Shadow Theory and Photography

Shadow Theory and Photography

While working towards a master degree, a lot of time was spent on educational philosophy. To this day, one particular topic has been a constant companion: Shadow Theory. In reflecting upon some thoughts I recently shared elsewhere, it occurred to me that I was touching on this favorite subject once again. This quote from Carl Jung explains it as succinctly as any definition I have ever read:

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

I tend to be very critical of my own work. This extends beyond photography in more ways than I care to relate here. After gaining a basic understanding of shadow theory, I found myself finding red flags everywhere. That guy over there doing that thing I can’t stand? It drives me nuts because I know how it ends. I do it all the time and can’t seem to stop myself from repeating the same mistakes. On the other hand, there are behaviors I witness that make me angry because they are getting away with something that I simply cannot bring myself to do. There are rules and, well, I’m a rule follower.

How does shadow theory impact photography? When I look at other people’s work, I see the same mistakes I tend to make. It irritates me to see it because it reminds me that, in that area, I am failing. This is where Jung’s quote above steps in and saves the day. Understanding this particular theory helps me to recognize these red flags. Once identified, I can take steps to remove those mistakes from my photography lexicon, as it were. I can learn to stop irritating myself by identifying things I don’t like in the work of others.

The key is remembering that the irritation isn’t directed at other people or their work. It is aimed squarely at myself.


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