. I remember when my mom had a home office. She never talked to the clients like herself. This made me think therapy was all fake. So when I started therapy I asked my therapist to be real and normal with me. It worked for a bit but I still felt odd being vulnerable with a stranger.”
“This is when I asked [my therapist] if she would take my photo each session. It was amazing how the tables turned instantly. She was now vulnerable because she had no idea how to use my camera and felt intimidated because I am a photographer. We were equal and that made therapy so much more real for me.”
“On my last day with her she wrote me a letter. This was a part of it, ‘I have learned that portraiture and therapy have some things in common. With each, one person sits before the other, in many ways exposed. With each, there is an opportunity to see a person as they are, as they were, and as they could be. Each offers us the chance for a glimpse of good and bad, the beautiful and the disturbing.’
Growing up with a therapist means for better or worse therapy is part of me. I’ve been told many times that I share too much. My art has turned into a place where I give a lot of me and my world. I am always trying not to share all or too much but when each work is done I’ve given all of me every time.”
“A photograph is a secret of a secret. The more it tells you, the less you know,” photographer Diane Arbus said. Thompson’s photographs shuttle you close to stories about self and others told and untold, chased in the house and outside. The book reminds you that being in relationship with others is overwhelming, bewildering, and necessary. This much we know.
Order Carrie Elizabeth Thompson’s Notes from My Therapist.
View Carrie Elizabeth Thompson’s recent project, “From This Day Forward: Marriage and Miscarriage.”
Images above are spreads from Carrie Elizabeth Thompson’s Notes from My Therapist except the note reading “I am vulnerable,” which is an image directly from the book.