How to break the influence of an image?
At some point in time, each one of us is influenced by an image. One image in particular that inspires within us love or hate, that conditions us, helps us realize our full potential, or evokes within us our greatest fears.
In such moments we become captivated by the image at hand. Whether that image is our reflection in the mirror, born from a memory or left over from a nightmare. Whether it is seen within a painting, a photograph, a place or a situation that we’ve only imaged behind closed eyes—we have all been held captive by the power of an image.
Nevertheless, if we want to, there is a way to free ourselves from the image’s force:
The first step is to stop seeing an image as a living and breathing entity. We must stop taking it for granted that images exist naturally by some act of fate. From there, we are capable of breaking an image’s spell and thus detecting its source of credibility and the reason behind its power over us. This demands that we confront an image via disassociation—looking at it from a distance, analyzing it and breaking it up into its various parts to figure out what it means to us and why.
The next step is to play the image’s game—letting oneself enter the image’s world and see what it is the image wants us to see, hearing the story it wants to tell without believing in it, looking to identify the elements of the story and what allows the image’s story to affect us. We must analyze all the factors that allow this story to materialize in front of our eyes and become part of our reality.
Once we have detected these factors they cease to be protagonists, allowing us to objectively start to disassociate them from the story’s circumstances, messages, objects, landscape, details and situations, which are what sustain them and allow them to be perceived as real.
Also, even though it may be just a mental image, we are trying to disarm the deconstructed image and process all its parts, extracting each reference, significance, association, metaphor and relation, which make up the collection of forms and colors that are the image. In this way, we achieve the sacred act of not falling for the magic of the image’s entire symphony, leaving us with just the notes that make up the piece.
When each significant part of the image is separated out, we will have broken the lines of the alliance and complications that sustain the image’s power. We will also have succeeded in unmasking each one of the resources that give credibility, authority, meaning, history, tradition and coherence to this primordial figure.
Now we will enter the tunnel of intertextuality of the central figure: in the chain of associations with the other images at work within our minds. From there, we can mark and separate each link, each image that surfaces from this enlightened corridor, realizing that each one of these symbols of this central figure are merely pieces without any tangible value once broken from their chains of association. Associations that, without even realizing it, we have brought with us from some other place. But from where did they come? Generally speaking, associations come from our childhood memories, from books we have read, from real life moments and experiences during times of vulnerability or weakness, and from intimate circumstances of our life.
We can also use the same process to extract from these associative chains the remnants of the image that we initially cut and separated out: What makes us remember this color and this space? What does a work written in this style say to us? Where does this landscape take us? Where would we situate ourselves in a place like this?
Let’s take for an example how this mechanism functions: focus on the image of a monarch; now take away his crown, his center, his top, his pants and lastly his elegant clothes. If the monarch in question happened to be Enrique VIII, and we moved his eyebrows, changing the signature characteristic of his look, his chubby face would be brought to light.
Furthermore, let us strip away the oppressive climate and the cemetery that surrounds the monarch and leave him defenseless, without the protection of his context. Then we will see what is left of this powerful image. And what is left of the power of this image without these discourses? In respect to the image itself, nothing, only the cover-up story that we’ve heard in relation to the person in question, something, which exceeds the image itself.
We may also take the analysis to another dimension and look for the answer through social correlation as to why this image impacts us. Here we can ask ourselves: How can an image of some person who died in the 1500 bother us today? What does Enrique VIII symbolize? To some, he was a lucky serial killer of defenseless women, to others an exemplary king, and to others, a cold Statesman.
Thus, this character, not only can he embody memories from books we read during childhood or enigmatic movies about the past, but his impact can be linked to a political vision from a common way of life. In this vision, a monarch shows us the possibility still present today of the State. This State, when represented by a monarch, can at any given moment execute a power as arbitrary as it is terrible.
To take stock, we can think of images as not being powerful in and of themselves, they only are as a means to give form and to naturalize the messages they transmit.
Also, as Lacan suggested, the only way to tackle the realm of the Imaginary and not fall into the illusions, is to process and render them through the realm of the Symbolic (Lacan, 1977). In this fashion, it’s possible to position ourselves in front of the harsh reality of the discourses, rules, histories, and interests that are structured and assembled within each image.