Photographs shaped the view of the world in turn-of-the-century Central Europe, bringing images of everything from natural and cultural history to masterpieces of Greek sculpture into homes and offices. Sigmund Freud's library—no exception to this trend—was filled with individual photographs and images in books. According to Mary Bergstein, these photographs also profoundly shaped Freud's thinking in ways that were no less important because they may have been involuntary and unconscious.
In Mirrors of Memory, lavishly illustrated with reproductions of the photos from Freud's voluminous collection, she argues that studying the man and his photographs uncovers a key to the origins of psychoanalysis. In Freud's era, photographs were viewed as transparent windows revealing objective truth but at the same time were highly subjective, resembling a kind of dream-memory. Thus, a photo of a ruined temple both depicted the particular place and conveyed a sense of loss, oblivion, of time passing and past, and provided entry into the language of the psychoanalytic project.
Bergstein seeks to understand how various kinds of photographs—of sculptures; archaeological sites in Greece, Rome, and Egypt; medical conditions; ethnographic scenes—fed into Freud's thinking as he elaborated the concepts of psychoanalysis. The result is a book that makes a significant contribution to our understanding of early twentieth century visual culture even as it shows that photography shaped the ways in which the great archaeologist of the human mind saw and thought about the world.
"An erudite and original book . . . [on] the far-reaching effects of European fin de siècle visual culture on Freud's mind. Mirrors of Memory illuminates the heretofore unexamined ways in which the medium of photography, widely taken to be a transparent, objective way of documenting and gaining access to a previously existing reality, was relied on by many disciplines during Freud's lifetime. . . . This extraordinary book . . . is a paragon in the annals of interdisciplinary scholarship. . . . In teaching us to look back and to realize that we had missed an entire field of force in which the interpretations we thought we understood took place, it opens onto new vistas and suggests new paradigms for exciting twenty-first-century interdisciplinary work."—Ellen Handler Spitz, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, December 2010
"Bringing analytic understanding to bear on cultural production, Bergstein explores the impact of photography on the human dynamics of perception, memory, and desire. At the same time, Mirrors of Memory historicizes psychoanalysis, shedding light on the circumstances that positioned Freud to formulate a new understanding of mental life. . . . Bergstein highlights the rigor with which Freud approached his investigations of mental life. She also enriches our understanding with her careful demonstration of the ways in which 'photographic presence and surrogacy were deeply embedded in Freud's visual imagination.’"—Anne Golomb Hoffmann, DeWitt Wallace Institute for the History of Psychiatry Annual (2010–2011)
"Bergstein's book significantly furthers our understanding of Freud’s Vienna and her rich data and analysis open many avenues for further research, particularly on the question of how the modern innovation of photography affected the development of art history and psychoanalysis in the late nineteenth century. . . . Bergstein provides a rich archive of information and analyses that future scholars will no doubt find indispensable."—Maya Balakirsky Katz, Visual Resources (September 2013)
"This is an excellent book: not just an itinerary of Freud's visual world, but an exploration of the ways his visual choices influenced his 'cognitive style.' In a series of careful and detailed case studies, Bergstein shows how photographic practices altered and directed Freud’s thinking about subjects as diverse as the appearance of Rome, Egypt, and Athens, Michelangelo’s Moses, the Gradiva relief, and the Laocoön. Mirrors of Memory argues that for Freud, photography’s influence was 'involuntary, even unconscious': it supported and guided discrete research projects, but it also 'analogized' modes of seeing. There is a wonderful diversity of themes in the book: photography as material and model of dreams, as a prompt for 'involuntary memory,' as the seed of art historical fantasies and structures of knowledge, as talisman for analytic work, as metaphor for the working of the psyche, as a 'ghostly surrogate,' even as the emblem of 'modernist superstition.' This is an exemplary study: it is philosophically engaged historiography, impeccable archival research, and rigorously interdisciplinary visual studies."—James Elkins, author of The Domain of Images
"Mary Bergstein combines her talents as an art historian with a sophisticated approach to Freud and psychoanalytic theory. Mirrors of Memory tells us much about the mentality of turn-of-the-century visual culture in central Europe and the impact of that mentality on the development of Freud's thought. Photography as a medium in general—and the roles of art and archaeology photography in particular—played a crucial mediating role in the emergence of Freud's approach to sexuality, desire, representation, memory, and art."—Michael Roth, President, Wesleyan University
"Mirrors of Memory is an extraordinary interdisciplinary book, bringing together psychoanalysis, Freud's intellectual and emotional biography, the history of photography and its intellectual and popular reception, and the historiography of art. Mary Bergstein explores both Freud's work and the history of photography in depth and detail, with all their complexities and contradictions. Deeply scholarly and imaginatively researched, each chapter is a gem, and each page is thoroughly engrossing. In exploring all dimensions of Freud’s visual imagination, it literally and figuratively opened my eyes to images and possibilities of which I had only been dimly aware."—Bennett Simon, MD, Harvard Medical School (Cambridge Health Alliance), Training and Supervising Analyst, Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, and author of Mind and Madness in Ancient Greece: The Classical Roots of Modern Psychiatry